Stuart C McDonald 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
13 interactions (2,016 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 (2,534 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
46 interactions (7,883 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
50 interactions (5,439 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
60 interactions (4,625 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
36 interactions (5,172 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
26 interactions (3,880 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
51 interactions (3,954 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
68 interactions (8,792 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 (1,546 words)

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

(Report stage: House of Commons)
Stuart C McDonald Excerpts
Tuesday 30th June 2020

(2 months, 4 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Home Office
Mr David Davis Portrait Mr Davis - Hansard

My hon. Friend pre-empts the point that I am about to come to. A few are villains, and I would be the first to concede that, along with him. Predictably, as the Home Office always does when it has a weak case, it trotted out the gory details this morning—it listed 29 rapists, 52 violent offenders, 27 child sex offenders and 43 other sex offenders—designed, no doubt, to make our blood curdle.

That brings me to the other point of these new clauses. My question to the Minister, which I hope he will answer when he winds up the debate, is: when precisely did the Government start deportation proceedings on all those serious cases? Did they start the day that those people went into prison or sufficiently far in advance that those serious villains could go straight from prison to plane, with no stop at the detention centre? No, they did not, I am sure, but I would like to hear whether the Minister thinks they did the right thing on that.

The fact is that, to borrow a phrase from a former Home Secretary, the Home Office is not fit for purpose in managing deportations. Part of the point of these new clauses is to force the Home Office to get its act together, deal with the villains and stop punishing the innocent. That is why there is a six-month delay built into the new clauses—to give it time to get a grip.

I have one simple thing to say to the House. I have long been proud of our British justice system, but I am ashamed of what our incompetent deportation system does to people who arrived on our shores already badly damaged by human trafficking and modern slavery. It is time we put it right with new clauses 7, 8, 9 and 10.

Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald (Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East) (SNP) - Hansard
30 Jun 2020, 12:01 a.m.

It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis). I am in the unusual position of agreeing with pretty much everything that has been said by all four speakers so far, which I do not get to say very often, particularly in relation to my hon. Friend the Member for Argyll and Bute (Brendan O’Hara).

We in the SNP believe that this is a bad Bill—bad for families and bad for businesses—that sells EU nationals short and extends the scope of the hostile environment. Meanwhile, we have seen the Home Office move from disinterest in specific solutions for devolved nations to disdain bordering sometimes on contempt. It has been made clear during the passage of the Bill that there is to be no remote areas pilot scheme, despite that being a recommendation of the Migration Advisory Committee and an earlier Home Office commitment. Our amendments give Parliament a last chance to remedy these defects, and we will support other amendments that seek to find a silver lining to this Bill, such as amendments on putting a time limit on immigration detention, protecting care leavers, and protecting family reunion rights.

Turning first to the issue of family, sadly, this Bill will destroy more families by extending the scope of some of the most anti-family migration rules on earth. The degree of complacency that there is in Parliament about the damage these rules do to families and children surprises me. Five years ago, just three years after the rules were introduced, England’s Children’s Commissioner estimated there were nearly 15,000 Skype families in the UK—kids separated from a parent overseas because of these ludicrous financial thresholds. These rules do not even take into account the prospective income of the persons applying to come into the country. The commissioner said at the time:

“Many of the children interviewed for this research suffer from stress and anxiety, affecting their well-being and development. It is also likely to have an impact on their educational attainment and outcomes because they have been separated from a parent, due to these inflexible rules which take little account of regional income levels or family support available.”

Amendment 33 puts a brake on extension of these rules and, as the commissioner recommended, starts putting the heart back into the policy.

A second group of families that are being put in an impossible position by this Bill are those formed by UK citizens living across the EEA who may in future want to come back here with their family. These are UK nationals who would have had no reason to doubt that if they had a family while abroad, they would have derived rights to return here with their family members to the UK without having to jump the impossible hurdles of the UK’s domestic family migration rules; they could not have predicted Brexit, and applying the UK family rules to them, denying many a right to return here with their family, would seem incredibly unfair.

To be fair to the Minister, he has acknowledged that there is an issue here and has provided a grace period until 2022, during which such families can return, but this is essentially just kicking the can a little bit further down the road. It still leaves many with horrible decisions to make: do they uproot their families now, just in case they do not qualify to return later on? None of these families could have predicted that they would be in this position, so why not remove the cut-off point altogether, as amendment 38 seeks to ensure?

Finally on the issue of family, we are 100% behind the cross-party amendment on family reunion. The right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) will say much more about that shortly, and we fully support what the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) has already said, but it is plain to see that, despite talking a good game, the Government’s proposals mean they are backsliding on earlier commitments made to the House; they mean fewer safe legal routes for children to get to family here, and that means more children risking dangerous, unsafe routes. The Government’s stance is a boon for traffickers and people smugglers and a disaster for children and families, and that is why we must support new clause 29.

This Bill is not just anti-family; it is anti-business. I have spoken enough at previous stages about the huge problems that salary and skills thresholds will cause when the new system is brought into force, but today I want to focus briefly on the problems that the Bill will cause even if a job qualifies for a visa under the tier 2 system. Our system will make it unbelievably difficult and expensive to bring workers in, and will make this country an eye-wateringly unattractive place for people to come to. Figures from the international immigration law firm Fragomen show that under the future immigration system a tier 2 worker who enters the UK to work for five years with a partner and three kids could potentially involve a total payment to the Home Office of £27,000 upfront from October, once costs such as sponsorship licence fees and the immigration health surcharge are included. That is over 12 times as much as the equivalent for Canada and over 17 times as much as Germany, and it is similarly uncompetitive for other family arrangements.

Of course, skilled workers from the EEA are able to work in any other EEA country without paying a penny and with no need for the stress and uncertainty of a visa application. So if there is a skilled and sought-after French worker, that person can go to Dublin without paying a penny, no questions asked, but to get to Belfast they will need to pay many thousands of pounds and endure a Home Office visa process. It is a perfect incentive for skilled workers to go elsewhere, and it is a perfect incentive for key employers to move their businesses elsewhere. That is why we have tabled new clause 17, so that the Government have to be upfront and open with Parliament about the costs they are imposing on businesses and unskilled workers.

It is also why we have introduced new clause 16, a first step to removing the ridiculous immigration health surcharge, which makes up most of these humungous fees—a nonsensical double poll tax on workers, which is set to increase to £624 per person per year, all of which needs to be paid upfront.

So this Bill risks making it very hard to attract European workers to come to the UK in future, but what of the EU workers who are already here and other EU nationals? Amendment 32 would ensure that all EU citizens who are already here have automatic rights to remain and physical proof of their status. We support new clause 2, which would put in place that same right for looked-after children. Assuming, with regret, that the Government are not about to do that, they need to tell us much more about how they will respond when we wake up on 1 July next year to find an extra few hundred thousand undocumented EU migrants, without rights and potentially subject to removal. What will the Home Office do when a 70-year-old French woman writes to say: “I had permanent residence under the old scheme. I didn’t think I needed to apply, but now the DVLA have refused my driving licence and they say I’m here illegally.” What is the Home Office going to do in such circumstances?

The Government say that they will be “reasonable”, but what exactly does that mean? In Committee, the Minister helpfully explained that he will publish guidance for caseworkers with a non-exhaustive list of examples in which late applications will be allowed. That would be welcome and useful, but the key point is that I want to see it—and I want to see it before we close the EU settlement scheme to applications. Parliament should know precisely how late applications are to be treated before it allows the scheme to close. That is what new clause 34 would ensure.

Two other new clauses seek to push the Government towards fairer treatment of EEA nationals. New clause 36 flags up a new problem relating to EEA nationals who seek to become UK citizens. In fairness to previous Home Office Ministers, when the settlement scheme was established, the Home Office did not insist, as it could have done, on proof of comprehensive sickness insurance in deciding who had been legitimately exercising free movement rights. For some reason known only to itself, the Home Office has now decided to insist on that when it comes to applications for citizenship. That seems an awful miserly approach to take, and I urge the Minister to revisit it.

New clause 21 flags up the issue of those EEA nationals who have a right in law to register as British citizens, and I am grateful for the cross-party support for the clause. We are talking not about adults who have made a proactive choice to come here but about children and young people who were born here or who have been here since they were young, whose parents have subsequently settled or who have lived the first 10 years of their life here. In short, they are children and young people who had no choice over the fact that this is their home country. In law they have just as much right to British citizenship as you, Madam Deputy Speaker, or me; the only difference is that they have to register. When Parliament passed the relevant careful laws, the fee for the process was set simply at the cost of processing, but it has now rocketed to over £1,000—just to access British citizenship. That is profiteering on the backs of children and it has to stop.

Finally, I turn to the issue of the devolved nations. The end of free movement will have drastic implications for Scotland, and if anything the challenges for Northern Ireland will be even more extreme. Home Office disinterest in any notion of a differentiated system has transformed into hostility. New clause 33, which has cross-party support, simply makes the modest proposal that, instead of its usual dismissive attitude, the Home Office looks seriously at the options for addressing issues in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. With the Government refusing to look at any regional variation, some in Scotland had at least taken comfort from the MAC recommendation of a remote areas pilot scheme to encourage migration to areas that have a very small labour market. Originally, the Home Office accepted that recommendation, yet in Committee the Government said it had been abandoned. New clause 24 would restore that provision, and I certainly hope that MPs from all parties who represent constituencies with remote areas will insist that the Home Office thinks again.

It is clearer than ever that the only way we will have an immigration system that remotely reflects our needs and circumstances and fixes the injustices that it contains is if we design one ourselves but, given the Home Office intransigence, I have no problem making the case that control over migration will be a key advantage of independence.

Edward Timpson Portrait Edward Timpson (Eddisbury) (Con) - Hansard
30 Jun 2020, 12:05 a.m.

There is no doubt that the Bill represents an important milestone in both the restructuring of the UK outside the European Union and the fulfilment of the promise that we made to, and that was endorsed by, the British people at the 2019 general election to end free movement. As an overarching policy, it is one that I endorse but, as with any wholesale reform to a national system—in this case immigration—there will be people caught up in the shifting sands created around them who, because of their own personal circumstances, will need specific understanding, attention and support to prevent them from being pushed to the very edges of society. Those people include, as we have heard, children in care and care leavers entitled to ongoing support. To that end, as a former Children’s Minister, I instinctively have sympathy for new clause 2, which proposes the provision of automatic settled status for all children in care and care leavers. In the short time available to me, I shall confine my remarks to new clause 2.

As we transition to a new legal framework for our immigration system, it is only right that, as my hon. Friend the Minister has said previously, we help to ensure that no one is left behind. As I understand it, new clause 2 is an attempt to put that principle into practice for children in care and care leavers, rather than leave it to chance.

Break in Debate

Dehenna Davison Portrait Dehenna Davison - Hansard

One could certainly argue that; I would argue the opposite, but I thank my hon. Friend for his point. Let me give a tangible example. Had a 28-day limit been in place in December, it would have resulted in the immediate release of some foreign nationals who were awaiting deportation, including 29 rapists, 27 child sex offenders and 52 violent offenders, including a number of murderers, and more.

Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald - Hansard

The hon. Lady is doing a good job of regurgitating what the Government put out this morning—

Steve Brine Portrait Steve Brine - Hansard

Patronising.

Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald - Hansard

Well, it is, almost literally. All of these points can be rebutted. This series of amendments provides for a six-month process in which the Government could transition, so it is not an overnight thing. There would be six months for the Government to deal with foreign national offenders and to have them removed.

Dehenna Davison Portrait Dehenna Davison - Hansard
30 Jun 2020, 12:04 a.m.

The point I make is that these are some of the most serious offenders, and, as I said, my constituents would not accept something along those lines. Furthermore, when we look at statistics on current detention times, we see that for the majority those are very short, with 74% detained for less than 29 days. For those held for substantial time periods, there must be a compelling reason, such as public safety. For example, we have the example of a man who gang-raped a 16-year-old, has a history of absconding and has delayed his own removal with five unsuccessful judicial reviews. Lawful immigration detention is needed to keep the public safe, so I cannot support these amendments. My constituents want a fair immigration system but they also rightly expect that system to keep them safe.

Turning to new clause 2—

Break in Debate

Andrew Bowie Portrait Andrew Bowie - Hansard

If that is indeed the case, it is shameful. They should be doing everything in their power, from the position of responsibility they hold, to help and support those in this country who may be unsure about their future status here. They should urge them to apply for settled status, so that they can remain, and contribute to our country as we move forward.

Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald - Hansard

The hon. Gentleman may rest assured that the Scottish Government are investing a lot of time and resources in encouraging people to take part in the EU settlement scheme. We have our differences on immigration, but will he join me in encouraging the Home Office to think again about having abandoned the remote areas pilot scheme, which would be of huge benefit to lots of constituencies around Scotland—such as his, I suspect?

Andrew Bowie Portrait Andrew Bowie - Hansard
30 Jun 2020, 12:03 a.m.

I share the hon. Gentleman’s views on that issue. In fact, I will come to the seasonal agricultural workers scheme briefly in my speech—if I get that far this afternoon.

In Scotland we have a problem—as I said in my speech on 11 February in this place, we are, as a country, simply not attracting enough people to live, work or invest. The Office for National Statistics estimates that Scotland attracted only 8% of immigrants to the United Kingdom between 2016 and 2018. That is fewer than the north-west of England, Yorkshire and Humber, the west midlands, the east of England, the south-east, London or the south-west. We now have a growing population in Scotland and we need it to continue to grow, but even with freedom of movement we are not attracting enough people to make up for what will soon become a declining population, with deaths already outnumbering births. In 2019, there were 7,000 more deaths than births in Scotland and the problem is even starker in rural communities, as the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Stuart C. McDonald) was just saying.

In speaking to new clause 1 the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute was right to draw attention to the effects that the changes to our immigration system will have on the health and social care sector. Although I do not support new clause 1, I urge the Government here and the Government in Edinburgh to work together to find imaginative and creative solutions to the issue, and to work with all stakeholders to see what can be done through the UK-wide immigration system to support and continue to grow the Scottish population, particularly with regard to the health and social care sector on which we rely so much.

Before I move on, it would be remiss of me not to use the opportunity of a debate on immigration to talk about seasonal agricultural workers. I know that I am at risk of sounding like a broken record, as the Minister has heard representations from Scottish Members of Parliament on this issue a few times before, but the fact remains that Scottish agriculture relies on, and therefore simply needs, seasonal labour. A farm in my constituency saw a 15% shortage of seasonal labour last year, which led to an estimated loss of over 100 tonnes of produce. Although I welcome the quadrupling of the seasonal agricultural workers scheme from 2,500 to 10,000 workers—a very welcome first step in this direction of travel—the needs of Scottish agriculture for seasonal labour are, in fact, considerably higher.

Numerous amendments and new clauses have been tabled to the Bill, and no doubt they all have a good intention behind them: Members want to create an immigration system that is fair, humane and understandable. I say in particular to my hon. and right hon. Friends who tabled new clause 29 that although the intent is good, we must allow the negotiations with the European Union time to play out. We have presented an offer to the EU on the future reunion of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, where it is in the child’s best interests. For the UK to act unilaterally now—as the amendments seek us to do—would undermine the negotiations and make it less likely that we would secure a reciprocal arrangement, which might mean that the number of children we could help would be reduced.

We in this country are rightly proud of the steps that we have taken over the years to provide shelter to refugees fleeing war and persecution from around the world. We have been a beacon of light to the poor and oppressed of the world for generations, and we continue to be that country. We are rightly proud that so many people across the world seek to call the United Kingdom—this country—their home, and I am proud that in moving the Bill forward today we will be taking one more step towards making our immigration system fairer, non-discriminatory and fit for the 21st century.

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

(Committee Debate: 7th sitting: House of Commons)
Stuart C McDonald Excerpts
Thursday 18th June 2020

(3 months, 1 week ago)

Public Bill Committees
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Home Office
Holly Lynch Portrait Holly Lynch - Hansard
18 Jun 2020, 11:37 a.m.

That is one of the best interventions I have taken during the course of this Committee, and it was a welcome addition.

The Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers has estimated that in the UK, 56% of dairy farmers have employed workers from the EU; 60%––around 22,800 EU migrants––make up the workforce in poultry farming. According to the NFU, the UK’s horticulture sector is completely reliant upon seasonal migrant workers to collect crop yields: 99% of all harvesters in the UK come from Europe. All these working relationships have been forged over time due largely to the flexibility granted by freedom of movement.

The British Poultry Council has warned that the new immigration plans are likely to have a crippling impact on UK food businesses. A report of the kind outlined in new clause 24 is therefore necessary to safeguard the UK’s agriculture industry, during a time of much upheaval. As both the National Farmers Union and National Farmers Union of Scotland have stressed, fruit and vegetable picking requires a high level of manual skills, and farms can only operate efficiently when they recruit workers with this skillset.

This is the one sector where we can say that we have just been through a trial for the ending of free movement, brought about by lockdown. Migrant labour dried up due to lockdown and the Government tried to recruit from the domestic labour force. Nowhere near the required numbers joined up, fruit and veg started to rot in the fields and we were forced to very quickly get migrant labour from Europe back in on chartered flights. It is vital that the Government learn from our experiences during the crisis and develop a proactive and pragmatic agricultural policy for implementation after the transition period. New clause 24 would give us the information required to do this.

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.

Break in Debate

The pilot is still operating, despite everything. The scheme operators have sponsored nearly 3,000 people to come under the scheme already this year, though not all of them have yet been able to come to the UK due to travel restrictions relating to covid-19. I am pleased to advise the Committee that we recently reopened visa applications in Kiev and Minsk, from two of the prime source countries for workers under this scheme. Unsurprisingly, following that we are already seeing a significant increase in applications, which the Home Office is processing rapidly.

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.

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Holly Lynch Portrait Holly Lynch - Hansard
18 Jun 2020, 11:52 a.m.

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

We have been through a great deal of this subject matter earlier in the debate on clause 2. I was grateful to the Minister for some of the clarity he was able to provide at that stage. New clause 27, however, goes that little bit further and asks the Government to produce a report on the associated rights given to citizens in the common travel area.

The aim of this proposed change is to ensure that Ministers set out in detail the scope of what has been officially referred to as the reciprocal rights of the common travel area, and to compare and contrast them with the rights that can be retained under part two of the withdrawal agreement, as provided for domestically under the EU settlement scheme. The Minister’s predecessor stated that Irish citizens do not need to apply to the EU settlement scheme because of the CTA, but since then the Government have instead suggested that individuals whose immigration status is covered by the CTA may wish to register under the EU settlement scheme. Inevitably, this has caused a degree of confusion about possible gaps between where free movement rights finish and CTA rights start.

As highlighted by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, the EU SS is enshrined in law through the withdrawal agreement. Comparatively, however, the CTA is upheld essentially by a gentlemen’s agreement, the non-legally binding memorandum of understanding between the UK and Ireland on the CTA of May 2019. A report on the associated rights of the CTA would therefore be incredibly helpful to ensure that Irish citizens can receive equal rights to EEA and Swiss nationals.

We also believe that the report on the associated rights granted through the CTA would provide scope to begin to answer the pertinent questions about clause 2 raised during the evidence given by our expert witnesses. As previously discussed, while we welcome the provisions set out in clause 2 for Irish citizens, there is still outstanding ambiguity regarding the status and legality of the associated rights that are prescribed by the common travel area.

We believe that it would be incredibly welcome if the Government were to take this opportunity to clarify any ambiguity before the Bill takes effect. A report would provide unequivocal guidance on the status of Northern Irish citizens who identify solely as Irish. It would hopefully guarantee the same provisions for deportation and exclusion as those for Northern Irish citizens who identify as British. It would also clarify issues raised by the Committee on the Administration of Justice on questions relating to cross-border provisions and the right to vote in referendums. More must also be done to tackle the current problematic loophole whereby someone with an Irish passport is not granted protections on arriving in the UK, because they have travelled from a country outside the common travel area. Professor Ryan illustrated the opacity surrounding the status of acquisition of British nationality for British-born children, children born to Irish parents and Irish citizens wanting to naturalise. He stressed that this is currently an unanswered question in British citizenship law.

Finally, the report could also lead to a more sustained debate on Alison Harvey’s proposal on the right to abode, which was raised during evidence. The right to abode would grant citizens a plethora of citizenship rights, while simultaneously safeguarding people’s right to identify solely as Irish. We hope the new clause will catalyse discussions on this issue that will lead to a definitive conclusion.

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.

Break in Debate

In conclusion, I hope the Minister will agree that ongoing monitoring and reporting to Parliament on the state of the higher education sector in relation to staff, students and young people on exchange programmes in the wake of this Bill will be vital. I commend my new clause to the Committee.

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.

Break in Debate

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.

Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald - Hansard

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

I can be relatively brief, since we covered much of this territory in earlier discussions, but it is a useful opportunity to push the Minister on a few issues. What progress can he report on raising awareness of the new tier-2 procedures in which so many small and medium-sized enterprises will have to participate, and what support is being rolled out for those businesses to help them to navigate the new system? What change has he noticed in the number of applications for tier-2 sponsorship licences, and what work is under way to streamline the system, which we have spoken about at length previously?

I suspect the Minister’s answer to the new clause will be that there is to be an annual MAC report. If so, can we ask that it is laid before Parliament and then have a debate on it? The Home Affairs Committee spoke about an annual debate on migration in a repot two or three years ago in trying to build a consensus on migration. It looked at how other countries developed immigration policy, and one issue that featured heavily in other jurisdictions was, at the very least, an annual debate on immigration policy generally.

We are talking about seismic changes to the way in which many businesses will go about recruiting and accessing the labour market, and the number of industry bodies that have come to me to express concerns is unbelievable—industry bodies I did not even know existed until they got in touch—across food and drink, agriculture, tourism and hospitality, fishing, manufacturing, engineering, logistics, financial services, social care, education, and many more. There is significant apprehension, and it is not because any of these industries want to exploit low wages; it is their realistic assessment that they are struggling already to access the labour they need in the UK at a price they can afford and which keeps them competitive. Now they are going to struggle to access labour from abroad, because of immigration rules.

We have spoken about the salary threshold on a number of occasions, but we have not said much about the skills threshold. It is welcome that it is lower than it was in the original White Paper, but there is no route for those in jobs below regulated qualifications framework level 3. That excludes those in many roles in which we have a high vacancy level, notably heavy goods vehicle drivers and care workers. Sectors such as hospitality, tourism, food and drink and agriculture are particularly concerned about how they will recruit the people they need, and I fear that the Government will come to regret removing the one-year visa in the original White Paper proposals, rather than listening to concerns and improving it.

Break in Debate

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.

Dame Diana Johnson Portrait Dame Diana Johnson - Hansard

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

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

(Committee Debate: 8th sitting: House of Commons)
Stuart C McDonald Excerpts
Thursday 18th June 2020

(3 months, 1 week ago)

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

Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald - Hansard
18 Jun 2020, 2:23 p.m.

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

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

New clause 56—Recourse to public funds—

“(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 brought forward legislative measures to ensure that P can access social security benefits, where P is habitually resident, including repealing or amending the following provisions insofar as they relate to P—

(a) section 3(1)(c)(ii) of the Immigration Act 1971;

(b) section 115 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999;

(c) any provision in subordinate legislation, which imposes a “no recourse to public funds” condition on grants of limited leave to enter or remain; and

(d) any other enactment or power exercised under any other enactment, which makes immigration status a condition to access social security benefits.”

This new clause seeks to restrict measures prohibiting recourse to public funds.

New clause 59—Analysis of exemption from no recourse to public funds condition—

“(1) The Secretary State must produce a report on the impact of no recourse to public funds conditions for those who meet the criteria in subsection (2).

(2) The report under subsection (1) must include the impact on EEA and Swiss nationals—

(a) with children;

(b) with pre-settled status; and

(c) who are victims of domestic abuse.

(3) For the purposes of this section, a public fund is defined as any of the following:

(a) attendance allowance;

(b) carer’s allowance;

(c) child benefit;

(d) child tax credit;

(e) council tax benefit;

(f) council tax reduction;

(g) disability living allowance;

(h) discretionary support payments by local authorities or the devolved administrations in Scotland and Northern Ireland which replace the discretionary social fund;

(i) housing and homelessness assistance;

(j) housing benefit;

(k) income-based jobseeker’s allowance;

(l) income related employment and support allowance (ESA);

(m) income support;

(n) personal independence payment;

(o) severe disablement allowance;

(p) social fund payment;

(q) state pension credit;

(r) universal credit;

(s) working tax credit; and

(t) Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS).

(4) For the purposes of this section—

“domestic abuse” has the same meaning as in section 1 of the Domestic Abuse Act 2020;

“victim” includes the dependent child of a person who is a victim of domestic abuse.”

This new clause will require the Government to consider the impact of no recourse to public funds exemption.

New clause 62—Recourse to public funds: EEA and Swiss nationals with dependants—

“(1) EEA and Swiss nationals with dependants under the age of 18 must be exempt from any no recourse to public funds condition that would otherwise be placed on them under Immigration Rules.

(2) For the purposes of this section, a public fund is defined as any of the following—

(a) attendance allowance;

(b) carer’s allowance;

(c) child benefit;

(d) child tax credit;

(e) council tax benefit;

(f) council tax reduction;

(g) disability living allowance;

(h) discretionary support payments by local authorities or the devolved administrations in Scotland and Northern Ireland which replace the discretionary social fund;

(i) housing and homelessness assistance;

(j) housing benefit;

(k) income-based jobseeker’s allowance;

(l) income related employment and support allowance (ESA);

(m) income support;

(n) personal independence payment;

(o) severe disablement allowance;

(p) social fund payment;

(q) state pension credit;

(r) universal credit;

(s) working tax credit; or

(t) Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS).”

This new clause would allow EEA nationals and Swiss nationals with children under the age of 18 to access public funds.

Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald - Hansard
18 Jun 2020, 2:25 p.m.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer. In tabling new clauses 45 and 56, my party wants to set out our opposition to how the no recourse to public funds regime is working, both in general and specifically during the current covid crisis. We think it is having some drastic effects, and therefore refuse to extend it to EEA nationals during the current public health crisis, or indeed more generally. Of course, we urge the Government to go further by also disapplying NRPF rules in relation to other migrants.

Because of this Bill, any EEA migrants coming to the UK under the new system will face the same problems as those coming from outside the EEA. They will be prohibited from accessing public funds until they are granted permanent residence, something that will take five years for some migrants and 10 for others, if it is granted at all. No recourse to public funds conditions will be applied to the family members of UK citizens and settled persons, as well as those to whom we have extended an invitation to come on a work visa. That means that individuals, families and children are prevented from accessing most in-work and out-of-work benefits, including child benefit, tax credits, universal credit, income-related employment support allowance, income support, local welfare assistance schemes, housing benefit and social security.

Mr Robert Goodwill Portrait Mr Goodwill - Hansard
18 Jun 2020, 2:25 p.m.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the term “no recourse to public funds” is slightly misleading, because there are a number of benefits that people are entitled to, including the furlough scheme, should they be entitled to that?

Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald - Hansard
18 Jun 2020, 2:25 p.m.

It is welcome that the furlough scheme is extended to these individuals, but it is nowhere near enough. I will come to specific problems in relation to covid later in my short speech.

In short, if these new clauses are not agreed, many thousands more people who are here because they are family members or because they are wanted for their work will be put at risk of poverty and insecurity.

Those who come here with limited leave visas certainly do not expect to have to rely on public funds, but as we have seen all too well in recent months, unforeseeable events that are completely beyond their control can have a dramatic impact on their capacity to sustain themselves and their family. I am talking about coronavirus, but the ability of individuals to support themselves can be affected for reasons that are many and varied. It could be economics, illness within the family, relationship breakdown, accidents or the death of a loved one.

We have allowed and welcomed people who come to work here or to join their families. There is no reason or justification for denying them the safety net and security that we regard as essential for everybody else.

Included in those impacted by the NRPF rules are parents who are working hard in roles that are absolutely crucial at this time, including care workers, NHS staff, cleaners and people involved in food preparation. Some are working extraordinarily long hours but still cannot access even limited top-up benefits to help them meet the needs of their children.

Thanks to the Children’s Society, we know that many of the families detrimentally impacted by the rules are headed by single mothers, often from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds. There are also significant numbers of families that include children with special educational needs who require additional help from supporting agencies.

It is also important to note that many of the children who will be victims of the NRPF rules will have been born and brought up here. I link back to my amendment on fees for registering British citizens; some of these children would be entitled to British citizenship, but cannot access it, either because they are not aware of it or because they are priced out of it. There will even be British citizens among those children, who are being punished because their parents’ immigration status prevents them from accessing support.

The disastrous impacts of all the rules are well established. People who are prohibited from accessing public funds are clearly at risk of destitution, with no access to the social safety net. The impact on children can be particularly devastating, in so far as deprivation is clearly detrimental to their long-term growth and development. As the Children’s Society points out, living in poverty even for short periods of time has significant detrimental effects on children’s outcomes, both in childhood and in later life, affecting their school attainment, cognitive and behavioural development, and physical and mental health.

Recently, the High Court found no recourse to public funds policies to be unlawful, holding that the relevant immigration rules and casework instructions did not adequately account for human rights obligations. That case was brought by an eight-year-old boy whose mother was subject to NRPF conditions and on the 10-year route to settlement. She was a carer for mentally disabled clients, before the imposition of the NRPF conditions led her and her son to experience periods of destitution. They moved house repeatedly, with the boy having been moved five times before the age of eight, and at one point they were street homeless. The court found that the Home Secretary must not impose or should lift NRPF conditions when it is clear that a person is at risk of imminent destitution in the absence of public funds, rather than waiting for that destitution to take place. As legislators, we should be doing better than that; we should avoid families being at risk of destitution at all. We invite families and individuals to come to undertake vital work here, and we should extend the safety net that we enjoy ourselves.

As in other areas, the Home Office sometimes attempts to pass the buck to local authorities and argues that support under legislation relating to children should mean a safety net of sorts is provided, but the number able to access such support is extremely limited, and the support is also incredibly restricted—sometimes as little as £3 per day per child. As I understand it, children are not even allowed to access free school meals.

The Home Office will also point out that, on application, NRPF conditions can be lifted, but those on the frontline say that such applications are incredibly difficult to have success with and have to be repeated multiple times. Those who apply who are currently on five-year routes to settlement will instead be placed on a 10-year route to settlement, with none of their residence to date being counted towards that target. The price of access to that safety net is insecurity.

Mr Robert Goodwill Portrait Mr Goodwill - Hansard

Does the hon. Gentleman not accept that benefits that people are entitled to by virtue of their paying national insurance contributions are able to be paid, including important ones such as contribution-based jobseeker’s allowance, incapacity benefit and, of course, retirement pension?

Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald - Hansard

I do not think I have denied that certain benefits are still available to people, but none of that explains or resolves all the challenges that I outlined. For all these reasons, we believe that the no recourse to public funds rule should be got rid of altogether.

That is all the more urgent in relation to the covid-19 crisis, for which the implications of these policies are absolutely counterproductive. People who are prohibited from accessing public funds will feel compelled to continue to work, even when doing so is not safe for them or their families. As I said, their inclusion in the furlough scheme is welcome, but someone who is subject to NRPF and is dismissed from their job will obviously not have access to the furlough scheme, and nor can they claim universal credit. They are at real risk of destitution.

We all watched the Prime Minister at the Liaison Committee recently. He was questioned, quite memorably, by the Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee, who provided an example to the Prime Minister of parents who had lived in the UK for at least 15 years and who had two children, aged 11 and 13. They found themselves facing destitution for reasons entirely beyond their control. It was telling that the Prime Minister could not explain why the family was not able to access support. Of course, they should be able to access support, and these new clauses would allow that to happen.

Kate Green Portrait Kate Green - Hansard
19 Jun 2020, 12:06 a.m.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer. I rise to speak to new clause 59, tabled in my name and those of my hon. Friends. The new clause would require the Secretary of State to produce an analysis of the impact of the no recourse to public funds condition on EEA and Swiss nationals, including those with children, those with pre-settled status and those who are victims of domestic abuse.

As we heard from the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East, no recourse to public funds conditions can prevent access to some welfare benefits, to free school meals and to other support for working families who may have been paying tax. That may include families with children, including British-born children, and other vulnerable people. As we heard, application can be made to lift the condition, but it is necessary to reapply at each visa renewal, and the condition can be reinstated.

The impact of no recourse to public funds conditions on the poorest households has been magnified, as the hon. Gentleman said, by the covid crisis. The Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit reports that applications to lift the condition are subject to considerable delay; that the process for applying is overcomplicated, and that is exacerbated for those who struggle to make digital applications; that the evidential requirements are high and unnecessarily onerous; and, as a result, that decisions are still awaited weeks after applications have been submitted.

This makes it harder for those subject to the condition to achieve social distancing or to self-isolate if they need to. They are more likely to be living in overcrowded accommodation, with many building up rent arrears. Even though they may, as the Minister rightly says, be eligible for the Government’s furlough scheme, they are under considerable pressure to keep working in many cases. Often, their children are not in school and they cannot access free childcare, forcing them to rely on friends and family to provide that care, meaning that children are moving between households, further increasing the covid risk.

Meanwhile, Safety4Sisters tells me that local authority housing services in Greater Manchester have been turning women subject to no recourse to public funds conditions away from the emergency homeless accommodation set up during the crisis, even though that should not happen. This has resulted in at least one vulnerable woman becoming street homeless in Manchester in recent weeks, until she was found by the police and taken to safety.

Given these shocking circumstances, Labour has called for the no recourse to public funds condition to be suspended during the covid emergency. As we heard, new clause 45, proposed by the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East, would give effect to such a suspension, while ensuring that, if Parliament wishes to reinstate the regime as soon as the crisis ends, it can do so. Suspension of the condition now would not only provide vital relief to families who have had their livelihoods catastrophically affected by covid, but would give the Government the opportunity to give full consideration to the impact of the no recourse to public funds condition more broadly and to future policy.

As we know, and as we have just heard, the Prime Minister was apparently surprised to hear about the effects of the condition during his recent session with the Liaison Committee, and he was right to say that

“people who have worked hard for this country, who live and work here, should have support”.

Sadly, just a week later, on 3 June, in his response in Prime Minister’s questions to my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield), he appeared to backtrack on his commitment to see what could be done to help them.

It is, of course, welcome that the Government have now issued guidance to give effect to the judgment in the case described by the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East, but this still leaves many potentially vulnerable people at risk of being subject to the condition. That includes those EU nationals who are here now but are able to secure only pre-settled status. They will not meet the habitual residence test and will be ineligible for non-contributory benefits; that includes disabled people, who will not be able to claim universal credit. I am sure my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North will speak to her new clause 62 and the damaging effect the condition could have on EEA and Swiss national families with children.

Given the potential impact on vulnerable groups, I hope the Minister will accept the suggestion of an analysis of the impact of the no recourse to public funds condition in the constructive spirit in which it is offered. If the Prime Minister’s commitment to review the application still holds, and if, as is reported, the Government intend to bring forward a further immigration Bill in the near future, they could take that opportunity to legislate to make any changes Parliament then deems necessary. The evidence base that such a review could supply would also be a useful prerequisite for a decision on the broader proposals set out in new clause 56 by the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East, were the Government minded to consider them. I commend our new clause to the Committee.

Break in Debate

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.

Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald - Hansard
18 Jun 2020, 2:51 p.m.

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

It is a pleasure to address new clause 46, this time with a cross-party hat on, rather than my usual SNP hat. I am grateful to the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North and others for co-ordinating on this new clause.

As Members will know, the European Union has in place a fairly mature—it is certainly not perfect, but it is long standing—system of deciding which member state should appropriately consider a claim for asylum. For example, if an unaccompanied child is found on one of the Greek islands seeking asylum and it is known that they have family members in another EU country, few of us here would argue against the notion that the child should be reunited with their family and the claim considered in that member state.

In January this year, Parliament passed section 37 of the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020, which regrettably abolished the previous requirement on the Government to seek to negotiate an alternative to replace the family reunion provisions in the EU’s Dublin regulation. At the time, the Government were full of assurances that this did not represent a downgrading of their ambitions and said that they would protect family reunion for unaccompanied children in the Brexit negotiations, but in its current form, the UK’s proposal to the EU rows back on those assurances and would leave hundreds of children stranded.

There are numerous problems with what the Government propose. Most fundamentally, the proposed text removes all mandatory requirements on the Government to facilitate family reunions and would make a child’s right to join their relatives entirely discretionary. The text also intentionally avoids providing rights to children. It does not provide for appeals and attempts to put these issues beyond the reach of UK courts. Other categories of vulnerable refugees, including accompanied children and adults, would lose access to family reunion altogether. A series of other key safeguards are removed, including strict deadlines for responses and the responsibility for gathering information being on the state rather than the child.

This issue is hugely important. Between 2009 and 2014, before mandatory provisions were introduced by Dublin III, family reunions to the UK were carried out at an average rate of 11 people annually. Between 2016 and 2018, after the mandatory provisions were introduced by Dublin III, family reunions to the UK were carried out at an average rate of 547 people annually. The Government were not straight with Parliament when they proposed clause 37 of the withdrawal Bill earlier this year, and I think they have behaved in a rather upsetting manner, if I can put it like that.

We now have a situation where there are unaccompanied child refugees and refugees more generally living in appalling conditions in Greece and France. Of course those countries are under an obligation to do more to support and assist them, but many of those kids have family here, and I cannot see how any reasonable person can argue against the logic, the sense and the simple compassionate idea that that child should be reunited with their family in this country and have their asylum claim decided here.

The Government should stop messing about, stop trying to water down their previous commitments and revert to the obligation that Parliament previously placed upon it, which is to negotiate a full and proper replacement of the Dublin regulations, including an obligation to allow children to be reunited with their families in the United Kingdom.

Holly Lynch Portrait Holly Lynch - Hansard
18 Jun 2020, 2:55 p.m.

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East, the SNP spokesperson, who used his experience to make a very convincing contribution.

Labour will support new clause 46, which was tabled by the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee with the support of a number of its members, as well as the Chairs of the Joint Committee on Human Rights and the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee.

As we have heard, as a member of the EU, the UK has participated in the Dublin III regulation, which has allowed people seeking asylum in Europe to be transferred to the UK on the basis of family unity and to have their asylum claims considered in the UK. The Dublin III mechanism generally affects a small number of children, but it has a transformative effect on their lives. It has become an increasingly important family reunion route, with more than 1,600 people having been reunited through it since the start of 2018.

However, this route will end once the transition period comes to an end on 31 December 2020. While the Government have committed to seeking an arrangement through the UK-EU negotiations that would maintain a family reunion element of the Dublin system for separated children, we would very much like assurances that the Government are firmly committed to this.

We are concerned that, unlike Dublin III, the current proposals would not be mandatory and would take us back to the days when child refugees were reunited with family only at the discretion of the national Government. That would require the transferred person to make an asylum claim and only secure family unity pending a decision on that claim. Labour, along with the Families Together coalition, supports new clause 46. We want to see a system that retains the family reunion route under the Dublin III regulation for all families.

This is Refugee Week, and family reunion has been a long-standing feature of the UK’s immigration system. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has said that

“there is a direct link between family reunification, mental health and successful integration.”

By diminishing children’s chances of reaching their relatives legally, restrictive rules sadly only drive people to take more and more perilous alternatives, putting lives at risk and empowering people smugglers.

Labour joins Safe Passage, Amnesty International, the British Red Cross, Oxfam, the Refugee Council, the UNHCR and so many others who make up the Families Together coalition to urge the Government to prioritise family reunion, so that children, spouses and vulnerable adults can reunite with their family and close relatives, by maintaining safe and legal routes for people to come to the UK.

At a time when we are all feeling the effects of separation from our families due to the pandemic, the Government must recognise the need to protect all child refugees adequately and provide a legal and safe means for the reunification of families.

Break in Debate

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.

Break in Debate

Given the reasons I have set out and given the need to ensure safety and security within detention centres, I hope the hon. Gentleman will accept the reasoning put forward for why the Government cannot accept this new clause.

Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald - Hansard

I am grateful to the Minister for his explanation of what should happen, but I suspect that the theory of the rules does not match the practice. The view of Medical Justice is that what the Minister has just described does not reflect what is actually happening in detention centres. I am sure this is something that we will revisit, but in the meantime I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New Clause 53

Private life

‘(1) This section applies when a court or tribunal is required to determine whether a decision made under the Immigration Acts in respect of a relevant person—

(a) breaches a person’s right to respect for private and family life under Article 8; and

(b) as a result would be unlawful under section 6 of the Human Rights Act 1998.

(2) In subsection (1) a “relevant person” is 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 amendments which is repealed by Schedule 1; or

(a) otherwise residing in the United Kingdom in accordance with any right derived from European Union law which continues, or immediately before the commencement of Schedule 1 continued, by virtue of section 4 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 to be recognised and available in the United Kingdom.

(3) In a case to which this section applies, section 117C of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 shall be read subject to the following modifications.

(4) Section 117C(5) shall be read as if the words “and the effect of C’s deportation on the partner or child would be unduly harsh” were replaced with “and either

(a) the effect of C’s deportation on the partner would be unduly harsh; or

(b) it would be unreasonable for the child to leave the UK or to remain in the UK without C.”

(5) Section 117C(6) shall be read as if—

(a) the word “(“C”)” were inserted after “foreign criminal”; and

(b) the words “there are very compelling circumstances, over and above those described in Exceptions 1 and 2” were replaced with “either

(c) C has a genuine and subsisting parental relationship with a qualifying child and it would be unreasonable for the child to leave the UK or to remain in the UK without C; or there are very compelling circumstances, over and above those described in Exceptions 1 and 2.’—(Stuart C. McDonald.)

This new clause modifies the threshold for deportation of EEA nationals and family members who are parents of “qualifying children” – children who are British or have lived in the UK for 7 years or more.

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.

With this it will be convenient to discuss

New clause 54—Family life—

‘(1) This section applies when a court or tribunal is required to determine whether a decision made under the Immigration Acts in respect of a relevant person—

(a) breaches a person’s right to respect for private and family life under Article 8, and

(b) as a result would be unlawful under section 6 of the Human Rights Act 1998.

(2) In subsection (1) a “relevant person” is 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 amendments 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, or immediately before the commencement of Schedule 1 continued, by virtue of section 4 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 to be recognised and available in the United Kingdom.

(3) In a case to which this section applies, section 117C of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 shall be read subject to the following modifications.

(4) Subsection (4)(a) shall be read as if the words “C has been lawfully resident in the United Kingdom for most of C’s life” were omitted and replaced with “one of criteria (a) to (c) in subsection (4A) is satisfied”.

(5) Section 117C shall be read as if after subsection (4) there were inserted the following words—

“(4A) The criteria in this subsection are—

(a) that C has been lawfully resident in the United Kingdom for most of C’s life,

(b) that C was born in the UK, or

(c) that C arrived in the UK aged under 18 and has lived in the United Kingdom for a continuous period of seven years or more.

(4B) If the criterion in subsection (4A)(b) or the criterion in subsection (4A)(c) is satisfied, it shall be presumed that C is socially and culturally integrated in the UK for the purposes of subsection (4)(b).

(4C) A presumption under subsection (4B) is rebuttable.’

This new clause modifies the criteria for the deportation of third country nationals with very significant connections to the UK who are impacted by this Act.

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.

Break in Debate

I suggest that many members of the public would consider it right for the Home Office to take a clear view, based on legislation passed by a previous Government, about the conduct of those who have committed serious criminal offences or been persistent criminals, and seek to protect the public from them. For those reasons, the Government will not accept the new clauses.

Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald - Hansard

I am grateful to the Minister for his response. We need to look at this issue much more closely, as we have only skimmed over the issues today. The Government must start collating data on the number of kids who end up being separated from a parent because of deportation, including a number of British citizens. We will ask questions and revisit the issue, but for now I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

We now come to new clause 57.

Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald - Hansard

I would like to speak to new clause 55, Mr Stringer. I did not speak to it because new clause 47, with which it is grouped, was not moved.

Sorry. My script is completely wrong. I call the hon. Member to move new clause 55.

New Clause 55

Hostile environment

“(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 brought forward legislative measures to ensure that hostile environment measures do not apply to P, specifically—

(a) sections 20-43 and 46-47 of the Immigration Act 2014;

(b) sections 34-45 of the Immigration Act 2016; and

(c) schedule 2, paragraph 4 of the Data Protection Act 2018.” —(Stuart C. McDonald.)

This new clause seeks to limit the application of the hostile environment.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald - Hansard
18 Jun 2020, 3:39 p.m.

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

It used to be that the Home Office enforced immigration rules by good old-fashioned intelligence-led investigation and action, but under political pressure and the influence of austerity, increasingly the Home Office has decided to rely on essentially outsourced immigration control, hoping that if they made life tougher for unauthorised migrants, they would leave of their own accord. This is of course the hostile environment, and it has been ramped extensively in the last two Immigration Acts, such that little landladies and landlords, as well as bank staff and Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency workers, all have to work as immigration officers now. All sorts of Government Departments are tasked with helping the Home Office with its work by sharing information, which makes people wary of accessing public services.

When these measures were introduced, Opposition MPs warned that there would be all sorts of negative consequences and that errors would be made, meaning that people would be denied housing or would have their bank accounts closed when they should not have been. We warned that there was little to suggest that attempts at enforcing destitution and desperation would persuade people to leave, that its impact would lead to all sorts of injustices, and that it could actually make immigration enforcement harder, not easier, as undocumented migrants are forced into the hands of unscrupulous landlords and employers and made ever more difficult to trace.

Four and six years on from the relevant Immigration Acts, the Bill would see that same hostile environment impacting on many more people. We should not allow that to happen without first assessing whether the Government have achieved what they set out to achieve with the hostile environment measures, or whether the warnings from Opposition MPs have been proven correct. Has the hostile environment achieved anything, or has it caused relentless problems, as was forecast?

It appears that the Home Office cannot tell us what the impact of the hostile environment has been in contributing to its policy goals. As the National Audit Office said only yesterday, it is currently unable to assess whether these measures have had any meaningful impact on the likelihood that an individual will leave the UK voluntarily. In fact, the number of voluntary departures has reduced significantly since 2015—in 2015 there were an average of 1,200 such voluntary departures each month, and by 2019 that was down to 460.

That echoes previous findings by the chief inspector of borders and immigration in relation to the right to rent, which is probably the most dangerous of the hostile measures, in that it leaves private citizens with the job of doing immigration checks. He concluded that the scheme had yet to demonstrate its worth as a tool for encouraging immigration compliance, with the Home Office failing to co-ordinate, maximise or even measure effectively its use, while doing little to address stakeholder concerns.

I want to emphasise those concerns. Time and again, the Home Office has been warned about the discrimination in the housing market caused by the right to rent scheme. These warnings came from the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants and from the Residential Landlords Association. It is not difficult to understand how this comes about. Let us imagine a close relative who happens to let properties. How easy would it be for them to assess immigration status? How easy would it be for them not to be influenced by the fact that if they made a mistake in that assessment they would face criminal prosecution, a fine and even imprisonment? It is blindingly obvious that there is a huge danger of discrimination. Repeated surveys and assessment by organisations such as JCWI and the Residential Landlords Association have shown that to be the case.

We now have a court case proceeding to the Supreme Court. Both in the High Court and in the Court of Appeal, the finding of fact was made that this scheme has in fact resulted in discrimination. The Home Office had success at the Court of Appeal stage, on the basis that on paper and in theory the scheme could be operated in a way that did not lead to discrimination, but that is not anything to celebrate. The scheme has been ruled lawful, but it has been found to operate in a discriminatory way.

This is a time when we really must have a thoughtful and comprehensive analysis of what has happened to immigration policy and the functioning of the hostile environment. That is exactly what Wendy Williams suggested in her Windrush lessons learned review, yet today we have been asked to extend the scope of that hostile environment without such a review taking place, and without any evidence being provided by the Home Office that the scheme is having an impact or contributing towards any of its policy goals.

Right to rent is the most scandalous of these problems, but it is causing all sorts of problems in other areas as well. For example, the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration found that something like 10% of the bank accounts that have been closed as part of the scheme related to people who had every right to be here. That is a huge number of people who have been caused problems by this way of doing things, and they are not only migrants; of course, several million UK citizens do not have a passport and therefore struggle sometimes to prove their right to access services and housing, and to go about their lawful business.

We need to know from the Minister what work is being done to assess the impact of the hostile environment. Rather than celebrating the finding that, in theory, the right to rent scheme could operate without discrimination, what work has been done to make sure that it operates without discrimination? If no such work has been done, or if it cannot be guaranteed that the scheme will operate without discrimination, when will it be repealed?

Holly Lynch Portrait Holly Lynch - Hansard
18 Jun 2020, 3:42 p.m.

I support new clause 55 and I would have supported new clause 47 had it been moved. Both new clauses seek to safeguard EEA and Swiss nationals from the reality of the Home Office’s hostile environment policy.

We have cited examples of potential problems relating to the hostile environment throughout the sittings of this Bill Committee, but the Windrush lessons learned review highlighted the structural flaws that permeate the hostile environment approach. Instead of increasing the effectiveness of the Home Office machine, that approach has instead led to the hounding of those unable to prove their status, while simultaneously disregarding the legitimacy of independent cases.

Throughout the sittings of this Committee, we have been at pains to articulate our concerns that unless the European Union settlement scheme is 100% successful, we will never be in a position to know whether it has been or not. People will suddenly find themselves subject to the hostile environment.

Of the Windrush generation, it has been said:

“Paulette Wilson was detained in an immigration removal centre and warned that she faced removal after living in the UK for 50 years. She spent decades contributing to the UK—working for a time in this very House—yet she was treated like a second-class citizen.

Junior Green had been in the UK for more than 60 years, raising children and grandchildren here, but after a holiday to Jamaica he was refused re-entry despite holding a passport confirming his right to be in the UK. The injustice he suffered was compounded when, because of this action, he missed his mother’s funeral.

Lives were ruined and families were torn apart.”—[Official Report, 19 March 2020; Vol. 673, c. 1154.]

Those words, setting out those examples, are an extract from the Home Secretary’s statement to the House on presenting the Williams review in March. Yet we are still waiting for the necessary structural reforms to be made at the Home Office to give us any confidence that those who missed the EUSS deadline, because of reasons that should be looked upon favourably, will not be refused by one of the same decision makers who made misguided judgment calls on Windrush cases in the pursuit of Home Office targets.

In trying to mitigate the impact of the Windrush scandal, the Government launched a number of initiatives to go into communities and undertake almost a tidying-up exercise, to ensure that people had the paperwork they needed to protect them from such encounters with the Home Office in future. The Commonwealth citizens taskforce and the vulnerable persons team have delivered that work in communities, but we know that comparable preventive initiatives seeking to support those most at risk of not applying to the EUSS on time have had to stop work, due to the coronavirus. I hope the Minister might be able to update us on how those activities will be super-charged to make up for lost time, once it is safe for them to continue.

Break in Debate

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.

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

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

The new clause would require the Government to report quarterly on the status and social security entitlements of UK nationals in EU member states. I am grateful to British in Europe for its comprehensive briefing in preparation for this debate.

Implementation in the EU of the citizens’ rights part of the withdrawal agreement is still in its early stages, with few countries having final or even draft legislation in place. Application processes have begun in only a handful of countries. The situation has understandably been exacerbated by delays caused by the covid crisis. However, that creates uncertainty for thousands of UK families and individuals in the EU, who are awaiting the outcome of applications to be allowed to stay in countries in which they have made their home that have opted for an application or constitutive system.

The European Commission’s promised guidance note, which was eventually published on 12 May, is helpful in clarifying some of the uncertainties, but outstanding issues include how dual UK-EU nationals and other citizens who do not rely on the withdrawal agreement for residence rights can evidence their rights; how the withdrawal agreement applies to UK citizens who are eligible for protection under the withdrawal agreement in their own right and for protection under EU law as family members of EU citizens; and whether UK citizens eligible for protection under the withdrawal agreement, which of course confers no right of free movement to third EU countries, can obtain the rights at least to some mobility enjoyed by other third-country nationals, either in addition to their withdrawal agreement rights or by waiving that protection and opting to register as non-withdrawal agreement third-country nationals.

In addition, the common format of the card evidencing withdrawal agreement rights, mandated by the Commission for UK nationals in the EU, fails to distinguish between permanent residence and ordinary residence. The conditions for lawful residence under EU law, which applies during the transition period, and under the withdrawal agreement for those who have not yet acquired permanent residence or had permanent residence confirmed, include requirements to be employed or self-employed, or economically self-sufficient with comprehensive health insurance.

Those conditions are applied strictly in many EU countries. The lockdown restrictions of the covid crisis, however, have caused people to lose their jobs or much of their income, and some will be unable to obtain comprehensive health insurance because of exclusions—students studying abroad and recent graduates are at particular risk.

We know the Government do not intend to extend the transition period. Will the Minister tell us whether the Government intend to ask EU member states to grant extensions to time limits for securing rights under the withdrawal agreement, which people have been unable to comply with because of covid restrictions on travel or the closure of administrative offices? That applies not only to residence rights across the EU, but to citizenship applications where 31 December this year is a cut-off date, such as is the case in Germany or Italy.

With much still unresolved, British in Europe and the3million have suggested that they should attend the specialised committee on citizens’ rights of the joint committee on implementation of the withdrawal agreement established—

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

(Committee Debate: 5th sitting: House of Commons)
Stuart C McDonald Excerpts
Tuesday 16th June 2020

(3 months, 1 week ago)

Public Bill Committees
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Bill Main Page
Home Office
Kate Green Portrait Kate Green - Hansard
16 Jun 2020, 9:39 a.m.

The issue is the mission creep and scope creep involved in using secondary legislation to amend primary legislation and retained EU rights, particularly a mission creep that now encompasses the ability to make significant policy changes.

As we heard in oral evidence from our witnesses last week, it is important to recognise the considerable importance of policy and legislation in relation to social security co-ordination. It is vital to labour mobility, and to protect the rights of EEA nationals who come to live in the UK and UK nationals who go to live in EEA member states. Policy in this area has the potential to impact the lives of millions, affecting their right to receive benefits to which they are entitled through national insurance contributions over periods of residency, and which they have a legitimate expectation that they will receive. Changes to policy in these important areas should, I submit, be given effect in primary legislation.

In response to the evidence that the Committee took from British in Europe last week, the Minister said that the Secretary of State could not make regulations that would breach an international treaty, and he offered some reassurances this morning to those who fall within the scope of the withdrawal agreement. However, as British in Europe pointed out last week, the powers in clause 5 mean that Parliament will not be able to properly scrutinise regulations that might breach our international treaty obligations—if not deliberately, then inadvertently.

The Minister also referred to the need to be able to reflect the ongoing negotiations with the European Union, and we heard from Adrian Berry of the Immigration Law Practitioners Association last week about the UK’s draft social security treaty, which is an annex to the Government’s proposed future trade agreement. Mr Berry highlighted the Government’s intention to continue the protection of the European health insurance card scheme for short-term travel and the uprating of old-age pensions, but noted that disability pensions and healthcare attached to pension rights are missing from the draft treaty. He also highlighted the limitations of the new EHIC, which would require those with long-term health needs to get prior authorisation from the UK Government, and that there would be no S2 cover, which enables people to obtain healthcare in the EU that they cannot get on the NHS in the UK. Will the Minister put on the record whether such changes could be introduced using clause 5, and can he confirm which classes of person they can be applied to?

The Government have argued that the use of the powers in clause 5 will be subject to parliamentary scrutiny, through the use of the affirmative procedure. Will the Social Security Advisory Committee have a role in scrutinising regulations introduced under this measure? Does he not in fact accept that changes in this important area require full debate and scrutiny in Parliament, and that the principles of any future policy should be set out in primary legislation?

Finally, clause 5(5) states that EU-derived rights cease to apply if they are “inconsistent” with any regulation made under the section, but the Government are under no obligation to specify where and when such inconsistencies arise. This creates considerable uncertainty for individuals who are affected, for their advisers, and indeed for politicians and the wider public. As we discussed last week on clause 4, such an approach is inimical to good lawmaking. The Government should spell out which parts of retained EU law might be affected by these provisions, and I hope that the Minister will do so in his response.

Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald (Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East) (SNP) - Hansard
16 Jun 2020, 9:41 a.m.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship again, Sir Edward.

I am grateful to the Minister and to the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston for setting out the nature of these regulations in quite some detail, and also for explaining why they are hugely significant for a large number of people.

We acknowledge that there is a need for the appropriate authorities to have some powers in this area, but those powers should be focused on making technical fixes rather than providing carte blanche. The powers in the clause are hugely broad. In fact, they are basically without any limit, either in terms of scope or time, and it is worth reflecting on what exactly clause 5(1) says:

“An appropriate authority may by regulations modify the retained direct EU legislation mentioned in subsection (2).”

There is no constraining test at all.

As Adrian Berry argued when he gave evidence last Tuesday, all these clauses should at least have the test of being “appropriate”, if not being “necessary”, as a qualification. Opposition MPs have been championing the “necessary” test, but the Government have always preferred the test of appropriateness. However, even that is absent from the clause. On paper, therefore, we are creating powers to make inappropriate regulations, which seems quite an unusual concept. More than ever, we need reassurance on what exactly the intended use of these regulations is, and we will look carefully at what the Minister said about that this morning.

I also want to raise an issue on schedule 2, which the Minister also referred to. Schedule 2 sets out who can make use of the powers in clause 5, and I want to flag up an issue in relation to devolution that needs to be addressed. It was flagged up by the Scottish Parliament’s Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee last year in relation to the predecessor Bill. The Committee reported on that Bill precisely because there are implications for some devolved competences around social security.

There are three routes by which the clause’s powers could be used in relation to devolved social security competence. First, Scottish Ministers could exercise these powers, sometimes with the requirement to consult UK Ministers, if that were required where a different route was used to achieve the same means. The Committee found those powers acceptable.

There is also a route for joint exercise of the powers, which would be considered where a change is so significant that it would be appropriate for joint exercise and scrutiny. Again, while the Committee sought some clarity on precisely when that route would be used, it supported the idea in principle.

Thirdly, however, there is the route of UK Ministers acting alone, by laying regulations in the UK Parliament that could still relate to devolved competence. The Committee’s report says:

“The Committee emphasises that as a matter of principle the Scottish Parliament should have the opportunity to scrutinise the exercise of legislative powers”

by the Executive. However, it notes that the Scottish Parliament has no formal role in relation to the scrutiny of secondary legislation passed by UK Ministers acting alone.

The Committee went on to note that there was silence in relation to the circumstances in which it would be appropriate for UK Ministers to exercise powers in relation to devolved social security acting on their own. It noted that there was nothing on the face of the Bill requiring UK Ministers to seek the consent of Scottish Ministers prior to the exercise of the powers in that way by relevant UK Ministers or the Treasury. It repeated the view that it had provided in relation to the Bill that went on to become the European Union (Withdrawal) Act—that UK Ministers should be able to legislate in devolved areas only with the consent of the devolved Administration, also advocating for a role for the Scottish Parliament in that process.

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.

Break in Debate

Extent

Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald - Hansard

I beg to move amendment 17, in clause 7, page 5, line 13, at end insert—

“(1A) Section 1 and Schedule 1 of this Act do not extend to Scotland.”

With this it will be convenient to discuss new clause 33—Differentiated immigration policies: review—

“(1) The Secretary of State must publish and lay before Parliament a report on the implementation of a system of differentiated immigration rules for people whose right of free movement is ended by section 1 and schedule 1 of this Act within six months of the passing of this Act.

(2) The review in subsection (1) must consider the following—

(a) whether Scottish Ministers, Welsh Ministers, and the Northern Ireland Executive should be able to nominate a specified number of EEA and Swiss nationals for leave to enter or remain each year;

(b) the requirements that could be attached to the exercise of any such power including that the person lives and, where appropriate, works in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland and such other conditions as the Secretary of State believes necessary;

(c) the means by which the Secretary of State could retain the power to refuse to grant leave to enter or remain on the grounds that such a grant would—

(i) not be in the public interest, or

(ii) not be in the interests of national security

(d) how the number of eligible individuals allowed to enter or remain each year under such a scheme could be agreed annually by Scottish Ministers, Welsh Ministers and the Northern Ireland Executive and the Secretary of State;

(e) whether Scottish Ministers, Welsh Ministers, and the Northern Ireland Executive should be able to issue Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish Immigration Rules, as appropriate, setting out the criteria by which they will select eligible individuals for nomination, including salary thresholds and financial eligibility.

(3) As part of the review in subsection (1), the Secretary of State must consult—

(a) the Scottish Government;

(b) the Welsh Government;

(c) the Northern Ireland Executive; and

(d) individuals, businesses, and other organisations in the devolved nations.”

Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald - Hansard
16 Jun 2020, 9:55 a.m.

Clause 7 sets out the extent of the Bill, so here we come to how it impacts Scotland and the other devolved nations. Amendment 17 would disapply provisions ending free movement to Scotland. The new clause simply calls for the Government to consult on, and to review, establishing a differentiated set of immigration rules focused on Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, and lists a set of issues that we want the UK Government to consult upon. The Government would then report and lay that report before Parliament. There is little here that is too onerous. It is a perfectly reasonable request of the UK Government.

We heard plenty of concern about the implications of the Bill during evidence last Tuesday. It is fair to say that that concern is felt acutely in Scotland and Northern Ireland, but also in Wales and some regions of England. Scotland needs in-migration, and free movement of people has been a significant benefit to that country. The Government’s own risk assessments indicate a huge impact on the number of EEA workers who would qualify under the proposed new salary and skills requirements of the new regime. That is before we take into account the visa fees and the red tape, which I regard as ludicrous, that businesses will be bound up in. That has profound implications for Scotland’s economy, demographics, public finances and devolved public services.

Scotland’s economy relies significantly on small and medium-sized enterprises, which, as we heard last Tuesday, will find the tier 2 system very difficult. Small tourism or food and drink businesses, for example, that have regularly relied on the EU labour market are finding it well-nigh impossible to fill posts domestically. Instead of being able to interview a Portuguese food-processing worker or a Polish hotel worker, there is a significant chance that they will not be able to employ them at all. If they are able to employ them somehow, processes will be very different indeed.

The worker will have to seek entry clearance from their home country, so recruitment practice will have to change. Business will have to shell out for a sponsor licence and possibly on legal advice on how to do all that. The worker will have to pay visa fees plus upfront NHS health surcharges, not just for the main applicant but for the whole family. A skills charge will also be levied. As we heard last week, that could take the costs to the applicant to many thousands of pounds.

Mr Robert Goodwill Portrait Mr Goodwill - Hansard

I understand the point the hon. Gentleman is trying to make, but would it not attract more people to stay and work in Scotland if it was not the highest-taxed part of the United Kingdom?

Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald - Hansard
16 Jun 2020, 9:58 a.m.

That is factually not true, so that is the end to that point. If the right hon. Gentleman is referring to the changes to the rate of income tax that we have made in recent years, there is no evidence that they have made a blind bit of difference. In fact, there are more people in Scotland paying less income tax, and that is before taking into account council tax and various other matters, so that point does not arise at all.

It seems that a huge proportion of the burden of all these fees falls to be paid by the individual worker. Realistically, however, why would a Portuguese food-processing worker or a Polish hotel worker pay £10,000 for the privilege of working in Scotland when they face no charge to work anywhere else in the European Union? The lower income tax that we pay in Scotland would be attractive, but it does not outweigh the £10,000-plus they would have to pay just to turn up.

Scotland has become a country of regular net in-migration, largely thanks to the free movement of people. But for in-migration, our population would have again been in decline since 2015—something that is projected into the future, with more deaths than births. Ending free movement risks pushing Scotland back to a future of population decline. Like other countries, our population of older people is increasing. That is not unique to us, but unlike other countries, in the UK in particular, our working-age population will rise only fractionally in the years ahead, according to various projections.

That brings us to the issue of public finances and devolved public services. There has been a welcome devolution of tax-raising powers in recent years, to which the right hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby referred. However, with those tax powers now in place, the problem is that we are suddenly seeing the tax base shrunk by immigration policies. That has a direct impact on income tax receipts and also on the economic growth and tax revenue that companies’ VAT.

Decisions on immigration policy also have a profound impact on devolved public services, on international students, on international recruitment for the NHS and social care, on international recruitment of academic staff and on various other areas. All that is a potent combination of factors that deserves much more Government recognition than it has received up until now. In fact, if anything, Home Office engagement on these issues seems to have gone backwards rather than forwards. The former Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Sajid Javid), was publicly very open to the idea of somehow recognising regional differences in the immigration system. The right hon. Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes) at least kept things under review—although that phrase seems to have become almost meaningless in the Home Office in recent days. At least she worked closely with the devolved Governments and regularly met with them.

Break in Debate

Douglas Ross Portrait Douglas Ross (Moray) (Con) - Hansard
16 Jun 2020, 10:02 a.m.

Another report that is publicly available is the SNP’s White Paper ahead of the 2014 independence referendum in Scotland. Will the hon. Gentleman outline the proposals for immigration in that policy?

Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald - Hansard
16 Jun 2020, 10:03 a.m.

I have no problem in outlining the paper. This point was got up on Twitter, as if it was a gotcha for the SNP. In that White Paper we advocated a points-based immigration system for those coming from outside the EEA, but we also advocated for the free movement of people. [Interruption.] The Minister looks as if I have been caught in some sort of trap. I am perfectly happy to support a points-based system for Scotland for people coming from outside the EEA. That is not a problem at all. But there are points-based systems and there are points-based systems. [Interruption.] People are chuckling away as if I am talking nonsense, but the Canadian points-based system is significantly different from the points-based system in Australia. The system proposed by the UK Government is barely a points system, and if hon. Members speak to anyone who knows the first thing about immigration law policy, they will say that there is barely a resemblance. Despite all the rhetoric, there is a tiny resemblance between what the UK Government are proposing and what the Australian points-based system is proposing.

On the issue of flexibility and regionality, the Australian points system includes some variation to take account of the different needs of different provinces. If the Australian points-based system is so wonderful, why has it not been replicated in any meaningful sense by the UK Government, including in respect of regional flexibility? Yes, the 2014 White Paper did refer to a points-based system for people from outside the EU—one that would be tailored for Scotland’s circumstances, not one that is completely inappropriate for it.

Ian Robinson and Fragomen, leading international practitioners, looked at the example of Canada, Australia, Switzerland and New Zealand and put forward a whole host of possible options. As they said last week, one of those options would be simply to allow the free movement rules to continue to apply in Scotland. If a hotel in the highlands of Perthshire is recruiting, it can continue to recruit from the EEA just as it does now.

However, there is a huge range of possibilities, from more radical suggestions, such as retaining free movement, all the way down to tailoring the points-based system to suit Scotland’s needs. That brings me to a very modest suggestion that I am bound to bring up; it is a suggestion from my hon. Friend the Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Angus Brendan MacNeil) that I think he may have raised directly with the Minister. It is simply to ensure that points are awarded in this system for Gaelic language skills as well as for English.

This is not just about Scotland, however. The challenges in Northern Ireland will also be unbelievably acute and perhaps even more so, given the land border that it shares with a country not only where businesses benefit from free movement of people, but that runs a completely independent immigration system, tailored to meet its own needs, while still being part of the common travel area. Business in Northern Ireland may face thousands of pounds in immigration fees just to try to attract the very same people who, a few miles down the road, could take up the position totally free of cost and bureaucracy. Merely saying that this system will work for all of the UK does nothing to address that problem.

Even if the Government do not want to properly engage in debate and discussion with SNP MPs or Ministers in the Scottish Government, I urge the Minister to listen to and engage with other voices who are speaking out on this issue. Businesses, business groups, think-tanks, civic society, universities and public sector organisations are all hugely concerned about it. The Minister just needs to do a Google search for commentary in Scotland and Northern Ireland in particular on their response to the Government’s most recent proposals.

Mr Robert Goodwill Portrait Mr Goodwill - Hansard
16 Jun 2020, 10:06 a.m.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that figures released only this morning show that the unemployment rate in Scotland is now the highest in the United Kingdom, at 4.6%, compared with a UK rate of 3%? That means that unemployment has risen by 30,000 to 127,000. Does he not think that those are the sort of people we should be getting into jobs in Scotland and that we should not be looking to the EEA to provide the people?

Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald - Hansard
16 Jun 2020, 10:07 a.m.

The economic impact of coronavirus is of course a tragedy, and every lost job is an absolute tragedy as well. Yes, of course we will focus our efforts on ensuring that people are back in work as soon as we can do that, but we cannot design our immigration system for the next decades based on this calamity. If the only reason Conservative Members can come up with to support this system being implemented in Scotland is that we are going through a pandemic, that is pretty farcical, given that these proposals have been in existence for the last few months, so no, I do not accept that it is any reason for shying away from the points that I am making. The system will cause huge long-term damage to Scotland’s economy and Scotland’s public finances. It is not just me saying that; a whole host of organisations have real concerns.

Again, I am not expecting the Government to do a 180-degree U-turn today, but I do want at least some recognition that there are genuine issues that require more than just our being told that this system will somehow work for Scotland, Northern Ireland or any other devolved nation.

Brendan O'Hara Portrait Brendan O’Hara (Argyll and Bute) (SNP) - Hansard
16 Jun 2020, 10:08 a.m.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship again, Sir Edward. Although the United Kingdom’s population is projected to rise by about 15%, it is reckoned that the population of our rural areas, including my own constituency of Argyll and Bute, will fall by as much as 8%. The situation is absolutely unsustainable because, despite Argyll and Bute being an exceptionally beautiful part of the world, we have an ageing and non-economically active population and our young people leave to spend their economically productive years outside Argyll and Bute.

To give credit to the council and to the Scottish Government, they are doing what they can to make Argyll and Bute a place that young people do not feel that they have to leave before coming back to retire—many of them do—but before that long-term goal reaches fruition, a cornerstone of Argyll and Bute Council’s plan for economic regeneration was predicated on continuing access to EU nationals and attracting them into the area. Regrettably, and through no fault of our own, that option has been taken from them; and the UK Government, having taken that option from them, now have a responsibility to provide a solution that will help those areas suffering from depopulation to recover. It is becoming increasingly clear that a major part of that would be the introduction of a regional immigration policy similar to that which works in Canada, Australia, Switzerland and other countries, and one that reflects the different needs of different parts of the country. There is no reason, other than political will, why that cannot happen here.

Break in Debate

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster - Hansard

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

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

Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald - Hansard

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.

Break in Debate

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!”

There was not a word about Northern Ireland, for example, where similar concerns are felt. There is the issue of a land border with a country that has free movement of people and a completely different immigration system. Employers on the other side of the border will have a huge advantage compared with employers in Northern Ireland.

Break in Debate

Question put, That the amendment be made.

Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald - Hansard
16 Jun 2020, 10:35 a.m.

I beg to move amendment 11, in clause 8, page 5, line 41, leave out subsection (5) and insert—

‘(5) This Part of the 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 this Act on faith communities in the UK.

(6) A report under subsection (5) must consider in particular the ability of members and representatives of faith communities from the EEA and Switzerland to enter the UK for purposes related to their faith.

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

(8) In this section,

“faith communities” means a group of individuals united by a clear structure and system of religious or spiritual beliefs.”

This amendment requires the government to report to Parliament on the implications of this Bill for faith communities, including the ability of members of faith communities to come to the UK for reasons connected with their faith.

Some 18 months or so ago, the then Minister of State for Immigration issued a written statement announcing changes to immigration rules. Apparently, those changes were to ensure that ministers of religion could no longer apply for a tier 5 religious worker visa; instead, they would have to apply for a tier 2 minister of religion visa. As I understand it, that was done because of a fear at the Home Office that people were coming in under the tier 5 visa route and leading worship while not having the level of English that the Home Office decided would be necessary to perform such a function. The explanatory memorandum said:

“The Immigration Rules currently permit Tier 5 Religious Workers to fill roles which ‘may include preaching, pastoral work and non-pastoral work’. This allows a migrant to come to the UK and fill a role as a Minister of Religion without demonstrating an ability to speak English.”

For some reason, the Home Office also decided to introduce a cooling-off period. The explanatory memorandum said:

“The ‘cooling off’ period will ensure Tier 5 Religious workers and Charity Workers spend a minimum of 12 months outside the UK before returning in either category. This will prevent migrants from applying for consecutive visas, thereby using the routes to live in the UK for extended periods, so as to reflect the temporary purpose of the routes better.”

I have been in discussions with representatives of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference about migration to both Scotland and England. They tell me that most Catholic dioceses previously used tier 5 religious worker visas for priests to come here on supply placements while parish priests were away for short periods because of sickness, training or annual leave. Those supply placements were essential, as they allow Catholics to continue attending mass while keeping parish activities running smoothly. That allows the parish to continue to function while the parish priest is off through illness, going on a retreat or accompanying parish groups on outings, or even just taking a holiday.

A supply placement priest will lead the celebration of holy mass, including the celebration of the sacrament of marriage. He will lead funerals, including supporting bereaved family members, and visit the sick and elderly of the local community. In an age when social isolation and loneliness are increasing, the parish is a place where people can gather as a community to support one another and engage in friendship. It is not just about worship, but about the community hub that the church provides by offering spiritual and practical help and supporting the sick, the elderly, the needy and the vulnerable.

Mr Robert Goodwill Portrait Mr Goodwill - Hansard

In my own constituency there is a Coptic Christian community; it is a closed order, so they do not preach. The system already works very well for non-EEA residents. Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that, if we do not extend the scheme to the EEA, there will be barriers for people coming to the UK in the way that he describes?

Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald - Hansard

I will come to that point in a minute. In short, the point made to me by the Catholic Church and other faith groups—we had a debate on this issue in Westminster Hall around the time of the changes—is that, actually, the system for non-EEA nationals used to work but does not work now, precisely because of the changes that the Home Office made 18 months or so ago.

The system is much more expensive now, and it is beyond most parishes’ ability to pay the fees for ministers to come in and lead worship. If they come in under tier 5, which is the much cheaper option, they are no longer allowed to lead worship or whatever else. They can perform a range of functions, but not the ones that are really needed, including leading worship.

The issue is already a problem now and it will be made infinitely worse, because at the moment parishes can still rely on priests or other leaders coming from the EEA. They do not have to pay for the expensive tier 2 visa; they can just come in under the free movement of people. When free movement comes to an end, the same regime will apply and parishes will have to pay all sorts of fees, even to have priests come in from France, Italy, Poland or wherever else. They are not looking forward to that prospect at all.

As I was saying, visiting clergy not only allow the local community to continue to function, but benefit and enrich the whole community, as the community gains from cultural exchange and from sharing the knowledge and experience of priests from other parts of the world. They educate new communities about life in their country, and they open up avenues for local parishes to support communities in need. What was most surprising about the changes was that, as far as the SNP was aware, there had been no problems with visas for the Catholic Church or any of the other faith organisations that made use of the tier 5 route. The new requirement introduced in 2019 for anyone preaching to use tier 2 minister of religion visas has instead more than doubled the costs incurred by parishes arranging supply cover. For some parishes that is unsustainable, compromising people’s opportunity to practise their faith.

Furthermore, they point out that seminaries conducting formation in English are not necessarily recognised by the Home Office as meeting the English requirement under the tier 2 route, meaning that many priests educated to postgraduate level in English are nevertheless required to take a language test, with the extra logistical and cost implications. The new arrangements more than double the costs, making supply cover essentially unaffordable. I have heard directly from religious leaders in my constituency that that is the impact of those arrangements. Unless reforms are made, the situation will be worsened by the end of free movement, as I said in response to the intervention from the right hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Robert Goodwill). I simply ask the Government to engage with faith communities about the challenges that this is causing them to face, and to see if we might be able to come to a solution that makes these sorts of arrangements continue to function in the years ahead.

Brendan O'Hara Portrait Brendan O'Hara - Hansard
16 Jun 2020, 10:44 a.m.

As my hon. Friend said, the tier 5 religious visas were operating perfectly smoothly for the many Churches and religious organisations that relied on them until these unexpected changes were made. Catholic parishes throughout the UK—including my own in the Archdiocese of Glasgow—regularly used these visas as routes for priests to come to the UK on supply placements.

The changes that came into force in January are already causing something of a headache for a whole host of religious organisations that require clergy to visit to cover for periods of illness, holiday, religious retreat, or when priests or other clergy are away on pilgrimage. This is a time of a crisis in vocation, clergy are becoming increasingly elderly, and more and more parishes and dioceses are turning to priests from outside the UK to cover such absences, sicknesses and holidays, so it beggars belief that the measure would have been introduced in this way.

It is important that the Minister realises that the tasks of a parish do not stop when the existing or resident priest falls ill, or goes on a well-earned holiday or retreat. As pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East, the church is more than just a place of worship, it is also a community hub providing both spiritual and practical support to the sick, elderly and vulnerable, as demonstrated by the great work of a number of organisations including the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul. The Bishops’ Conference of Scotland has been clear in saying that much of the positive work done in and around Catholic parishes which engenders that sense of community is being seriously undermined and compromised by these changes. The Home Office has to understand and recognise the benefits of allowing priests from other parts of the world to come in on a tier 5 visa. They enrich the whole community. It is a cultural exchange, it is a share of knowledge, a share of experience by priests and clergy from other parts of the world.

It is not just the Catholic church. Indeed, the Church of Scotland is on record as saying that it opposes the measure. Many of us are confused as to why these changes were deemed necessary. What grave issue has arisen that needed to be addressed in such a draconian fashion? The Scottish bishops said that for years they had sponsored priests through the tier 5 process, and they are completely unaware of any abuse of the system whatever. For years, priests came here, they worked and preached in Scotland and across the UK, and then returned home. Indeed, 25 years ago this summer at St Helen’s church in Shawlands in Glasgow, Father Stephens from Malawi was the celebrant who married me and my wife, rather successfully I am happy to report. But the question remains: why did this have to happen? What was the motivation behind it? Can the Government not see the harm they are doing to our religious communities, and can they not act to stop it?

Finally, exactly a year ago in a debate on that in Westminster Hall, my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady) invited UK Ministers to meet the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland. Did Ministers take up that invitation? Did that meeting ever take place and, if it did, what was discussed and what outcomes were agreed? If it never took place, why not?

Break in Debate

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.

I have to be entirely neutral, of course, but it would be nice if the Government allowed us to have our religious services again, as has happened in the rest of Europe.

Clause 8 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 9 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

New Clause 9

Report on the impact to EEA and Swiss nationals

“(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 consider—

(a) the impact on EEA and Swiss nationals of having no recourse to public funds under Immigration Rules;

(b) the impact of NHS charging for EEA and Swiss nationals;

(c) the impact of granting citizenship to all EEA and Swiss health and social care workers working in the UK during the Covid-19 pandemic;

(d) the impact of amending the Immigration and Nationality (Fees) Regulations 2018 to remove all fees for applications, processes and services for EEA and Swiss nationals; and

(e) the merits of the devolution of powers over immigration from the EEA area and Switzerland to (i) Senedd Cymru; (ii) the Scottish Parliament; and (iii) the Northern Ireland Assembly.

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

(4) In this section, ‘health and social care workers’ includes doctors, nurses, midwives, paramedics, social workers, care workers, and other frontline health and social care staff required to maintain the UK’s health and social care sector.”—(Stuart C. McDonald.)

This new clause would ensure that before this Act coming into force, Parliament would have a chance to discuss how EEA and Swiss nationals will be affected by its provisions, including no recourse to public funds conditions, NHS charging, the possibility of granting British citizenship to non-British health and social care workers, removing citizenship application fees and the potential devolution of immigration policy of EEA and Swiss nationals to Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

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.

With this it will be convenient to discuss 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.

Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald - Hansard
16 Jun 2020, 12:15 a.m.

With new clause 9, which stands principally in the names of my hon. Friends in Plaid Cymru, we turn to the central matter of the Bill: what will happen to EEA and Swiss nationals who are already here? The new clause simply calls on the Government to report on what the implications for EEA and Swiss nationals will be. That includes reporting on the impact of no recourse to public funds, NHS charging, the granting of citizenship to all EEA and Swiss health and social care workers working in the UK during covid-19, and certain fees. It also includes—we will probably not discuss this in great detail—the merits of the devolution of powers over immigration from the EEA and Switzerland to different parts of the United Kingdom. Those are all perfectly reasonable requests.

I want to focus on new clauses 10 and 11, which bring us back to the settlement scheme. We touched on that on Thursday, when Opposition Members made the case for a declaratory system, meaning that people would have their rights automatically enshrined in law. It would still apply to the settlement scheme so that they could prove their status and navigate employment, social security and other rights. I regret that the Government and the Committee rejected that proposal, but I have taken that on the chin and moved on. However, that puts the Government under a greater obligation to spell out what should happen to eligible individuals who do not apply for the settlement scheme by 30 June 2021. I have tried on a huge number of occasions to get them to reveal what work they have done to estimate how many people might not apply, even in broad-brush terms, and how they would respond.

As we heard in evidence, it is blindingly obvious that, even with all the good work that is going on, the Government will struggle to get above 90% of the target population. Getting above 90% would be a great success, given the international comparison. If the Government fall just 5%, 6% or 7% short of the target, hundreds of thousands of people will suddenly be without status and will lose any right to be in this country on 1 July 2021. By all accounts, this is a huge issue and we need to push the Home Office further to set out how it will address it. So far, all we have been told is that it will take a reasonable approach. That is fine, but it is not enough. We need much more detail, and new clauses 10 and 11 are designed to push the Government on that.

Mr Robert Goodwill Portrait Mr Goodwill - Hansard
16 Jun 2020, 11:09 a.m.

Does the hon. Gentleman share my concern that extending the deadline by six months would encourage those who have been putting it off to put it off for another six months?

Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald - Hansard
16 Jun 2020, 11:10 a.m.

Not really. People still have every incentive to apply for the scheme. On 1 July next year the deadline will have passed. People might put it off for six months, but I would far rather that than subject tens and probably hundreds of thousands of people to not having any rights at all. It is much the lesser of two evils. As I say, there are different ways in which we can do this. New clause 11 would allow people to apply after the deadline. I will turn to that in a moment. I want to set out exactly what new clauses 10 and 11 are designed to do.

New clause 10 would ensure that the EU settlement scheme was not closed to new applications until Parliament had approved its closure. We want to see what the plans are and scrutinise how the situation will be handled. Until we are satisfied, we will keep extending the scheme in order to protect people from the loss of their rights and from the hostile environment and the threat of removal. Why on earth should MPs give the Home Office a blank cheque to deal with this as it pleases? We will have that debate and the right hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby can make his point that it will lead to a delay in people making applications, but I am firmly of the view that that is much the lesser of two evils.

On the closure of the settlement scheme, people who have not applied for a status will have no legal basis to remain in the UK after the grace period, no matter how long they have lived in the UK. They will be liable to removal and will face the hostile environment. After the grace period, a huge group of people will still not have applied. No similar scheme has ever reached 100% of its target audience. New clause 11 would bring back control of the situation to Parliament and allow us to be fully informed as to where the settlement scheme has got and what the Government’s plans are for dealing with this huge issue before we sign off on closure of the scheme. It is a modest proposal, but hugely important.

New clause 11 would ensure that late applications to the EU settlement scheme would still be considered unless reasons of public policy, public security or public health apply. In tabling the new clause, we are asking the Minister who he thinks does not deserve a second chance after 30 June next year. Who does not deserve the reasonable response that he has spoken about in the past? Under the new clause, applications made after the deadline could be ignored for restricted reasons relating to public policy, public security or public health. However, we want to know who, on top of that, the Minister thinks should be deprived of their rights and the ability to remedy the situation in which they find themselves. People will be unable to live in this country and they will be liable to removal. We need to know much more about the grounds on which people will be able to make a late application. What are the reasonable grounds that the Home Office will accept? They have yet to be defined. As far as we can tell, they will comprise only a very narrow list of exemptions, including, for example, for those with a physical or mental incapacity, and for children whose parents have failed to apply on their behalf.

As I have said many times, the deadline will be missed by many people for good reasons beyond those that I have just outlined. People will simply not be aware of the need to apply, and people with pre-settled status might forget to reapply for full settled status. I have set out a million times why people will not understand that the settlement scheme applies to them. Rules on nationality and immigration status in this country are hugely complicated. There will undoubtedly be people from all walks of life who think that they are British citizens and who already have a right of residence in this country. They will not appreciate that, in fact, they need to apply to the scheme. The consequences of making such a mistake can be dreadful. If we simply leave the Bill as it is, people will lose the right to be in this country and will be removed and subject to the hostile environment. Alternatively, we could at least leave open to them the option of being able to apply to the scheme after the deadline has passed. They would still have every incentive to apply, because they would need to evidence the rights that they access through the settled status process.

I ask the Government to look positively on these new clauses, and at the very least to provide much more information and assurance about how they are going to approach this issue. Up to this point, there has been barely a flicker of recognition that this is something that needs to be addressed, but we are talking about tens, possibly hundreds, of thousands of people being left in an appalling situation.

Holly Lynch Portrait Holly Lynch - Hansard
16 Jun 2020, 11:15 a.m.

I believe that it is appropriate to speak to new clause 25 as part of this grouping. The hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East has already explained his commitment to and passion for new clauses 10 and 11. Our new clause 25 is not dissimilar to new clause 9. New clause 25 is tabled in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds), who is the shadow Home Secretary, and myself and my hon. Friends.

New clause 25 focuses on the need to put to bed some of the anxieties of those who will not have had their status confirmed by the time the transition period ends at the end of this year. When free movement ends, eligible EEA and Swiss nationals will still have until the end of the grace period to apply for status through the EU settlement scheme, which does not close until the end June 2021. With this in mind, all the conversations we have had with those European citizens who have either applied or are planning on applying to the settlement scheme have centred on what their status will be between the end of free movement and their status being granted, which could happen up until the end of June 2021 and, in some cases, beyond that.

The new clause asks the Government to put together a report on the status and rights of people during that window and to lay it before both Houses for consideration. We are calling on the Government to recognise the genuine sense of vulnerability felt by people who may fall into that category and to provide some assurance, in a report to Parliament, guaranteeing that those people, who are eligible, will have a lawful status and not be disadvantaged during those six months.

I asked Luke Piper, immigration lawyer and head of policy at the3million, about this issue in last week’s evidence session. It is a top priority for him and his group. He told the Committee:

“The Bill brings freedom of movement to an end at the end of this year, but it is not clear what legal status people will have between the end of the transition period, which is at the end of the year, and the end of June—the end of the grace period. There has been no clarity about, or understanding of, what legal rights people will have. We have simply been told that certain checks, such as on the right to work, will not be undertaken, but it is not clear to us or our members how people will be distinguished, both in practice and in law.”––[Official Report, Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Public Bill Committee, 9 June 2020; c. 61, Q125.]

EU citizens in the UK have already endured a lot of uncertainty about their futures and are now also facing insecurity on their lawful status. The suggestion that employers or landlords should not be checking to confirm their personal status during this grace period seems to be an approach fraught with potential problems. I am keen to hear what engagement Ministers have with employers and landlords on this issue, and how any suspension of the hostile environment will be managed. Last December, the3million commissioned a survey on EU citizens’ experience of the settlement scheme. It was the largest survey of its kind and indicated that they are already facing barriers, with 10.9% of respondents saying they have already been asked for proof of settled status, even though it is not yet a requirement.

Although this new clause focuses on the rights of those who apply after the transition ends and who get their status before the EUSS deadline, there will presumably then be a group of particularly vulnerable people who apply before the deadline ends but who do not get their status until after the end of June 2021. What happens, for example, if they apply on 20 June 2021, which is before the deadline, but do not get confirmation of their status until 20 July, which is after the end the transition period and the closure of the EUSS? What are the rights and status of that cohort of people?

Although the numbers coming through are good, we know that lots of people are still yet to apply. As we have heard, we will never know exactly how many people are in that category. We will never know whether there is going to be a surge towards the end of the scheme, which will make this a bigger problem than many of us would like. When asked about the numbers and types of people who will struggle to apply on time, Luke Piper said:

“Much as with the number of people due to apply for the scheme, we do not know. We have no idea of the exact number of EU citizens who need to apply under the EU settlement scheme, so we will not have an understanding of the number of people who miss the deadline.”––[Official Report, Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Public Bill Committee, 9 June 2020; c. 62, Q126.]

Coronavirus has resulted in dedicated Home Office phone lines being closed, an inability to receive hard copies of documentation and specialist support services being stopped, impacting on the progress being made. The BMA has said that some doctors working tirelessly on the frontline may be in that cohort of people who have to leave things until next year, simply because they will be working flat out for the foreseeable future. After the transition period comes to an end, thousands of people might not have confirmation of their status.

Recent research by the3million on young Europeans living in London made some concerning findings. The focus group was the first time that some participants had heard about the EU settlement scheme, and a majority had not applied to it, despite being viewed as an easy to reach group because of their education and digital literacy. The new clause’s proposed report on that group’s rights between the end of the transition period and the EU exit deadline would be of great assistance in clarifying the status and rights of those harder-to-reach groups. It would also assist in getting them to submit their applications towards the end of the scheme.

It is important to note that, after the deadline, the EU settlement scheme will not close in practice, because people with pre-settled status will need to apply for settled status, and it will also be used by people will be joining family members in the UK after the deadline. Moreover, we will still be processing those applications that arrive on time but that will have to wait until the other side of the deadline for a decision to be issued.

Inevitably, the problem is the hostile environment and the long, dark shadow of the Windrush scandal. The fear brought about by the absence of a clear framework of rights and migration status for EEA and Swiss nationals between September 2020 and June 2021 is all too real. We therefore ask the Government to provide clarity on the rights of EU nationals in the UK during the grace period. EU citizens who have contributed and given so much to our society and country deserve to have security and confidence in their status.

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

(Committee Debate: 6th sitting: House of Commons)
Stuart C McDonald Excerpts
Tuesday 16th June 2020

(3 months, 1 week ago)

Public Bill Committees
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Home Office
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