All 3 Baroness Ludford contributions to the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Act 2020

Mon 7th Sep 2020
Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill
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Committee stage & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Mon 5th Oct 2020
Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill
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Report: 2nd sitting (Hansard - continued) & Report: 2nd sitting (Hansard - continued) & Report: 2nd sitting (Hansard - continued): House of Lords
Wed 21st Oct 2020
Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill
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Consideration of Commons amendments & Ping Pong (Hansard) & Ping Pong (Hansard): House of Lords

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

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Department: Home Office

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

Baroness Ludford Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Monday 7th September 2020

(1 year, 4 months ago)

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Baroness Ludford Portrait Baroness Ludford (LD)
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My Lords, I very much regret the end of free movement rights. This has often been presented as a one-way system, as if it applied only to nationals of other EEA countries inward to the UK, but it has of course been a two-way system, and something over 1 million UK citizens have taken advantage of their free movement rights to live, work and settle in other EU and EEA countries. When I was an MEP, I was proud to work on the 2004 citizens’ rights directive, which is often called the free movement directive. We did not get everything we wanted, as the European Parliament did not have quite the rights over legislation that it has today. However, it allowed lots of people who were not particularly well off to take advantage of EU rights to move, live and work abroad—it was democratised, if you like.

I fear that there could well be resentment in future, as divisions appear between those who retain a right to move around and those who do not. I also think that some British citizens who currently enjoy EU free movement rights may not fully have taken on board what is about to hit them. When I talk about divisions, for instance, there are those who will be able to get an Irish passport. I declare an interest here: apparently—I did not realise this until a few years ago—I am already an Irish citizen because my mother was born in Dublin. I have not yet got round to applying for the passport. I put it off partly in the hope that somehow Brexit would be averted, and also because I feel a little sheepish about my right to it. But I have not had to apply for Irish citizenship, as it has sort of fallen out of the sky, courtesy of my mother—or her mother, I should say.

There will also be people with means who will be able to move abroad. We know that it is possible to buy so-called golden passports in some EU countries. There are also investor visas. One way or another, it is not going to be the rich who will be affected by the grab of free movement rights.

This Bill is largely about the future of EU and EEA citizens in the UK and them coming under immigration control, but as the organisation British in Europe so splendidly details, we must remember the difficulties for UK citizens in EEA countries.

Reference has been made to Amendments 4 and 5, which my noble friend Lady Hamwee will probably talk about. The noble Lord, Lord Pannick, talked about Amendment 3. These amendments are similar in that they are objecting to wording about powers,

“capable of affecting the interpretation, application or operation of any provision … under the Immigration Acts … or … capable of affecting the exercise of functions”.

The two committees that have very helpfully reported to us—the Constitution Committee and the Delegated Powers Committee—have pointed out the legal complexity of immigration law. It is a complicated policy area. I think it was the Constitution Committee that said,

“the complexity of law had developed to the point that it was a serious threat to the ability of lawyers and judges to apply it consistently—not to mention raising rule-of-law concerns as to the ability of the general public to understand the law to which they are subject.”

This is the system into which we are catapulting EEA citizens who, up to now, have enjoyed the protection of EU law. I hope they continue to enjoy the complete protection of the withdrawal agreement, but noises off in the last 24 hours have not reassured people of the Government’s commitment to upholding all the provisions of the agreement.

This is a complex area. I know we are going to talk about the Immigration Rules on a later amendment but, as this Bill does not set out the domestic immigration framework that will apply to EEA citizens, there is understandable nervousness. One of the things that people are worried about is a retrospective demand to show private health insurance—the famous “comprehensive sickness insurance”. The Minister will know that it is interpreted by the European Commission—and was always understood when we were legislating on the citizens’ rights directive—that in a country such as the UK, which has a national health service, free at the point of delivery, the right to use the NHS is the comprehensive sickness insurance for people paying tax and national insurance. They should not be required to have private health insurance. There is a lot of worry that when people come to apply for citizenship the Government will say, “Show us that you had private health insurance all the time that you have been resident in the UK.” Perhaps the Minister will be able to reassure me on that point.

Colleagues in my party and, indeed, people in other parties believe that there should be an automatic system instead of the EU settlement scheme, which is an application system. A letter went to the Prime Minister yesterday from representatives of five parties, including my friend in the other place Alistair Carmichael MP, urging the Government, even at this stage, to replace the settled status process with an automatic right to stay for EU citizens, guaranteed in primary legislation, as a declaratory system. It is something that we have persistently asked for and will not stop asking for. I see that the Minister looks dismayed.

One group—I think it was Law Society of Scotland—raised an interesting question. Perhaps the Minister can clarify this. It asked whether Clause 1 is necessary in the light of powers in the EU withdrawal Act 2018 for Ministers to repeal retained EU law. I would be grateful for her guidance on that subject.

Finally, I thoroughly support Amendment 61 on EEA citizens having access to eGates, which the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, will speak to.

Baroness Fookes Portrait Baroness Fookes (Con)
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My Lords, before I turn to Amendment 60 to which I have added my name, can I say, as a member of the Constitution Committee and a former chairman of the Delegated Powers Committee, I agree wholeheartedly with the searing criticism from the noble Lords, Lord Pannick and Lord Beith? I am appalled that we should start to have laws that are incomprehensible. It might be meat and drink for the satirist, but it should be no part of our arrangements.

By contrast, the amendment to which I have added my name, that of the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, is clear, straightforward and simple to understand. The noble Baroness gave a very good account of it and its intentions so I will not repeat them now for lack of time, but I want to make a serious point. If young people—minors—are not able to come to this country without a full passport, it is unlikely, when things return to normal, that many of them will come at all. They are far more likely to go to some other English-speaking country—one thinks immediately of the Republic of Ireland or even Malta. One might even think of the Netherlands, where it seems to me that they sometimes speak English better than we do.

Be that as it may, this is a very real worry. It is bad enough that young people have suddenly stopped coming over to schools and organisations as a result of Covid-19. Such organisations are in dire straits and we do not want to put some ghastly obstacle in their way as things gradually return to normal. I hope that my noble friend the Minister will look carefully at this to see if we can simply have the identity cards, which are used at the present time and are simple and easy to use. They would be using only those that are properly instituted by the various countries of the EEA and Switzerland.

There is a further problem, looking forward. Many people first come to this country as a youngster on an exchange. Very often they will return, perhaps for higher or further education. We do not want to cut that off at the beginning. That would be extremely short-sighted.

Some areas of the country have a number of language schools. I am thinking of where I live in East Sussex where, within quite a small area of Hastings, St Leonards and around, there are three notable language schools. The same could be said of the constituency in Plymouth of which I had the honour to be the MP. If one looks round at some of the seaside resorts, one will find a good many more there too.

This is a useful, small part of the major issues of which this Bill is party, but I believe it is very important and I hope that my noble friend will be inclined to accept the amendment.

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Baroness Ludford Portrait Baroness Ludford (LD)
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My Lords, we have heard from across the Committee the concern about this crisis in social care. Many noble Lords have considerable expertise on this topic and I am grateful to them for sharing their knowledge.

History will record the failure to deal with the fragile state of the provision and funding of social care as one of the major failures in domestic policy, and one has to say that particularly of the last 10 years of Conservative and Conservative-led government. I wish that as much energy had been applied to this subject as to Brexit. It shows a peculiar set of priorities.

I do not know whether the Government are being ideologically pure, to use the term employed by my noble friend Lady Barker. I certainly think that they are being obdurate and, I am afraid, unintelligent in not responding to the enormous problems in social care. The idea that in a short space of time we are going to find loads of people in the United Kingdom who want to work in this sector when they have never previously shown any interest in, inclination towards or aptitude for such work is pie in the sky. We learn that there are 120,000—the noble Lord, Lord Hain, referred to an estimate of 133,000—vacancies in the social care sector. When a quarter of a million social care workers—that is, 20% of the workforce—are EU or non-EU nationals, the ending of free movement under this Bill will lead to even greater shortages of staff.

I agree that it is wrong to exclude care workers from the health and care visa route, since only maybe senior care workers will be included under the salary level criterion. My understanding is that Canada and New Zealand have sector-specific visa routes. Since they are flavour of the month, why don’t we follow countries like them?

I was very moved by the tragic account from the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, of the suicide of quite a young man through the fear of a lack of care. I experienced this a little when my late husband, four years before he died, had to have a leg amputated due to sepsis. He benefited from carer support, as well as, I hope, from my support. I can absolutely relate to the emotions—the fear and anxiety—of people, whether the elderly or those with a range of disabilities, who do not know whether they will be able to get care either in a care home or in their own home.

As many noble Lords have pointed out, low skilled and low paid does not equal low value. My noble friend Lady Hamwee and the noble Lord, Lord McCrea, referred to the right caring personality being one of the necessary skills, but somehow that seems to be disregarded as though it comes with the territory, not least with women. Women are expected to be natural carers; well, we are not necessarily.

My noble friend Lady Barker referred to an acute and growing need for paid social care as the number of people without children grows to, I think she said, 2 million in 2030. I am one of those guilty parties—I have failed to grow the population—and my noble friend makes a very good point. Many families are not necessarily in a position anyway to provide care within the family, but she makes a very good point about a factor that increases the necessity.

Various amendments call for a review. Some of them could talk about health and social care but the emphasis in this debate, just like Amendment 2, which was very ably moved by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, has rightly been concentrated on the social care sector, which is where we are facing a crisis. One of the factors in that crisis is going to be the lack of an adequate workforce, and quite honestly it is astonishing if the Government do not respond to that. I hope the Minister can give us some hope of progress when she replies to the debate.

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Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP) [V]
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My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, for her very clear introduction and explanation of the reasons for Amendment 8, to which I am delighted to attach my name. The noble Baroness set out very clearly the need for legal certainty and security for Irish citizens and people born in Northern Ireland.

Rather than repeating all these things again, I think it is worth very briefly addressing the whole issue of deportations. Of course, in this context, I cannot avoid mentioning the Windrush generation, the hostile environment and the fact that we have increasingly come to see people who have perhaps spent effectively all of their life in the UK, who have very close ties to the country and whose entire upbringing and experiences are in the UK facing deportation. That is utterly unacceptable in any circumstances but the situation with Irish citizens and the Common Travel Area involves two countries between which there has been continual, regular interchange and movement. A large number of people could potentially be affected by this situation, people who could see their lives torn apart. It is crucial that we build in these protections.

We have a great deal to do and it is already late so I will not go on too much longer, but I also want to mention briefly—having listened very closely to the noble Lord, Lord McColl, and the debate on the previous amendment, in which many expressed the sentiment that we should have world-leading protection in the UK for victims of trafficking and modern slavery—that I associate the Green group with those sentiments.

Baroness Ludford Portrait Baroness Ludford (LD)
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My Lords, I speak strongly in support of Amendment 8 as moved by my noble friend Lady Hamwee and supported by the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett. Like my noble friend, I understand Amendment 58 but, as she said, we need statutory underpinning rather than exploration of the situation because there is no one place where rights under the Common Travel Area are collected. They are still largely expressed in a bilateral convention and now a memorandum of understanding.

The Common Travel Area rights have been overlaid in recent decades by EU free movement rights, so it is entirely legitimate to worry about rights under the CTA when free movement is stripped away. My friend in the other place, Stephen Farry of the Alliance Party —I call him a friend because it is the Lib Dems’ sister party—said that there had been mixed and confusing signals about Irish citizens and the EU settlement scheme. Some have been told that they need not apply but they can, while Irish citizens from Northern Ireland are told that they should not apply. As he also said, on the face of it, Clause 2 goes some way towards giving reassurance and addressing anomalies. However, it spells out not rights but only ministerial powers, and it only applies to immigration issues—especially deportation —whereas the EU settlement scheme covers a much wider range, such as family reunion, equality of treatment, rights of the employed and self-employed, recognition of qualifications and voting. Stephen Farry recalled that only the right of voting for Irish citizens is explicit in UK law. Ideally, therefore, there should be a UK-Ireland treaty perhaps or, at least, an elaboration in statute of the rights of Irish citizens.

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Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait Baroness Neville-Rolfe (Con)
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My Lords, I rise to speak to my Amendment 32 and to thank the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington, for his support. This amendment would ensure that the powers in Clause 4 were limited in line with the spirit of the Long Title, which addresses EU law, and would not allow the Secretary of State to change the rules regarding non-EEA or Swiss migrants under the cover of “connected purposes”.

I tabled this amendment for two reasons. First, like the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, I am concerned about the wide nature of the powers in the Bill—breath-takingly wide, in her words—and the excessive use of secondary legislation. Others have already made this point better than I can in earlier discussion, and I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response to concerns expressed today and to the recommendations of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. It would be a great pleasure to hear from its chairman, my noble friend Lord Blencathra, who is sitting next to me in a socially distanced manner.

Secondly, in discussion with our excellent clerks, it emerged that amendments to Clause 4 tabled in this House could relate only to EEA or Swiss citizens. Examples include Amendment 26 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Green, on immigration caps, Amendment 27 on the prior advertising of jobs in the domestic market—to which I have added my name—and Amendment 29 on the employment of asylum seekers in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher.

My reading of the paperwork on, for example, the points-based immigration system, and the discussion to date is that the Clause 4 power may be used to set down immigration rules or revisions which apply to third-country citizens as well. I must ask my noble friend the Minister for a clear answer on whether this is the intention or not. If that is the case, I am sure that she and the whole House would agree that we must be able to table amendments to the Bill that relate to third-country citizens as well, otherwise we will not be scrutinising the Bill properly.

Baroness Ludford Portrait Baroness Ludford (LD)
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I also very much look forward to hearing from the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, as his committee has provided us with two excellent reports which have been of great assistance, particularly with regard to Clause 4.

My noble friend Lady Hamwee pinched one of my quotes, but I will use the other one from the Delegated Powers Committee report, which stated that

“we are frankly disturbed that the Government should consider it appropriate to include the words ‘in connection with’. This would confer permanent powers on Ministers to make whatever legislation they considered appropriate, provided there was at least some connection with Part 1, however tenuous”,

and by negative procedure regulations, unless it amended primary legislation. I think we can take from that that they do not think very much of Clause 4 and the schedule.

Even if there is some value in the fact that the first regulations are by “made affirmative” rather than negative procedure, those rights could be abolished by new regulations under Clause 4, when the negative procedure would apply. Therefore, any value there is in “made affirmative” over negative procedure could be removed by some deft sequencing of regulations. Everything points to the justification of having a test of necessity.

Paragraph 6 of Schedule 1 is also problematic. It potentially disapplies any retained EU law in the context of immigration. This could lead to the repeal of legal protections far beyond the realms of free movement. It could dent the EU law retained by Section 4 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 because, even though provisions might have been partially saved by the Act, those provisions would not apply to the extent that

“they are inconsistent with or otherwise capable of affecting the interpretation, application or operation of any provision made by or under the Immigration Acts or otherwise capable of affecting the exercise of functions in connection with immigration”.

That is amazingly broad. We had some fun over the Brexit draft legislation with delegated powers, Henry VIII clauses and so on, but I have not seen anything quite to match this. The phrase

“functions in connection with immigration”

can relate to almost any aspect of immigration control within the UK. This is broadened even further when it is linked to the test of “capable of affecting”. It lacks any objective parameters by which to be able to ascertain the intended targets. Immigration practitioners trying to advise clients will be totally at sea. It undermines the rule of law if people do not know what the law is or could be in this area. They are going to be unable to make their behaviour fit the law.

A number of measures could be cited. Trafficking victims have already been discussed on an earlier group of amendments. Asylum seekers were protected under the reception conditions directive, which the UK opted into although it did not opt into all the asylum legislation. During the debate on an earlier group of amendments, my noble friend Lady Hamwee mentioned the protection of victims of crime and the victims’ rights directive. These protections are potentially at risk as collateral damage from the ending of free movement. Even if the Government do not intend at this moment to repeal these provisions, they must explain why they could fall within the Bill and how they are going to introduce some rigour into the drafting of the Bill, such that this collateral damage does not happen.

With my support, my noble friend Lady Hamwee has put forward one solution in Amendment 11. All the amendments in this group are intended to provide the tightening up that is so sadly lacking from the drafting of the Bill as presented to us.

Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP) [V]
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It is my pleasure to follow the three noble Baroness who have spoken. In our earlier session I strongly disagreed with the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, but in this case, I agree with her concerns and share her experience of apparent inequality. I sought to table a number of amendments to the Bill to deal more broadly not with just EU and EEA citizens, but I was told that they were outside the scope, yet it appears that the Government are being given open slather to address anything they like through the Bill.

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Baroness Altmann Portrait Baroness Altmann (Con) [V]
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My Lords, I have added my name to the amendments in this group. I echo the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, who moved them clearly and explained the importance of what is being sought by introducing them.

As the noble Baroness mentioned, this seems timely, given some of the recent very troubling reports. Lately, the possibility has arisen that the Government are not satisfied with the withdrawal agreement in some way, having signed it recently in good faith, while working, hopefully, towards an agreed exit after the transition period at the end of this year. I hope the Minister will be able to reassure the House that there is no intention of trying to override the withdrawal agreement in any way and that our country will not be seen to be trying to renege on an international agreement, especially so soon after having signed it.

I hope that UK citizens living in the EU can be reassured that the measures in the Bill will not be affected deleteriously by future regulations that might change what they thought was already enshrined in this international agreement and that pensions, pension increases, other benefits and health care will be protected, as was intended and implied in the withdrawal agreement. I also hope that the measures in the Bill will remain consistent with the withdrawal agreement and that no powers under the Bill will be used to make provisions inconsistent with that agreement.

I know these are probing amendments and I hope that the reassurances or necessary changes can be made to satisfy the House. I support the intention of these amendments and look forward to my noble friend’s response.

Baroness Ludford Portrait Baroness Ludford (LD)
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My Lords, this group of amendments, led by my noble friend Lady Hamwee, is about ensuring that the Government cannot legislate by regulation, contrary to the withdrawal agreement. This is a prescient set of amendments, tabled when it might not have been thought that there was a particular danger of that happening. However, the pronouncements and press reports since last night—there is some backtracking going on, however, which we will debate in the Chamber tomorrow—raise serious fears about the Government’s reliability and integrity in respecting the withdrawal agreement, and, indeed, any other treaty commitments. It raises the question of whether they can be trusted.

We will be debating separately the question of the Government’s refusal to give settled status applicants a physical document, not just a digital code. I will raise a brief query here: whether a digital code alone would satisfy the requirement in Article 18 of the withdrawal agreement for

“a document evidencing such status which may be in a digital form.”

Those latter words were added at the UK’s insistence, as we understand it, but it still talks about a document evidencing status. I wonder whether a digital code is a document.

Not least as a feature of the settled status scheme which has been flagged up by the3million, which does excellent work and has provided some fantastic briefing—I shall use this occasion to thank that organisation along with the organisation, British in Europe—non EU-national family members get a physical document in the form of a biometric residence permit. Since Article 12 of the withdrawal agreement requires the Government not to discriminate on the grounds of nationality, it is odd that EU citizens do not get a physical document but those in the family who are not EU citizens have a biometric residence permit. That is rather strange.

In the context of group 1, I raised comprehensive sickness insurance. The Minister said that the Government would use their discretion in deciding whether the absence of CSI in the past would bar a person from getting UK citizenship. I know that this will come up again in a later group. However, it is important to note that the UK is regarded by the European Commission as being in breach of EU law by insisting on the term “comprehensive sickness insurance” as it is in the 2004 citizens’ rights and freedom of movement directive. The Commission insists, as indeed MEPs did at the time, that this means only that relevant persons should have access to whatever the health system is locally, so the Government’s insistence that they should pay for private health insurance is, as I understand it, the subject of ongoing infringement proceedings.

In 2017, Prime Minister Theresa May promised EU citizens that the CSI—I prefer to call it private health insurance because that is what we are talking about—for those who had been economically inactive would be dropped as a requirement for settled status under the new system. However, what is happening now is that those people applying for citizenship are at risk of having their applications refused because in the past they did not have private health insurance, even though they had been told that they did not need it for their settled status application. When they apply for citizenship, they are told that retroactively they will be barred if they did not have private health insurance in the past. This feels like moving the goalposts, playing cat and mouse and so on, and the Government will not make any friends by this. The Minister referred to a power of discretion, but I do not believe that any details have been made known about how that would be applied, so that leaves people in the dark and in a state of anxiety.

I should mention also that Article 10 of the withdrawal agreement states that those covered by the citizens’ rights provisions of the agreement include

“Union citizens who exercised their right to reside in the United Kingdom in accordance with Union law”.


Union law—that is, EU law—means that the ability to use the NHS qualifies as “comprehensive sickness insurance”; that is the view of the European Commission, which as I say is following infringement proceedings. If the Government persist with this, I fear that they will come up against problems under the withdrawal agreement and there is a risk that they would be seen to be acting in bad faith. The amendments in this group therefore insist that the Government must abide by the withdrawal agreement in making regulations under both Clause 4 and Clause 5, and that should include doing away with the retrospective demand. I hope that the Minister will be able to give us some reassurance on that point.

A great deal of justified concern has also been expressed about children either in or leaving care. I do not have time to talk about this now because it will come up again at least in part in a later group, but it is a matter of great concern. Local authorities, even with the best will in the world, have found over the past six months with the challenge of Covid that they have not had or have not applied the resources to assist children who ought to be applying under the settlement scheme. They are finding it very difficult to get the evidence together, so I hope that the Government can give some reassurance about the assistance that they will be given. We will also talk later about the dangers of another Windrush.

Lord Rosser Portrait Lord Rosser (Lab)
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My Lords, Amendments 12 and 83 provide that regulations under Clauses 4 and 5 respectively cannot make a provision that is inconsistent with the withdrawal agreement. Amendments 18 and 19 alter the language of Clause 4 to bring it in line with the 2018 and 2020 withdrawal Acts. The wording of the Bill does not appear to preclude the concerns which these amendments seek to address. Indeed, Clause 4(1) states that

“The Secretary of State may by regulations made by statutory instrument make such provision as the Secretary of State considers appropriate in consequence of, or in connection with, any provision of this Part”,


namely Part 1 of the Bill.

Clause 5 deals with the power to modify retained direct EU legislation relating to social security co-ordination, and again appears not to provide for the limitations sought in Amendment 83. Presumably it is not the Government’s intention to nullify or weaken the terms or protections of the withdrawal agreement, or the terms or protections of the withdrawal Acts, by regulations that avoid the full and proper parliamentary scrutiny and challenge that is achieved only in respect of primary legislation. That should become clearer from the Government’s response, which will be interesting in the light of media reports today of their allegedly negative attitude to keeping to the terms of the withdrawal agreement. Whether there is any significance to the wording in Clause 4(4) being different from the terms of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 and the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020 will also become clear.

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

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Read Full debate Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Act 2020 - Government Bill Page Read Hansard Text
It cannot be very easy to live off £5.66 per day. In an unfamiliar country, where one may not know the language, the temptation to take a paying job in the black economy must be huge. It is not the asylum seeker’s fault that the queue for a decision, in which he is stuck, is so long. It is the system that is unfair to them. It is as inhumane as it is inefficient, and because it is inefficient, it is inhumane. The amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and the other amendments in this group, all of which I support, would make it marginally less inhumane.
Baroness Ludford Portrait Baroness Ludford (LD)
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My Lords, I want to take up just two themes that wove through the debate in Committee. The first was about UK practice compared to that of other European countries. The Minister said in her response to the debate in Committee that

“no other European country has adopted anything close to a time limit as short as that which is proposed in these amendments. Acknowledging the complexity of securing arrangements for the return of people with no legal right to remain, the European Commission itself recently proposed that a new minimum detention period of three months be put in place.”—[Official Report, 14/9/20; col. 1019.]

I fear that the Minister might have got tripped up by the Brussels phenomenon known as “minimum maximum”, whereby the formulation “maximum of not less than” is part of a directive—or maybe a word got lost from the Minister’s speech, because the Commission’s proposal for the recast of the returns directive—a directive to which the UK of course has not opted in—actually reads:

“Each Member State shall set a maximum period of detention of not less than three months and not more than six months.”


In other words, member states should set a maximum period of detention in their national laws. That maximum period can be between three months and six months. There is no requirement in existing or proposed EU law for individuals to be detained for a minimum of three months, which the Minister’s words might have implied, no doubt inadvertently.

The second theme I will mention is the Government’s contention that detention is a necessary part of efficient and effective immigration enforcement. The report on immigration enforcement from the National Audit Office in June, to which reference was made in Committee, said:

“Immigration Enforcement … cites an increase in individuals making late or spurious claims for asylum … It believes many of these claims are used to delay removal but noted in 2019 that it did not have a strategy across the work of Immigration Enforcement and the rest of the Department to mitigate the abuse or to tackle the backlogs being caused by associated delaying tactics. We have not seen any systematic analysis designed to help the Department understand why claims are increasing, or to rule out if Immigration Enforcement’s own actions might have contributed to the increase.”


So my conclusion is that the Government have a lot of work to do across the whole field of immigration enforcement and removals. While they can rely on indefinite detention, they are not doing the work necessary to improve their systems to avoid unnecessary detention. To that end, a limit of 28 days would focus their mind on the other tools they need to have at their disposal and return detention centres to the genuine immigration removal centres that they should be.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op) [V]
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My Lords, I intend to be brief, as this has been a long debate and the time is getting on. Amendment 20, moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, along with her other amendments in this group, are ones that I support. My Benches will support the noble Baroness when she divides the House. The amendment would limit detention to a maximum of 28 days. As we have heard, people are often released into the community anyway. As the noble Baroness said, that begs the question of why they need to be detained in the first place.

Huge strain, stress and anguish are placed on those who find themselves detained with no clear idea of when that will end. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark said, the Government have had ample opportunity to bring forward an amendment of their own to deal with this issue. I will point out that there is not a single government amendment at this Report stage, and I do not think—I am sure I will be corrected if I am wrong—that there were any government amendments in Committee either. Sadly, that says to me that the Government have learned nothing, and that the hostile environment is alive and well. Despite the lateness of the night, I hope that the amendment is carried by a large majority.

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

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

Baroness Ludford Excerpts
Consideration of Commons amendments & Ping Pong (Hansard) & Ping Pong (Hansard): House of Lords
Wednesday 21st October 2020

(1 year, 3 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Act 2020 - Government Bill Page Read Hansard Text
Baroness Garden of Frognal Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Baroness Garden of Frognal) (LD)
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The following Members in the Chamber have indicated a wish to speak: the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, and the noble Lord, Lord Oates. I now call the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford.

Baroness Ludford Portrait Baroness Ludford (LD)
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My Lords, I agree with everything that my noble friend Lady Hamwee has said. The Minister said that the arrangements that the Government have made are “reasonable”, but one has also to think of the reasonable expectation of British citizens who may have moved abroad, married, set up partnerships and had families with citizens from elsewhere in the EEA. They would have had no reason to suppose that the conditions and rules under which they did that would change—after all, the promise of a referendum in 2015 came somewhat out of the blue; it really was not expected. My noble friend’s amendment would accommodate fairly those reasonable expectations while meeting the Government’s apparent objection that they do not want a period which is unlimited.

The Conservative manifesto for the 2017 general election promised to legislate for “votes for life” for Britons living abroad. That has not happened, but, at the time, the Conservatives rejoiced at scrapping what they called the previous Labour Government’s “arbitrary” 15-year rule. I think that one could also describe the Government’s three-year rule in this scenario for UK citizens living in the EU as arbitrary.

Mr Chris Skidmore, who at the time was Minister for the Constitution, said:

“British citizens who move abroad remain a part of our democracy and it is important they have the ability to participate … Our expat community has an important role to play.”


One can deploy that statement in this context. These were valuable sentiments about Britons living abroad. I would transfer them to say that British citizens residing elsewhere in the EEA should have the right to participate not only politically but economically and socially in this country. To put them now in a quandary of having to decide by March 2022 what their family circumstances with parents and children could be in the decades ahead is an unnecessary, arbitrary and unreasonable imposition. Twenty years is a highly reasonable proposition.

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Lord Polak Portrait Lord Polak (Con)
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My Lords, I have no intention of delaying the House as I have made my views on this pretty clear. The noble Lord, Lord Oates, has been very clear and precise. I believe that the Government are sticking their heels in for no good reason.

I should make it known that this morning there was a power outage at the police national computer centre in Hendon—run, of course, by the Home Office. As a result, police forces across the country were not able to access the police national computer. I do not need to explain to noble Lords that power outages of this sort have a serious effect on police operations. Following the technical issue that affected our voting on 30 September and this issue today, surely those EU citizens who request physical proof should be able to receive it like any other citizen.

The noble Lord, Lord Oates, tabled the amendment in lieu to deal with the cost element that the Minister brought up on Report. I agree with him, because non-EEA citizens now receive physical proof, so I really fail to understand what the up-front costs that the Minister referred to are. It is an existing scheme. EU citizens deserve to be treated equally and the amendment deserves to be accepted. This is a matter not of policy, but of process. Non-EU citizens can obtain physical proof of settled status, so EU citizens will be the only group without that physical proof. I fail to understand why the Government are unable to accept the compromise amendment that now deals with the financial question.

Baroness Ludford Portrait Baroness Ludford (LD)
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My Lords, I am pleased to follow my noble friend Lord Oates’s excellent speech, and that of the noble Lord, Lord Polak, with whom I worked on the EU Justice Sub-Committee. The Minister referred to people being able to use their smartphones for this purpose. A friend of mine could not open the link in the email she received confirming her settled status. She had to go to an internet café to do so. I am not quite sure what went wrong there.

I will refer to a report published yesterday by the Committee on the Future Relationship with the European Union in the other place called Implementing the Withdrawal Agreement: Citizens’ Rights. I do not know whether the Minister has had a chance to look at it, but it backs the amendment so that EU citizens should have

“the option of … a physical document to evidence their residency status … in addition to their digital status.”

I am very pleased indeed that it has given that support. It refers to a number of reasons why this should be accepted. It talks about

“examples of people getting assistance from unregulated immigration advisers to make their application, then the third party retain the log-in details necessary to access the platform”

and make a

“charge to send on details to employers.”

I hope that is something the Home Office might look into.

The committee also talks about how, because the online product

“remains linked to the physical document, such as a passport, used by the individual in their application … If the passport is changed, then the applicant has to update the online system.”

That is an issue that will recur. The committee also says that

“accessing the online profile is not straightforward for people not fluent in IT”—

something we have discussed a lot on this subject—so they

“end up relying on the pdf document they receive informing them that a status has been granted”.

The Minister referred to that being put in the desk drawer. It is, of course,

“not a substitute for actual evidence of status”,

but unfortunately it might be used by some people who are confused by the online environment, which is a recipe for some difficulty.

Then, of course, the person asking the EU citizen to demonstrate their status has to understand it. The Minister referred to support for the holders of settled status. I am not sure whether she plans to give lots of tuition to prospective landlords, employers and so on. She talked about the NHS. It was not quite clear what that system will be. The Public Law Project has listed nine steps that a third party such as an employer would have to take to check the status of an EU citizen. It is worth quickly mentioning them:

“Request the code from the applicant … Wait for an email with a link to arrive … Open and read the email … Search, identify, and open the correct website”,


because apparently there is no link in the email,

“Start the checking process … Enter the share code from the email … Enter the applicant’s date of birth … Enter their company name”—


I am not sure what happens for an individual landlord—and, lastly,

“Check that the photo on their screen looks like the person applying for the job and keep a secure copy of the online check, either electronically or in hard copy.”


All this requires reliable access to the internet. If you do not have access to wi-fi, which you might not in an empty flat that you are showing it to a prospective tenant, a person would have to rely on mobile signal, which is honestly not great, even in London.

Also, the committee’s report says that apparently

“the lack of a physical document has contributed to the confusion over eligibility for benefits, because claimants have been unable to show a photo ID card showing their status … it was unclear how some decisions have been made by the DWP in terms of using settled status as a proof of eligibility.”

It is quite a serious point that even the DWP does not seem to have got this right.

The report says that

“the option of a physical card would give an additional layer of safety against criminal attempts to ‘hijack’ someone’s status.”

We are being warned all the time about cybersecurity, and the dangers of malware, hacking and so on. The report says that, in a recent survey of 3,000 EU citizens, apparently more than 10% had been asked

“to provide proof of settled status, and that the digital only status was deterring some from applying.”

It was actually putting them off. The report continues,

“physical proof came right at the top of concerns of EU citizens: 89% said that they would like an option, not compulsory, of physical proof.”

Having gone through all that evidence, it is hardly any wonder that the committee in the other place backed this sincere, reasoned request for EU citizens to have the option of a physical document. I know the noble Baroness cares about people and people’s lives, but it really seems the Government ought to find a way to accede to this request.