Holly Lynch debates with Home Office

There have been 20 exchanges between Holly Lynch and Home Office

Mon 13th July 2020 Oral Answers to Questions 3 interactions (133 words)
Tue 30th June 2020 Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill 9 interactions (2,240 words)
Mon 29th June 2020 Covid-19: Support and Accommodation for Asylum Seekers 3 interactions (391 words)
Thu 18th June 2020 Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill (Seventh sitting) (Public Bill Committees) 27 interactions (3,780 words)
Thu 18th June 2020 Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill (Eighth sitting) (Public Bill Committees) 16 interactions (2,810 words)
Tue 16th June 2020 Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill (Fifth sitting) (Public Bill Committees) 7 interactions (1,723 words)
Tue 16th June 2020 Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill (Sixth sitting) (Public Bill Committees) 36 interactions (5,526 words)
Thu 11th June 2020 Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill (Fourth sitting) (Public Bill Committees) 28 interactions (3,464 words)
Thu 11th June 2020 Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill (Third sitting) (Public Bill Committees) 18 interactions (2,796 words)
Tue 9th June 2020 Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill (First sitting) (Public Bill Committees) 19 interactions (1,975 words)
Tue 9th June 2020 Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill (Second sitting) (Public Bill Committees) 37 interactions (3,579 words)
Mon 8th June 2020 Oral Answers to Questions 3 interactions (111 words)
Mon 18th May 2020 Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill 3 interactions (1,713 words)
Mon 24th February 2020 Policing (England and Wales) 3 interactions (1,331 words)
Wed 29th January 2020 Policing and Crime 5 interactions (1,428 words)
Wed 16th October 2019 Public Services 3 interactions (1,142 words)
Thu 12th July 2018 Visit of President Trump: Policing 3 interactions (83 words)
Wed 28th March 2018 Police Funding 5 interactions (982 words)
Mon 16th October 2017 Oral Answers to Questions 6 interactions (147 words)
Mon 3rd July 2017 Oral Answers to Questions 3 interactions (48 words)

Oral Answers to Questions

Holly Lynch Excerpts
Monday 13th July 2020

(2 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber
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Home Office
Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster - Parliament Live - Hansard
13 Jul 2020, 3:02 p.m.

I will contrast those comments with the comments on the immigration health surcharge from the Labour party during the Immigration Bill Committee. We are clear that our NHS offers fantastic free-at-point-of-need care and services, and it is not unreasonable to ask those who come to this country to make a contribution towards it until they achieve indefinite leave to remain or settlement, which means that they are making a long-term commitment to this country and are therefore exempt from the charge.

Holly Lynch Portrait Holly Lynch (Halifax) (Lab) - Parliament Live - Hansard
13 Jul 2020, 3:03 p.m.

Further to the excellent questions already asked, Dr Sadara is just one of the hundreds of clinicians who have already had to pay the immigration health surcharge since the Prime Minister said that it would end, not just for himself and his wife, but twice in six months for his newborn baby daughter. We do not just want these medics to stay in the NHS; we need them to stay in the NHS. The new rules published this morning confirm that the charge will end, but they do not come into effect until January, so can the Minister update the House? When will the surcharge end for health and social care workers, and why do the details published this morning suggest that some will still have to pay it and then be reimbursed?

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster - Parliament Live - Hansard

The details published this morning relate to the new system beyond 1 January. However, to be clear, we will refund those who have paid the charge since 31 March, not just since the time when the Prime Minister made the announcement. We expect to bring in the new health and care visa significantly before 1 January; we are planning to have it in place before 1 October, and people applying for it will not have to pay the surcharge.

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

(Report stage: House of Commons)
Holly Lynch Excerpts
Tuesday 30th June 2020

(2 months, 3 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Home Office
Tim Loughton - Hansard
30 Jun 2020, 12:08 a.m.

The hon. Gentleman is right. Actually, the Government have said all along that that is their intention. I have had meetings with many Immigration Ministers over the last few years. I remember going to see the then Immigration Minister, who is now the Northern Ireland Secretary, after Baroness Morgan and I visited Athens with UNICEF. We visited some of the camps out there and saw some of the children who would qualify for this scheme. We were given clear undertakings that it was absolutely the Government’s intention to make sure that after we came out of the EU, when Dublin III no longer covered the United Kingdom, we would have a scheme at least as good as what there is now.

Again, we are talking about just a few hundred children. We are not talking about attracting thousands of children to this country; it is a few hundred specifically identified children—usually through some of our agencies operating in refugee camps and around the world—who have family links in this country. In some cases, those will be their only family links. They may have lost their parents in the civil war in Syria; they may be at the hands of people traffickers, fleeing abuse, fleeing war zones or whatever, and it may be that a brother, an uncle or an aunt is the only family member they have left and that that person is legally in the United Kingdom. Those are some of the most vulnerable children whom we have done a fantastic job of giving a safe home to in recent years, and it is essential that we carry that scheme on. It is a mandatory scheme, and it is a scheme of which we should be hugely proud.

That is why now is the time for new clause 29. We have had fob-offs, frankly, over recent years about why it would not be appropriate to put this in legislation. We need a very clear statement and intent from the Government today that there will be a scheme in operation on 1 January. I know that it depends on negotiations, but if all else fails, we can put in place our own scheme that is at least as good as Dublin. That is what the new clause tries to achieve.

We have a great record in this area. We have taken almost 20,000 refugees under the Syrian scheme. We targeted 20,000; we have actually taken 19,768. We have invested more than £2.3 billion in Syrian refugees—more than any other country in the EU. We have filled the 480 Dubs places. We have a great record, so why on earth would we not want to make sure that we continue that great record for some of the most vulnerable children fleeing from danger, whom we have been able to afford safe and legal passage to join relatives in the United Kingdom?

That is what the new clause asks for. We have to do better. I and my constituents will not be able to understand it if we fail to give a strong commitment that this country continues to want to do the best by those really vulnerable children. For that reason, I support new clause 29 as well.

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

It is a pleasure to return to the Chamber for the Report stage of this important Bill and to follow the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton). I will return later to the merits of new clauses 2 and 29, but I will focus my comments on the merits of new clauses 13 to 15, tabled by the Leader of the Opposition. I will also outline our support for several other new clauses that have appeal across the Labour Benches, not least new clause 1, the lead amendment in this group.

I am sorry that we could not persuade the Government to engage further with us on any of the amendments or new clauses that we tabled in Committee, but we have the opportunity on Report to make the case again for different approaches in certain areas. In Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green) spoke to new clause 13, which called on the Government to review “no recourse to public funds” with a focus on vulnerable groups, including those with children and victims of domestic violence. We had hoped that such a review would establish an evidence base allowing for a more informed parliamentary discussion on the broader issue.

In the immediate term, we have already called for “no recourse to public funds” to be suspended for the duration of the coronavirus crisis. On 21 April, we asked the Government to lift NRPF as a condition on a person’s migration status, in order to ensure that nobody was left behind in the public health effort undertaken to fight against coronavirus.

Stephen Timms Portrait Stephen Timms (East Ham) (Lab) - Hansard

My hon. Friend is right. “No recourse to public funds” is one reason for what is happening in Leicester. Is she aware that both the Home Affairs Committee and the Work and Pensions Committee, on a cross-party basis, unanimously called for the suspension of the “no recourse to public funds” restrictions for the duration of the pandemic?

Holly Lynch Portrait Holly Lynch - Hansard
30 Jun 2020, 12:03 a.m.

My right hon. Friend, alongside the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, has done an awful lot of work in this area, not least with the support of the Prime Minister. In response to his question about NRPF on 27 May, the Prime Minister said:

“Clearly people who have worked hard for this country, who live and work here, should have support…we will see what we can do to help”.

My right hon. Friend was right to raise this important point. The Children’s Society estimates that about 1 million people and at least 100,000 children have no recourse to public funds. Although new clause 13 has been drafted to sit within the scope of the Bill, it would start to deliver on the spirit of the Prime Minister’s commitment.

Local authorities have already had instructions from central Government to this effect. On 26 March, Ministers from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government wrote to all councils asking them to utilise alternative powers and funding to assist those with no recourse to public funds. People are, however, still facing destitution and a postcode lottery at the discretion of their local authority without a clear steer from the Home Office. With this in mind, we hope that new clause 13 will have the support of the House. It would prevent any extension of this condition to those who would lose their free movement rights for the course of the pandemic, and would ensure that NRPF could not be re-imposed without a proper parliamentary debate and a vote in both Houses.

Tim Farron Portrait Tim Farron - Hansard
30 Jun 2020, 12:05 a.m.

In addition to the imposition and the hardship that comes from “no recourse to public funds”, there is the burden that many asylum seekers face when it comes to being able to work. Does the hon. Member agree that it is right that we give asylum seekers the right to work while they wait for their application to be heard, not least because it would save the public money and give those people the dignity of work and the ability to provide for their own families and to begin to integrate much earlier?

Holly Lynch Portrait Holly Lynch - Hansard
30 Jun 2020, midnight

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. We spoke in favour of the “Lift the Ban” campaign, which would have given asylum seekers the right to work after six months of not receiving a decision on their asylum claims. He is absolutely right that that would restore a degree of dignity to those in the system who have skills and are willing to work and want to contribute to the communities that they call their new homes. He is right to raise that important point.

On new clause 14, we very much welcome the Government’s commitment to scrap the NHS surcharge for migrant health and care workers. However, given that the commitment was made more than a month ago and that, to date, no progress as to how it will be delivered has been forthcoming, we have tabled new clause 14, which has, once again, been crafted to sit within the scope of this legislation and would make a start on enshrining the commitment in law.

The fee was described as “appalling, immoral and monstrous” by Lord Patten, the former Conservative party chairman. The general secretary for the Royal College of Nursing, Dame Donna Kinnair, said,

“it is a shame it took this pandemic for the government to see sense.”

The British Medical Association, the Royal College of Nursing, the Royal College of Physicians and Unison have all written to the Prime Minister to ask for practical clarification on his commitment. I also asked the Minister at Committee stage for an update on rolling out the policy change, but we are no nearer to having any insight into what progress, if any, has been made.

We worked with EveryDoctor, the doctor-led campaigning organisation to reach out to the 25,000-plus doctors on their Facebook group. It started a poll on Friday asking doctors to let it know if they had had to pay the immigration health surcharge since 21 May. So far, we have heard back from 55 doctors—all 55 have had to pay the charge.

I spoke to three of those doctors this morning. I thank them for their service to the NHS in our hour of need. Upon hearing their stories of what we make them go through in order to stay in this country and work in our NHS, I was genuinely embarrassed. They have each changed their roles within the NHS over the last three months. The automatic visa extension only covers those who are in the same job. If someone is moving to or from a 12-month specialist training post, for example, which is common in the NHS, they need to apply for a new visa, as they will be transferring sponsor, even though the move is within the NHS. They will not get a new visa without first paying the health surcharge.

I heard from Dr Olivia Misquitta, who is switching to a training placement role from paediatrics and who has been asked to pay the health surcharge twice in seven months—the last time being just last week, on 24 June. She hopes that eventually she will be refunded. I also heard from Dr Ahmed Bani Sadara, from Pakistan, who is working in orthopaedics but starts his GP training in August. His change in visa means that, on 1 June, he had to pay the health surcharge for himself, his wife and his six-month-old daughter, having already been asked to pay the charge for his daughter when she was born in this country just six months ago.

Yvette Cooper Portrait Yvette Cooper (Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford) (Lab) - Hansard

Does my hon. Friend recognise that social care workers and NHS porters and cleaners—those who do some of the most important jobs on the covid frontline—have not been included in the free visa extension and, as a result, are also being pressured to pay the immigration surcharge? Does she agree that the free visa extension ought to be extended to cover the lowest paid staff in the NHS and social care?

Holly Lynch Portrait Holly Lynch - Hansard
30 Jun 2020, 12:04 a.m.

I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend. In her capacity as Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, she has pushed for this issue a great deal, and I commend her for that work. I agree with her wholeheartedly.

In the long term, we need to look at the sponsorship issue. If medical professionals had simply the NHS as a sponsor, rather than individual trusts, that simple step would transform the visa system and the fees for those working on the frontline of healthcare provision.

On the health surcharge, we seek to press new clause 14 to a vote, unless we are given a clear steer and assurances about how and when the changes will come into effect, and how those who have had to pay the fee since the announcement was made will be reimbursed.

New clause 15 would quite simply exempt NHS employers from having to pay the immigration skills charge. As things stand, NHS trusts pay the skills charge for those coming to work in the NHS from countries outside the EU, and they will be expected to pay those costs for those coming from the EU after free movement ends. However, in the context of the NHS, where certain clinical skills are simply not available in the domestic labour pool, levelling a tax on NHS trusts for having no choice other than to plug their staff shortages from the international talent pool is nothing short of an outrage. An NHS trust cannot unilaterally decide to train more nurses from the domestic labour force, for example; it needs Government intervention to deliver that uplift.

We have clinical workforce shortages almost right across the board in the NHS, and that is while we have had free movement. We submitted freedom of information requests to 224 NHS hospital trusts in England, asking them how much they were losing from their budgets to pay these charges back to the Government. To give an indication of what some hospitals are paying out, Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust told us that in just one year—the 2019-2020 financial year—it paid the Government £972,000. It has paid over £2 million in immigration skills charges since 2017. Over the past three financial years, Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust had to pay the Government £961,000 in immigration skills charges. Only 21% of trusts have responded to the FOI request so far, but this tells us that nearly £13 million has been taken back out of NHS budgets and handed over to the Government since 2017. That is nearly £13 million from just 21% of the hospital trusts in England. The fact that some hospitals could be paying out nearly £1 million in immigration skills charges in a single year must surely be a sign that the system is not working as intended, and this is all while people have been able to come and work in the NHS under free movement, where fees would not have been applicable. That is about to come to an end. I urge the Minister to adopt new clause 15, to mitigate any further detrimental impact on the NHS workforce and to ensure that NHS funding stays in the NHS.

I will briefly touch on the two other changes we have proposed. Amendment 39 would time-limit the Henry VIII powers in the Bill. These powers have been widely criticised by experts, and efforts from both Labour and the Scottish National party in Committee to curb the powers or to ask the Government to state explicitly on the face of the Bill what they would be used for have been to no avail. Amendment 39 would tie them to the end date of the EU settlement scheme.

I want to take this opportunity to say that we also support new clause 29, tabled in the name of the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), with cross-party support. This new clause would seek to continue the existing arrangements for unaccompanied child refugees and maintain our commitment to family reunion. I was reassured by the Minister’s positive response to the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness (Simon Fell) on this issue during the urgent question yesterday, and I hope that discussions can continue in that positive spirit. We also support new clauses 7 to 10, tabled in the name of the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis), which reflect the sustained cross-party appetite to ensure that immigration detention is limited to 28 days, bringing about an end to unfair and unjust indefinite detention.

We are also keen to support new clause 2, tabled in the name of the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton), who has already given his very articulate explanation as to why it matters so much. We tabled new clause 58 in Committee to the same effect as his new clause, seeking to grant settled status to all those eligible children who are currently in the care of local authorities or who are care leavers. I am grateful that the hon. Gentleman has been able to share with the House some of the latest research from the Children’s Society, which foresees a bleak outlook if we do not take action on this important issue now, taking the responsibility from local authorities who are stretched as they have never been stretched before in order to make an application on behalf of a child. This is a cohort of children and young people who are our responsibility. We, the state, are acting as their legal guardians. They have already had the worst possible start in life, so let us do the best we can for them by at least giving them confidence in their immigration status.

As we have already heard through freedom of information requests, the Children’s Society identified a sample of 404 children who have had their status confirmed through the scheme, out of an estimated 9,000. Of those, 282 were granted settled status and 122 were granted pre-settled status. Given everything that those kids have been through, let us not sign them up for more years of paperwork and burdens of proof by giving them pre-settled status. Let us take all that uncertainty off the table for them by adopting new clause 2 and giving them indefinite leave to remain, as was so articulately outlined by the hon. Gentleman.

I very much hope that the Minister is open to the concerns that have been raised during the passage of the Bill and will no doubt be raised again this afternoon, but we are minded to take new clauses 13, 14 and 15 further if we are not satisfied that the Government are taking steps to mitigate the impact of the Bill and deliver on the promises that they have already made, not least to our brilliant NHS care workers.

Mr David Davis Portrait Mr David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden) (Con) - Hansard
30 Jun 2020, 12:01 a.m.

I will speak to new clauses 7 to 10, but before I do, may I add my support to new clauses 2 and 29 in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton)?  As an ex-Brexit Secretary, I see no reason whatever to wait on the negotiation in order to take his clauses forward.

Today there is no limit on the amount of time for which people can be held in immigration detention in the United Kingdom. We are the only country in Europe that takes this stance. At the end of 2019, the individual detained in a holding centre for the longest period had been held for 1,002 days. In earlier years those numbers were even worse. These people are detained without trial or due process, oversight or basic freedoms, and they are carrying the debilitating psychological burden of having no idea when they will be released.

This flies in the face of centuries of British justice. Its operation has been severely criticised by the chief inspector of prisons, the chief inspector of borders, the Select Committee on Home Affairs, the Joint Committee on Human Rights, the Law Society and the Bar Council—quite a bunch of radicals, I would say. As a result of this early criticism, the Home Office had to reduce the numbers in the system, for which it claimed credit in a briefing note issued this morning. This is an improvement towards bringing down the numbers, but is still nowhere near right. We need a 28-day limit on immigration detention, and that is the purpose of my new clauses.

The Government also claimed in that briefing note that 97% of the occupants of immigration holding centres are foreign national offenders. Well, that is technically true, since at the moment, under covid-19 emergency arrangements, we have temporarily put out into the community a significant majority of the people who were detained in holding centres, keeping in only the most serious cases. In fact, in normal times—to which we will presumably return when the covid-19 crisis is over—the average proportion of foreign national offenders who have been detained over five years is 22%. The figure is never more than 23% and is normally at 19% to 20%. That tells us that four out of five detainees in these centres have no criminal action against them whatever; they are innocent people.

Covid-19: Support and Accommodation for Asylum Seekers

Holly Lynch Excerpts
Monday 29th June 2020

(2 months, 3 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Home Office
Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp - Hansard

I thank my hon. Friend for his question, and he is right. Some asylum claims are meritorious—obviously, many are—and we should work quickly and humanely to grant those applications and offer help on integrating into UK society. But where there are meritless asylum claims, we need to make sure those are equally identified and rejected quickly, because it is unfair on the British public as a whole and on genuine asylum claimants if unmeritorious claims take up too much time in our system.

Holly Lynch Portrait Holly Lynch (Halifax) (Lab) - Hansard
29 Jun 2020, 12:02 a.m.

Let me start by thanking the hon. Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss) for securing this important urgent question and the Minister for his initial response. Once again, I wish to pay tribute to the extraordinary bravery and dedication of our emergency service workers. I know that the whole House is united in sending our gratitude to PC David Whyte and our best wishes for his recovery, just as we send our best wishes for the recovery of all those injured in this tragic attack. PC Whyte was part of a policing team who responded quickly and skilfully to keep people from danger, and he and his colleagues will have our heartfelt admiration and respect. Working alongside our magnificent NHS, they were able to save lives on Friday, but this worrying incident clearly poses a number of serious questions.

We are sympathetic to the speed with which additional accommodation has had to be sought for asylum seekers, at different stages of the asylum process, in the interests of public health going into lockdown. However, this tragic attack is an important reminder of why it is vital to deliver the correct, balanced approach to housing and related support services for asylum seekers, as well as supporting the wider community. As a result, there are a number of questions I would like to ask the Minister.

At the weekend, the Home Secretary suggested that this type of accommodation had been allocated because of the covid-19 crisis. However, we know that there is an ongoing problem, which predates the crisis, of people having been housed in what is deemed to be “initial accommodation” for prolonged periods before being moved into more appropriate dispersal accommodation. Can the Minister clarify how many asylum seekers are in initial accommodation compared with the number in dispersal accommodation across the country? Will he update the House about the duration of stays for asylum seekers at the Park Inn hotel in Glasgow? Will he share with the House what vulnerability and risk assessments the Home Office and service providers are currently conducting when placing people in asylum support accommodation, in order to ensure that people have the support they need, including access to mental health support? Finally, what work is being undertaken to identify the risk factors that could have been spotted in this attacker, and how will that change future practice?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp - Hansard
29 Jun 2020, 12:04 a.m.

I thank the shadow Minister for her question. I should take this opportunity to welcome her to her place, and I look forward to many exchanges across the Dispatch Box in the months and, perhaps if we are lucky, years ahead. She asked about the numbers of people being supported in asylum accommodation. We currently have 44,000 people being supported under section 95 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 and some 4,000 people being supported under section 4; pre-coronavirus, we had about 48,000 people supported. The number has increased dramatically in the past four or five years—it has almost doubled in that period—so we are growing our asylum accommodation estate in order to cater for that growth. Of course, we are trying to get people into dispersed accommodation—the more stable accommodation—as much as we can. As my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Aaron Bell) alluded to in the previous question, the more we can make sure we can look after meritorious claims quickly but dismiss unmeritorious claims, the less pressure there will be on asylum accommodation in the first place.

Every asylum seeker is subjected to a risk assessment, on health and on other grounds, at the point of receipt into the system. I do not want to comment too much on this individual’s case, but when he first made one of his asylum claims—he made two—he flagged a health vulnerability, but it was a minor physical vulnerability, not anything that could have had anything to do with what happened on Friday. I assure the hon. Lady that those assessments do take place and there are round-the-clock facilities for asylum seekers to report any health or any issues that they may have.

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

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

(3 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
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Home Office
Holly Lynch Portrait Holly Lynch (Halifax) (Lab) - Hansard
18 Jun 2020, 11:35 a.m.

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

Good morning, Sir Edward. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship once again. New clause 24 is in very much the same spirit as new clause 21, which would require the Government to commission a report on the Bill’s impact on the health and social care sectors. New clause 24 would require them to take the same approach to the agriculture sector and food security.

Significant numbers of EEA nationals are employed on a permanent and seasonal basis, making them an instrumental consideration for the agriculture sector. As things stand, it would not function without them. The coronavirus pandemic has shone a light on certain sectors that we have often taken for granted but are absolutely essential. Food security has been a focus for people as never before. It is another area that brings recognition that food production is essential to life. Its workers have been classed as key workers for the purposes of the pandemic, yet so many of those who have worked incredibly hard to keep fruit and veg, in particular, on our tables throughout the pandemic are paid less than £25,600.

The Government’s February policy statement on their future points-based immigration system simply states:

“We will end free movement and not implement a route for lower-skilled workers.”

Members who served on the Committee that considered the Bill presented during the 2017-19 Parliament may remember that James Porter of the National Farmers Union of Scotland gave evidence. I spoke to Mr Porter about the Bill and about the issue of “low-skilled” workers. He was keen to stress that, although some of his workers may not have qualifications or letters after their names, being an agricultural worker and picker of soft fruits and vegetables is their profession. It requires skill and they take great pride in it.

Mr Porter said that most of his seasonal workers have been coming back to his farm for 10 or 15 years. He went on to explain that the exceptional circumstances of this year meant that attempts to redirect people traditionally from different lines of work and professions into agriculture from the local labour pool had brought out the likes of lawyers, electricians and teachers to pick fruit on his farm. That was welcome, but he made the point that although they were educated and highly skilled in their own field, they were not skilled fruit pickers. They took longer and their yield was not comparable with that of people who specialise in that line of work.

The Government’s February policy paper goes on to say:

“UK businesses will need to adapt and adjust to the end of free movement, and we will not seek to recreate the outcomes from free movement within the points-based system. As such, it is important that employers move away from a reliance on the UK’s immigration system as an alternative to investment in staff retention, productivity, and wider investment in technology and automation.”

I sought to make a point about this matter on Tuesday, during the discussion on the social care new clause. I completely accept the Minister’s point that social care and agriculture are very different sectors. He will look to the unemployment figures and say that we will fill labour shortages from the domestic workforce, but I gave the example of how attempts to channel those who are out of work into other sectors over the course of the pandemic had not exactly been an easy or straightforward process.

I cited the Pick for Britain scheme as an example. The Minister may have more up-to-date figures but, after overcoming some initial teething problems with the website, one of the organisations managing the scheme, Concordia, reported that it had 35,000 applications after the initial appeal for domestic workers. However, only 30% of applicants had farming experience—as was probably predictable—and only 16% of people opted to interview after their initial application, with even fewer actually making it on to a farm.

Some of the pressures have been alleviated thanks to specially chartered flights from EU countries such as Romania, which have provided us with the skilled workers we need, but they have been a warning of what is to come. When we have problems in the sector, we will say with absolute certainty that the writing was on the wall.

The seasonal agriculture workers pilot scheme needs to be much improved if it is to sustain the levels of migrant work needed after the end of the transition period. The pilot allows for 10,000 visas, when actually 70,000 would be much closer to the agreed number of people required. The cost of permits is too high and farms simply do not have the administrative capacity needed to process the bureaucracy that accompanies each individual application.

FLEX, the Focus on Labour Exploitation group, has also repeatedly raised concerns about the potential for worker exploitation in the scheme, citing the issue of tied visas, where the worker is tied to one specific employer and prohibited from changing employer while in the UK under that visa. Debt bondage, where the worker’s wages go towards paying off costs of entering the scheme, such as visa charges and flight costs, alongside recruitment fees paid to labour brokers, is another worrying trend that will need to be addressed in any future scheme.

Right across the sector there are problems. The Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs took evidence on this in May, with Ian Wright, the chief executive of the Food and Drink Federation, telling the Committee that the crisis had shown how vital the food industry was. He said:

“If you can’t feed a country, you don’t have a country. That has been borne out in this crisis in massive order.”

He went on to explicitly say:

“We don’t think the current Immigration Bill addresses the sort of country we want to be. I think it is surprising that, given the lessons of the last eight or nine weeks, the Immigration Bill is back in parliament unchanged, given what we have learned about the people working in food and drink, in distribution centres and the care sectors.”

Mr Robert Goodwill Portrait Mr Robert Goodwill (Scarborough and Whitby) (Con) - Hansard
18 Jun 2020, 11:36 a.m.

The hon. Lady is right to identify some of the exploitation that can occur. Does she agree that the Gangmasters (Licensing) Act 2004 addressed many of those problems and that the situation is much better than it was because of legislation passed by the Conservative-led Government?

Holly Lynch Portrait Holly Lynch - Hansard

I am grateful for that intervention and I welcome the point made by the right hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby—

Dame Diana Johnson Portrait Dame Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab) - Hansard
18 Jun 2020, 11:36 a.m.

That was us.

Holly Lynch Portrait Holly Lynch - Hansard
18 Jun 2020, 11:37 a.m.

Further to my hon. Friend’s correction, James Porter was keen to stress that that has been a helpful intervention to improve standards for workers. I hope that the hon. Gentleman agrees that there is still much more to do to ensure that we are looking after these workers.

Mr Robert Goodwill Portrait Mr Goodwill - Hansard

May I correct the record? It was because of legislation passed by the last Labour Government, which I do not recall that we opposed.

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.

Break in Debate

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster - Hansard

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New Clause 25

Report on status of EEA and Swiss nationals after the transition

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

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

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

(a) work in the UK;

(b) use the NHS for free;

(c) enrol in education or continue studying;

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

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

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

Brought up, and read the First time.

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

Break in Debate

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.

Break in Debate

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster - Hansard

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

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

Holly Lynch Portrait Holly Lynch - Hansard

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

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New Clause 28

Annual review: Higher education

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

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

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

Brought up, and read the First time.

Kate Green Portrait Kate Green (Stretford and Urmston) (Lab) - Hansard
18 Jun 2020, 12:10 p.m.

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

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair again this morning, Sir Edward. The new clause would require the Government to commission an annual report from the Migration Advisory Committee on the impact of the Bill’s provisions on the higher education sector.

As the Committee will know, the UK higher education sector has a world-leading reputation, which helps it to attract international students. The proportion of international students is a measure in most global university rankings, meaning that by choosing to study here, international students contribute directly to the sector’s world standing. Today, 18 of the UK’s universities rank in the world’s top 100, and 76% of UK research is ranked as excellent or world-leading. International staff and students are crucial to the UK’s economic success, and it is important that the UK continues to attract both EU and non-EU students and staff in the future.

International students deliver more than £26 billion to the UK economy. They bring more than £6.9 billion in income to universities in tuition fees. They generated £13 billion of export revenue in 2016, an increase of 41% since 2010. Universities UK estimates that universities supported more than 200,000 jobs and were worth £3.3 billion in tax revenues.

Aside from the direct economic benefits, international students and staff are crucial to the provision of skills, the conducting of research and the culture of the UK’s universities. In 2017-18, UK higher education institutions reported a £4.3 billion deficit between research income received and the costs of delivering research activity. Much of that gap was covered by international tuition fees, so international students are key to the UK’s research capacity.

In 2018-19, there were 485,645 international students enrolled at UK universities, an increase from 436,600 international students in 2014-15. Some 342,620 of those international students—that is 70%—were from outside the European Union. The remaining 143,025 students were from EU countries, but the UK’s market share has dropped in 17 of the world’s top 21 sending countries. The Office for Budget Responsibility has identified higher education as the sector likely to take the hardest hit from the covid crisis.

Given the pressures, it will be vital to understand the impact of immigration policy on future student numbers. The impact assessment attached to the Bill is optimistic, suggesting that a potential reduction in the number of EEA students attending UK universities of 25,000 after the first five years of the new points-based system will be offset by a corresponding increase in non-EEA students.

However, some of the assumptions in the impact assessment are highly speculative—as, indeed, the Government themselves acknowledge. Paragraph 160 of the impact assessment states that

“measures such as proof of funds and employment rights might have an additional deterrent impact—but there is little evidence on which to base an estimate. The impact of any administration cost or visa fee or change to student funding will also impact student choices. Therefore, the estimates presented here will only reflect the potential impacts from changes in immigration policy and not the overall impacts on EU student numbers.”

Paragraphs 163 and 164 state:

“The restrictions on the rights to bring dependants, which will apply to EU students from 2021, may also have an impact on inflows under the future system, as only those who are studying a full-time course which is a least nine months long at a postgraduate level of study are allowed to bring family members to the UK…Applying these potential deterrents, the reduction in EU student inflows are estimated to be around 15,000 per annum in the first five years of the policy.”

In paragraph 165, expected-length-of-study data is applied to the change in inflows, pointing to:

“an estimate of up to 25,000 fewer EU higher education students in the UK by academic year 2024/25 relative to the baseline.”

The paragraph also argues that

“any places not taken by EU students may be occupied by non-EU students, so the overall impact on foreign student numbers is not clear.”

In paragraph 166, the Government estimate that

“non-EU enrolments might increase by up to 10 per cent, depending on the level of study”,

but the paragraph also notes:

“This assumption is very uncertain, not least because other drivers could have affected non-EU inflows over the period of the last post-study work visa.”

None the less, paragraph 167 states:

“The assumption of around 10 per cent increase in enrolments is estimated to lead to an average annual increase in non-EU enrolments by around 25,000 over the first five years of the policy.”

That is a strikingly convenient conclusion in the light of the assessment of 25,000 fewer EU students at the end of the same period.

Paragraph 172 notes:

“Changes in the numbers of students enrolling will affect tuition fee income for universities. Overall, projected tuition fee income is estimated to increase under the future immigration system. This is primarily driven by the”—


“increase in tuition fee income from additional non-EEA students which is expected to more than offset the decline in EEA student tuition fee income. The increase is estimated to be between £1 billion and £2 billion over the first five years of the policy.”

However, paragraph 172 goes on to state:

“Estimates do not take any account of behavioural impacts, nor any changes in universities expenditure.”

Paragraph 173 expands on that, stating:

“EU students are currently classified as ‘home’ students, and therefore benefit from accessing student loans and paying domestic tuition fees which are currently capped at £9,250 for undergraduates. Estimates above assume home fee status and access to student loans will remain the same as the current system. However, any changes to this will have an impact on both EU student enrolments and the projected tuition fee income of universities.”

Paragraph 175 concludes:

“As a result of changes to net student enrolments modelled above, a cumulative net fiscal benefit is estimated of under £1 billion over the first five years of the forecast period.”

That is a bold statement that will be true only if the assumptions in the impact assessment are correct and the reductions in EU students are indeed replaced by non-EU students.

We can already identify a number of policy choices that could affect those assumptions. The current situation for EEA students coming to the UK is that for academic year 2020-21, they retain the same status as domestic students. However, delays in start dates and term times as a result of the covid crisis may mean that there will be students who enrol on to academic year 2020-21, but do not enter the UK until 2021. Which immigration system will apply in such circumstances is uncertain.

Break in Debate

Kate Green Portrait Kate Green - Hansard
18 Jun 2020, 12:34 p.m.

I welcome much of what the Minister has said. I welcome his and the Government’s ambition to be and to continue to be a leading player in the international student market. I very much welcome what he said about the commitment either to continue our association with Erasmus+, if that is possible, or to find other ways to continue to offer international exchange opportunities to students. He gave useful assurances in relation to the guidance published this morning—which I apologise for not having read—on greater flexibilities in respect of the covid-19 crisis. I am sure that the MAC will have heard what the Minister said about encouraging its continued active review of the international student market. Given the Minister’s comments, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New Clause 29

Report on arrangements for temporary entry and stay for business purposes for EEA and Swiss nationals

“(1) A Minister of the Crown must, within 12 months of this Act coming into force, lay before Parliament a report evaluating the effects of this Act on the arrangements for temporary entry and stay for business purposes for EEA and Swiss nationals.

(2) That report must include—

(a) the qualification requirements for a short-term business visitor

(b) the activities that can be undertaken by a short-term business visitor;

(c) consider the reciprocal arrangements for UK nationals travelling to the EEA and Switzerland.”—(Holly Lynch.)

This new clause would require the Government to consider the requirements of short-term business visitors.

Brought up, and read the First time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Holly Lynch Portrait Holly Lynch - Hansard

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

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New Clause 30

Procedures for amending Immigration Rules

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

(2) After section 3(2) insert—

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

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

(a) explains the proposal; and

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

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

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

(a) any representations; and

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

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

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

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

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

Question negatived.

New Clause 32

Annual report on labour market

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

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

Brought up, and read the First time.

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.

Break in Debate

Holly Lynch Portrait Holly Lynch - Hansard

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

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

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster - Hansard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(3 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
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Home Office
Holly Lynch Portrait Holly Lynch (Halifax) (Lab) - Hansard
18 Jun 2020, 2 p.m.

Thank you very much and welcome back, Mr Stringer; it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship once again. It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North, who made a powerful and persuasive contribution earlier to reinforce the merits of new clause 41.

I rise to speak in favour of new clause 58, about which we feel strongly and which is not dissimilar to new clause 41. As things stand, it is currently the responsibility of local authorities to make an application to the European Union settlement scheme for children under 18 who will be eligible to apply but who are currently in the care of the local authority. The Committee heard evidence on that from the Children’s Society, and I noted the Minister’s scepticism about aspects of that approach. I will seek, with genuine sincerity, to persuade him of the merits of taking an alternative approach.

Children are taken into care only if they have had the worst possible start in life. The cohort of children who would be affected by the new clause have the fateful combination of absent parents and precarious migration status. If we do any good with the Bill, it should be by giving those kids some stability on just one those fronts, in the hope that they can go on to a much brighter future.

In answer to a written parliamentary question, the Home Office said that it estimates—as we have already heard—that around 5,000 looked-after children and 4,000 care leavers in the UK would need to apply to the EU settlement scheme, but the exact numbers are unknown. Any further investigations undertaken by the Home Office to better understand those numbers have not been published, so, like my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North, I wonder whether the Minister is in a position to update the Committee on those estimates.

My hon. Friend referred to the incredibly informative survey work of the Children’s Society on this matter, in the absence of any further official data. It conducted its own research, sending freedom of information requests to every local authority or children’s services provider in the UK. That totalled 211 providers, 153 of which responded to the FOI requests by January this year. Those local authorities identified just 3,612 European economic area or Swiss looked-after children and care leavers, which is only 40% of Home Office estimates. Of those 3,612 children and young people, only 730 had so far applied to the EU settlement scheme. Of those, only 404 were in receipt of status—282 had settled status and 122 had pre-settled status—meaning that, of those identified by local authorities, only 20% have applied and only 11% have been granted status. Although the data represents 73% of local authorities or service providers, and as such is not fully representative, it offers a strong indication that there are serious and urgent concerns about identifying and settling the migration status of vulnerable children whose status and future will be significantly affected by the Bill.

The Minister might argue that as those figures relate to data gathered in January of this year, progress may since have been made. However, considering that we started to enter lockdown in mid-March, I suspect that not a great deal of progress has been made in the intervening weeks. The Minister might argue that because only 153 local authorities responded and 58 councils did not contribute data, the stats might actually be better than that sample suggests, but a number of those councils said they did not have that information and could not provide it to the Children’s Society. In fact, 32 local authorities said that they were unable to provide the data or that they did not hold the information in a reportable format.

Whether through the Government’s proposed approach, which means going through the full application, or through the streamlined alternative proposed in the new clause 58, for those children the local authority has responsibility for securing their status either way. If those very councils are saying that they do not know how many children in their care are eligible, we all ought to be incredibly concerned.

The Government have produced non-statutory guidance to local authorities on the EUSS regarding their roles and responsibilities in making or supporting applications for looked-after children and care leavers. However, in its oral evidence last week, the Children’s Society said that it had engaged with several councils that were still unaware of the existence of the guidance or their responsibilities as set out within it. Although the Children’s Society has attempted to address that by providing councillors with resources aimed at helping them in their accountability, overview and scrutiny roles, we clearly still have a number of barriers to overcome.

Even where local authorities are aware of their responsibilities, the young people in their care often have extremely complex cases that require considerable support and legal advice. Many require nationality advice, others have complex family arrangements, and most simply do not have the required documentation. Social workers are consequently spending months navigating advice and acquiring the necessary documents from European embassies. Social workers are by no means specialists in that area of work, and do we really want them to be acting as immigration caseworkers when we know the incredible case loads that they face?

All those factors were in play before they were compounded by the coronavirus. Local authorities are in the fight of their lives to keep communities going. The resources are, and will continue to be, spread incredibly thinly, diverting efforts to the frontline of fighting the virus for the foreseeable future. We have vulnerable children at home without day-to-day interaction with services. Although those children can still attend school we know that, disappointingly and worryingly, numbers are still low.

The challenges presented for children’s services are enormous. Identifying and assisting children in care to apply for an immigration status that is seemingly non-urgent has inevitably been de-prioritised. The most recent EUSS statistics show that applications fell by 46% in April this year, and anecdotal evidence from practitioners indicates that the number of applications and referrals of EU children in care or care leavers has been low, as we would expect during this time.

Even when applications have been made, the Children’s Society research found that in its sample only 404 EU national children in care or care leavers were in receipt of status through the EUSS, out of an estimated 9,000. In just over a nine-month period, only 11% of the vulnerable children identified through the survey, which is just 4% of the Home Office estimate of 9,000, were able to settle their status, compared with 79% of the overall official estimate of 3.4 million EEA citizens over the same nine-month period.

If those trends continue, thousands of European children either currently in the care system or who have recently left care will fall through the gaps, becoming undocumented and left without immigration status—rubbing salt into the wounds of what has already been a troubled start in life. The Home Office previously stated in answer to a written question that children who

“do not apply because their parent or guardian did not submit an application on their behalf can submit a late application. This includes children in care and care leavers.”

That is welcome, but both local and national Government must work to ensure that no child in the care of the state becomes undocumented, and we can do that with the new clause.

Having discussed some of the practicalities on the matter at length with my local director of children’s services, Julie Jenkins, for whose assistance I put my gratitude on the record, we propose that local authorities, on a declaratory basis, provide a list of names to the Home Office of the children and young people who would be eligible. In responding to reservations raised by the Minister at last week’s evidence session, the Home Office would then grant those young people settled status, as they would for a person who had made an application.

The Minister asked the Children’s Society how these young people prove their status. To answer his question: in the same way any other person with settled status would. We have been unable, sadly, to convince the Minister of the merits of physical proof, so they would have confirmation through an e-visa. On the issue of pre-settled and settled status, of the 404 children in the sample that we are talking about who are in receipt of status, 282 were granted settled status and 122 were granted pre-settled status.

Given everything that those kids have been through, why are we giving them pre-settled status? Let us just give them settled status. Let us not simply sign them up for yet more years of paperwork and burdens of proof; let us just take all that uncertainty off the table for them in this instance by giving them both settled status and proof of it.

Mr Robert Goodwill Portrait Mr Robert Goodwill (Scarborough and Whitby) (Con) - Hansard
18 Jun 2020, 2:10 p.m.

On burden of proof, is it not the case that the Government have made it clear that alternative types of documentation might be available for children who cannot get access to birth certificates or other documents because they are estranged from their parents?

Holly Lynch Portrait Holly Lynch - Hansard
18 Jun 2020, 2:11 p.m.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Break in Debate

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.

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

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

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

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

Break in Debate

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

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

Holly Lynch Portrait Holly Lynch - Hansard

Oh, it did!

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster - Hansard

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

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

Holly Lynch Portrait Holly Lynch - Hansard

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

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

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

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

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

(3 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
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Home Office
Brendan O'Hara Portrait Brendan O'Hara - Hansard
16 Jun 2020, 10:12 a.m.

Personally, I think that the greater devolution of power, as widely as possible across any nation state, is an exceptionally good thing. Anything that can attract people to come, live, work, invest and raise families in our rural communities must be looked at and broadly welcomed. It was broadly welcomed in the recent Migration Advisory Committee report, which said:

“The current migration system is not very effective in dealing with the particular problems remote communities experience. If these problems are to be addressed something more bespoke for these areas is needed…The only way to address this question in the UK context would be to pilot a scheme that facilitated migration to these areas, then monitor what happens over several years and evaluate the outcomes.”

As my hon. Friend the Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East said, that idea was welcomed by the right hon. Member for Bromsgrove in a ministerial answer on 23 July 2019, where he accepted the need for the development of a pilot scheme. To date, there has been very little movement and we fear that there has been backtracking by the UK Government about what they plan to do next about setting it up.

The Minister knows that the Scottish Government stand ready to work with him to design and develop a solution that is tailored to meet Scotland’s needs. I can tell him that if the MAC is willing to provide the advice, and the Scottish Government is minded to follow that advice, then Argyll and Bute is prepared to put it itself forward as a pilot area for such a scheme. I spoke yesterday to the chief executive of Argyll and Bute Council, Pippa Milne, who confirmed that the council would be happy to work with the UK Government and the MAC to see how a bespoke regional immigration system would work in practice. Will the Minister act on the MAC recommendation, which was supported by the former Home Secretary, and help Scotland to fight the curse of depopulation?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Break in Debate

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.

Mr Robert Goodwill Portrait Mr Goodwill - Hansard
16 Jun 2020, 12:03 a.m.

I very much sympathise with what the hon. Member for Halifax has just said. There is real concern that EEA nationals who have been working here, contributing not least to our health service, may find themselves missing the deadline. However, I do not agree that the way to address that is through new clause 10, as I made clear to the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East. Some like myself would always wait until the deadline before submitting an essay or article. By extending the period by six months, we might well just encourage people to put off the chore—as they see it—of applying.

I ask the Minister to reassure us that, as we approach the deadline, the Government will engage in a communications exercise and advertising campaign, particularly in some of the main EU languages, so that people are aware of the deadline and can submit their applications in good time for them to be processed.

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

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

(3 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
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Home Office
Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald - Hansard
16 Jun 2020, 2:20 p.m.

This brings us to the hot topic of the immigration health surcharge. It is worth remembering that the health surcharge is a fairly new concept, as it was introduced in 2014. It is set at £400 per year for most applicants, with a discounted rate for students and tier 5 youth mobility workers. The Government have decided to increase the fee to £624 per person per year in October.

Those are hugely significant sums of money, as the charge has to be paid per person per year for the full duration of the visa being applied for, before that visa application has even been considered. Somebody who comes in under a typical five-year tier 2 visa will have to pay more than £3,000 up front in health charges. If they have a husband or wife and a couple of kids, that is three extra NHS surcharges, so more than £12,000 up front without even thinking about the visa fee. On a discounted rate, a student coming for three years will need to pay more than £1,400 up front. Again, that is completely separate from the visa fee. Of course, the Bill extends the scope of the immigration health surcharge to many more applicants.

A particular injustice is done to people applying for leave to remain based on long residence. They are individuals and families who are forced on to a dreadful treadmill of applications and expense. Repeatedly, they have to apply for 30 months’ leave to remain. A single parent with two kids applying under those rules would need to pay almost £4,700 in health charges, and more than £3,000 in immigration fees, for just 30 months. They have to make that same application over and over again until they get to 10 years. When they get to 10 years and are met with a settlement fee of £2,400 per person, they will already have paid £10,300 per person. For a family, £10,000 per person is impossible. Shamefully, those people are often prohibited from having access to public funds.

Those people are applying because of long residence in the UK so, realistically, in many cases, there is no other country that they can go to. The children have spent most, if not all, of their lives here. It can put families in intolerable situations where they have to choose which family member they can afford to pay the fee for. A child may end up missing out because the most immediate and pressing priority is to pay the fee for a breadwinner.

In a way, the charge represents the worst of Home Office policy making, although the Treasury is as much to blame for stripping the Home Office right down to the core and instructing it to use migrants as cash cows to fund its activities. It also illustrates the Home Office at its worst, because the policy is more about grabbing the headlines than anything else. It is illogical, unjust and counterproductive.

The excuse given is that the policy ensures that migrants contribute towards the cost of the NHS system that they may use—but in that case, why is there an NHS charge but not an education charge, especially for families with kids? Why is there not a public transport or roads charge, or a local services charge? It is essentially a fig leaf for the fact that it is simply a general tax.

It is also unjust in that it is a form of double taxation and it is a poll tax. Migrants, of course, contribute to public services through general taxation like everybody else, through income tax, council tax and indirect taxes. The NHS surcharge is totally regressive. It falls unfairly on different migrants, as a wealthy bank worker with no dependants will pay about a quarter of the sum that an NHS careworker will pay if he or she comes in with kids. Most importantly, it falls unfairly on migrants as opposed to those who are citizens or settled. Migrants pay a general tax that the rest of us do not, while at the same time paying all the other taxes that we do.

Finally, from a different perspective, this is a policy that makes the UK an eye-wateringly expensive place for people to come to work. That will now expand to EU and Swiss nationals, and to the small and medium-sized businesses that employ them. Just as businesses are struggling to keep their noses above water, the Government intend to whack them with a plethora of fees, vis-à-vis skills charges and the NHS surcharge.

As we heard last week, it is the big multinationals that are well practised in this system over time, and that have the know-how and resources. Small and medium-sized businesses will end up not only having to navigate the complex tier 2 system, but often meeting the cost of the immigration health surcharge. If a job pays around £26,000 or £27,000, nobody in their right mind is going to come if they have to pay almost half a year’s salary up front. The small hotel and the fish-processing factory will have to pay it on their behalf and, quite simply, they may well not be able to afford to do that. It will not just be one job that remains unfilled. The danger becomes that that hotel or factory simply cannot continue to function and it moves elsewhere. Workers will go where they are not being totally ripped off.

Can the Minister give me examples of other countries that operate such a system in relation to a health surcharge? If so, what is the comparable rate? All the comparisons that I have looked at show that the UK is charging people to come here at a rate that is several times that of most of our competitor countries. In short, this is unjust, it is counter-productive, it is a double poll tax and it should be axed altogether. We support the Labour amendment and new clause as far as they go, but our view is that the solution is total abolition, rather than trimming around the edges.

Holly Lynch Portrait Holly Lynch (Halifax) (Lab) - Hansard
16 Jun 2020, 2:26 p.m.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship once again, Mr Stringer. I rise to speak to new clause 42. I agree with a great deal of what my friend the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East said about the immigration health surcharge.

The Labour party is undertaking a significant piece of work with colleagues in the health team about the subject, so we will not make any further comments at this stage about new clause 12. We tabled new clause 42 and we welcome the Government’s commitment to scrap the NHS surcharge for migrant health and care workers, which we feel is long overdue.

The pandemic has shown the enormous contribution of overseas workers to our health and care system. They have put their lives on the line every day to keep us safe. It has been an insult and injustice to then ask them to pay extra for the very services they help provide. The Government acknowledged it was wrong, and said they would be scrapping the fee, which was described as “appalling, immoral and monstrous” by Lord Patten, the former Conservative party chairman, on 21 May, but details have yet to be published about exactly how and when it will happen.

I am mindful that the commitment made by the Prime Minister, following the exchanges between our party leaders at the Dispatch Box, was broader than the new clause before us due to the scope of the Bill. The U-turn was made when a No. 10 Downing Street spokesman announced:

“The PM has asked the Home Office and the Department for Health and Social Care to remove NHS and care workers from the NHS surcharge as soon as possible. Work by officials is now underway on how to implement the change and full details will be announced in the coming days.”

We share the opinion of Donna Kinnair, general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, who said it was

“a shame it took this pandemic for the government to see sense”.

We also share the opinion of the British Medical Association, the Royal College of Nursing, the Royal College of Physicians and Unison, which have written to the Prime Minister to demand clarity about his commitment. I hope that the Minister can update the Committee and, indeed, the general public on what progress the Government have made. Can he confirm that all health and care workers will be exempt from the charge on a permanent basis, including those employed in the NHS, independent settings and the social care sector; that the spouses and dependants of health and care workers will also be exempt from the charge; and that health and care staff, who have paid the charge in advance, which will be all those currently working in the NHS and social care, bearing the brunt of the pandemic, will be appropriately reimbursed?

New clause 42 intends to hold the Government to the commitments made following PMQs on 20 May. As you can imagine, Mr Stringer, international doctors and nurses, who have just had to endure the most difficult, traumatising period of their careers, were hugely relieved when the Government made the overdue decision to scrap this unfair charge for health and care workers, finally recognising the vital contribution that overseas staff make to the NHS. However, we are nearly a month on since the announcement was made and we are still awaiting the details that we were promised.

Break in Debate

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

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

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

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

EEA and Swiss nationals will soon join the rest of the world in having to pay visa fees or fees for starting the journey towards British citizenship. The British Nationality Act 1981 contains provisions to ensure that no child with entitlement to register for British citizenship should have to pay a fee. Subsections (2), (3) and (4) of new clause 13 are designed to safeguard that Act, in spite of the Bill. I particularly welcome subsection (2), which would provide a further safeguard for children who receive assistance from their local authorities, adding to our proposals in new clause 58. We will come on to clause 58, but those provisions seek to provide automatic settled status for all EEA and Swiss children in care, and for those entitled to care-leaving support.

With that in mind, we welcome the independent chief inspector’s report, “An inspection of the policies and practices of the Home Office’s Borders, Immigration and Citizenship Systems relating to charging and fees”, which was presented to the Home Secretary last September. It set out concerns about the legislative procedure for citizenship and immigration fees, and it recommended that the Home Office undertake to provide considerably more clarity on fee levels, stating that the Government should:

“Either make public any Policy Equality Statements produced for ministers or publish separate statements that show clearly what has been considered when proposing fees levels/increases in terms of equality and diversity, in particular the social and welfare impacts on children, families and vulnerable persons.”

New clauses 37 and 38 would require Parliament’s consent for changes to be made to citizenship fees and immigration fees respectively. As we have discussed, the Government are attempting to grant themselves sweeping Henry VIII powers throughout the Bill; we have rehearsed that debate several times. We believe it is vital that parliamentary oversight is at least afforded to these charges, which will dictate the lives and prosperity of EEA and Swiss migrants in the UK for years to come. Ideally, that should be done through parliamentary legislation rather than through the current framework, which relies on statutory instruments.

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster - Hansard
16 Jun 2020, 2:53 p.m.

I am grateful to the hon. Members for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East and for Argyll and Bute for tabling new clauses 13, 36 and 37, which provide the Committee with the opportunity to consider fees charged in respect of applications made by those who will lose the right of free movement under the Bill for citizenship, leave to enter or remain in the United Kingdom, the immigration health surcharge, the immigration skills charge and sponsorship licences. I pay tribute to the hon. Gentlemen’s diligence in going through all the points that they wished to highlight.

It may be helpful to provide some background information for the Committee. Application fees for border, immigration and citizenship products and services have been charged for a number of years, and they play a vital role in our country’s ability to run a sustainable system. To put them into context, the current charging framework across the operation delivered £1.98 billion of income in the financial year 2018-19. That income helped to deliver the funding required to run the borders, immigration and citizenship system, and it substantially reduces the burden on UK taxpayers, as I am sure members of the public would rightly expect us to do.

The immigration health charge ensures that temporary migrants who come to the UK for more than six months make a fair contribution towards paying for the NHS services that are available to them during their stay. As was touched on earlier, income from the charge directly contributes to the long-term sustainability of our fantastic health service across our United Kingdom. Certain groups are already exempt from the requirement to pay the charge, and others benefit from a discounted rate.

The immigration skills charge is designed to incentivise employers to invest in training and upskilling the resident workforce to move away from reliance on the UK’s immigration system as an alternative to investment in staff retention, productivity, technology and automation. Income raised from the charge will be used to address skills gaps in the UK workforce, and that will be of benefit to businesses in the long term. Any fees to be charged are already approved by both Houses of Parliament.

New clause 13(1) is designed to limit the Secretary of State’s power to charge a fee for applying for British citizenship to the cost of processing. That would apply to anybody who has enjoyed free movement rights at any point. Imposing such a provision would cut across the existing statutory framework for fees and would risk undermining the funding and coherence of the whole current and future system.

Additionally, making fee provisions that are specific to certain nationalities as part of the Bill would be unfair to all users of the border, immigration and citizenship system, and it could lead the Home Office to discriminating on the basis of a person’s nationality. That clearly goes against our policy, although I accept that part of the rationale for that was to get the new clause into the scope of the Bill.

Break in Debate

Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald - Hansard
16 Jun 2020, 3:12 p.m.

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

The Bill, in combination with others that have gone before, removes from some people the right to be in this country, and requires them to apply for rights under the EU settlement scheme. As hon. Members know, I object to that approach, but I acknowledge that, for the vast majority of people, it will thankfully be a fairly straightforward matter and there will be no need for legal advice. As we have seen, the scheme has reached a good number of people so far. We have also seen that these issues can be complicated. It can be complicated for someone to know whether they are required to apply or whether they have the right to be here as a UK citizen or through some form of migration status. For some, proving the right to be here in order to get settled status can be tricky, and advice will be needed on the type of evidence required or whether, for example, an old criminal conviction brings a risk in applying.

In Scotland, some will be able to get advice and assistance funding from the Scottish Legal Aid Board in order to seek some support on these issues, subject to a means test, but it is not the same in England and Wales. We have to learn the lessons of history: restrictions on access to legal aid were a contributing factor to the Windrush scandal. In itself, it would not cost much money to allow some basic legal advice to be handed out to those who need it. I very much hope the Government will consider this proposal seriously and put right the absence of legal aid.

Holly Lynch Portrait Holly Lynch - Hansard
16 Jun 2020, 3:13 p.m.

We very much support the right to access to justice for all, and legal aid is an essential component of that, so we support new clause 14. Cuts to legal aid have been disastrous for access to justice. Time and time again, we have seen that it is the most vulnerable who suffer. Huge swathes of areas of law were deemed out of scope by the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012. Most evidence now suggests that there have been few or no cost savings to the Ministry of Justice from taking those areas of law out of scope, especially in relation to early advice.

When those representing themselves try to navigate complex areas of law without representation, cases are often longer and precarious, and thus more costly to the taxpayer. Indeed, the Williams review found that the withdrawal of legal aid contributed significantly to the problems faced by the Windrush victims. We do not want anyone else to be in a similar position when free movement comes to an end. We therefore support new clause 14.

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster - Hansard
17 Jun 2020, midnight

I thank hon. Members for their contributions. The legal aid scheme is designed to target legal aid funding at those who need it most. Legal aid is available for the most serious cases to ensure and maintain access to justice while delivering value for money for taxpayers. The Bill itself does not provide a right to enter or remain for EEA citizens, and the new clause would bring issues relating to the end of free movement, such as applications under the EU settlement scheme, into scope for legal aid.

The EU settlement scheme has deliberately been designed to be streamlined and user-friendly. The majority of applicants will be able to apply without the need for advice from a lawyer. However, we recognise that there will be some vulnerable individuals who may need support in using the scheme, and we have put in place safeguards to ensure that the scheme is accessible to all.

The Government have always been clear that publicly funded immigration legal advice is available to some particularly vulnerable individuals. Individuals who are claiming asylum, those identified as potential victims of modern slavery or human trafficking, separated migrant children and victims of domestic violence are eligible for legal aid funding for immigration legal advice, subject to statutory means and merits tests.

Break in Debate

Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald - Hansard
17 Jun 2020, 12:03 a.m.

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

Illegal work was made a crime in its own right in the Immigration Act 2016. Lots of groups and MPs raised concerns at the time about the negative implications that would have, compared with any benefit it might bring. I think it is important always to revisit changes that this Parliament makes and to push the Government to explain what impact they really had.

I look forward to hearing from the Minister about the impact of that legislation. How many prosecutions have there been? What were the results of those prosecutions? What sorts of sentences were handed down? When the Government or law enforcement took that approach—the other side of the coin—what action was taken against those employers who were found to be employing people illegally?

As the Minister will be aware, at the time that legislation was introduced, all sorts of concerns were raised about the fact that it would strengthen the hand of exploitative employers, who would be able to have greater control over undocumented workers, essentially by having the knowledge that these individuals were committing a crime by undertaking that work and making it much less likely that they would even consider, never mind actually report to the authorities, the abuse and exploitation that they were suffering.

The offence applies to any migrant found to be working while they do not have valid legal status granting them leave to be in the UK, or when visa conditions ban them from working, such as in the case of asylum seekers, or if they work hours beyond those permitted by their visa, as may be the case for students. The penalty includes a maximum custodial sentence of six months and a fine at the statutory maximum. It also allows any wages paid to an illegal worker to be seized as the proceeds of crime.

The concerns raised in 2016 were that undocumented migrants in the UK forbidden from working illegally are forced to rely on illegal work, on charity and on the support of friends or family members, which can lead to situations of abuse and dependency, as well as instances of survival sex, for example, and destitution, homelessness and starvation. Often, agents who find work for undocumented migrants also run overcrowded, slum-like accommodation for the workers, keeping them isolated and cheaply accommodated.

Undocumented migrants who find work despite the prohibition are forced to look for work among some of the most unscrupulous and exploitative of employers. They are often underpaid or unpaid, forced to work extremely long hours, denied all workplace health and safety protections and threatened with being reported if they complain. As much of the work can be carried out cash in hand, the state sees none of the tax benefit either.

There are huge concerns here about modern slavery. I am grateful to the Catholic Bishops’ Conference on migration for its briefing, which states:

“Those perpetrating the horrors of modern slavery will seek every chance to take advantage of new migration policies. The government has a responsibility to ensure that proper safeguards are in place… the fear of prosecution currently deters people from escaping abusive employment practices or presenting themselves to the police. One particularly important step towards protecting people from exploitation would therefore be to repeal the offence of illegal working, so that no victim is at risk of being punished.”

Will the Government explain how this measure has helped in any way with what they want to achieve, and what steps they have taken to assess all the negative implications that we have been warning about and to militate against them?

Holly Lynch Portrait Holly Lynch - Hansard
16 Jun 2020, 3:22 p.m.

We have one or two unanswered questions on how the new clause would work in practice. We want to ensure that we have done all our due diligence before lending it our support. We may well come back to this on Report.

The new clause gives us the opportunity to say to the Minister that we are incredibly concerned that there are people who, when free movement ends—innocent, ordinary, decent, hard-working people—for the whole raft of reasons that we have already been through in the Committee, may find that they have missed the deadline. They have then not only got a precarious migration status, but could, if they continue to wait, find themselves in the criminal justice system and criminalised. We need to address the issue now.

One example that we have mentioned is that which the BMA raised with me. Its doctors, on the frontline of fighting coronavirus, will potentially leave applying to the EU settlement scheme to the last minute for that reason. If they continue to work as a doctor, would they be criminalised if they had not done their due diligence in making sure they have their applications in, but were continuing to work in our NHS? Will the Minister reassure us that nobody will be criminalised and in our criminal justice system who absolutely does not belong there when free movement comes to an end at the end of this year?

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster - Hansard
16 Jun 2020, 3:24 p.m.

To respond to my shadow, the hon. Member for Halifax, as we touched on at some length earlier, there would be grounds for reasonable excuse as to why someone had filed a late application. We will set out the criteria; it will not be an exhaustive list, because it would be impossible to come up with an exhaustive list of things that would be reasonable in many individual circumstances.

It is worth noting that the scheme has now been open for more than a year. The first group who started to apply to it were NHS workers, and there has been some very welcome work by NHS trusts and employers to make sure their employees are aware of it. For those very skilled people working in our NHS, it is worth remembering that what we are talking about is using an app on their phone with chip checker technology—it is a relatively simple and appropriate process. Certainly, any enforcement will be proportionate throughout the system, as people would expect.

New clause 15 intends to exclude all EEA citizens from the criminal offence of working illegally created by the Immigration Act 2016, as stated by the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East. I am grateful to him for the opportunity to debate this important topic. Again, as he would expect me to say, the amendment is at odds with our commitment to introduce a single global migration system. I accept that he wants to pick the issue up in the scope of the Bill, but that is a core reason why the Government believe it is right for us to have a single system.

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 where their passport is from. Working illegally is a key driver of illegal migration and we are determined to tackle it. Illegal working results in businesses that do not play by the rules undercutting legitimate businesses that do. It encourages people to break our immigration laws, leaving people vulnerable to exploitation, and means that they are paid under the legal minimum wage.

The offence of illegal working applies if an individual works in the UK when they are or have reasonable cause to believe that they are disqualified from working because of their immigration status. The new rules will be clear and will set out what is expected of people as well as their entitlement. Any person who wants to work in the UK will need to have the correct status before starting a job.

EEA citizens with EU settlement scheme status will continue to enjoy the right to work and access the same services as they do now. As I have already said, we will continue to encourage applications to the EU settlement scheme before the deadline, and will implement the new points-based system that treats EEA and non-EEA citizens equally.

The new clause would discriminate in favour of EEA citizens, which is not justifiable after we have left the European Union. I appreciate the hon. Gentleman’s principled position in the provisions. I have touched on the provisions that are implemented proportionately, where they are applied. There is enforcement, particularly against employers who seek to exploit people. I hope that, in the light of those points, he will withdraw the clause, because it is not one that the Government can support.

Break in Debate

Holly Lynch Portrait Holly Lynch - Hansard
16 Jun 2020, 3:50 p.m.

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

The new clause stands in my name and those of the shadow Home Secretary and my Committee colleagues. The new clause offers a sensible method to help to safeguard the rights of all EEA and Swiss nationals who are registered through the European Union settlement scheme by providing them with physical proof of that registration. We have already discussed some of these issues under new clause 25.

In the largest survey of EU citizens’ experiences of the EUSS, which was carried out by the3million, 89% expressed unhappiness about the lack of physical proof of their status. Simple physical proof would provide citizens with the type of reassurance that is offered only by something that can be held in the hand. Although in principle we largely support the aspiration to move toward a much more digital immigration system, we have already pointed out to the Committee time and again that, as the hostile environment persists, in the shameful shadow of the Windrush scandal, confidence in the system is at an all-time low.

The Home Office works through banks and landlords, and across Departments, actively to query a citizen’s immigration status. To have physical paperwork to hand, in order to put to bed any doubts about a person’s status quickly and confidently, would be a welcome addition to an e-visa.

There are also inherent IT risks when relying on purely digital proof for immigration status. The truth is that the Government cannot completely rule out the possibility of an irretrievable data loss or, even worse, the hacking of a data system. It is less than two years since the so-called WannaCry cyber-attack caused havoc for the IT systems of the NHS, locking users out of personal computers and resulting in 19,000 cancelled appointments. It transpired that the systems that the NHS used included Windows XP, which at the time was already a 17 year-old operating system and so was vulnerable to such interference. It does not bear thinking about, but in a nightmare scenario where such hacking or corruption affected the Home Office, a potential loss of data, or even the inability to access the data for a period of time, could have devastating consequences for those at the mercy of the hostile environment.

As stated by Luke Piper on behalf of the3million in last week’s evidence session, to trial a new digital-only scheme on over 3 million people is quite a gamble, and currently no other group in the UK is managed in this way. We share the concerns of the House of Lords European Union Committee, which were mentioned by Luke Piper in his evidence to this Committee. He said:

“The House of Lords European Union Committee made the point that there are real worries that those without physical proof will face similar problems to those faced by the Windrush generation; there is a risk that they will face discrimination because they do not have physical proof of their status.”––[Official Report, Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination Public Bill Committee, 9 June 2020; c. 61.]

There are day-to-day practical complications that will be inflicted upon those in the EUSS who do not have physical proof of their status. For example, the Residential Landlords Association has repeatedly called for some form of physical proof to assist its members in both adhering to the law and avoiding discriminatory practices.

The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants carried out research on the right-to-rent scheme in 2017. Out of 150 emails from migrants requesting that landlords check their identity online, 85% received no response. Only 12% of inquiries received a response that might invite a follow-up, such as a phone call or a viewing. Only three responses explicitly stated that the landlord was willing to conduct an online check. A migrant with documentation received a response rate of roughly 50%. Although there are still indications that renting migrants face unacceptable barriers, that is at least a marked improvement on the previous situation.

The fear is that the lack of physical proof will also act as an impediment for EU citizens applying for jobs. Millions of people work in the gig economy, which is characterised by short-term contracts and freelance work. We have already referred to the work of the Institute for Public Policy Research, which recently used data from the labour force survey in a report that found migrants are more likely to be working in industries or sectors, such as accommodation and food services, that have around 9% of EU workers. Facing competition from British citizens, who can prove their right to work by showing a passport, should that be required, and from non-EEA citizens, who can prove their right to work by showing their physical residence card, EU citizens have to go through the complicated hassle of a nine-step online process and then ask their potential employer to go through a 10-step process. It is inevitable that many employers will not have the desire or the time to complete such an arduous process, and as a result the employment prospects of those registered in the EUSS could potentially suffer.

Those are just a few examples of how a lack of physical proof could affect those who have pre-settled or settled status through the EUSS but exclusively digital confirmation of that status. The inconveniences and delay that could result threaten to permeate through daily life for millions of people, yet that could so easily be remedied by the Government with a degree of physical proof.

I want to take the Minister back to something he said during last week’s evidence session, when he put a question to the Children’s Society on the issue of granting automatic status to children in care and care leavers, which we will come to later. He said to Lucy Leon, the immigration policy and practice adviser for the Children’s Society:

“You talked about automatic status—granting something under a piece of legislation to someone. Under your suggested system, how, in decades to come, would an adult evidence the status that they were granted as a child?”

As it took several attempts for the question to be heard, due to the terrible sound quality, the Minister, in his second attempt, repeated:

“If they had to evidence their status many years later, how would they do it? How would they be able to define their status…?”––[Official Report, Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Public Bill Committee, 9 June 2020; cs. 64-65.]

The Minister put a very good question. In the scenario that he described, he said that if status was granted by the Home Office, how would it then be evidence? We must acknowledge that the granting of a status only solves half the problem. The ability to prove that status is the other half of the problem.

On this issue, I am inclined to agree entirely with the Minister. I politely remind him that he proposes a problem, but he is the architect of the solution to this issue. He can overcome our own reservations by granting the physical proof to his own satisfaction, however he sees fit to do so. The Government should ensure that their systems automatically issue physical proof on granting status to someone, and they should allow the millions of people on the EUSS the certainty and convenience of physical proof of status.

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster - Hansard

It is a pleasure to talk about the new clause and to hear that my shadow agrees with me on some issues, but we slightly disagree on how best to evidence things. I accept that the new clause is well intentioned, but it may help if I explain first that we email everyone granted status under the scheme a PDF document, which they can print and retain for their own records as confirmation of their status and for future reference, as they may wish.

Like many other countries, we are moving away from issuing physical documents to be used as evidence of a person’s immigration status and their entitlement to work and access benefits and services, and towards a system that enables direct checks through online sharing of status by the individual or via system-to-system checks. Our border and immigration system will become digital by default for all migrants, and we intend over time to replace physical and paper-based products with secure online access to immigration status information, which the migrant can share with prospective employers, landlords and service providers.

New clause 19 is unnecessary, as we are already legally required to issue everyone granted status under the EU settlement scheme with a formal written notification of their immigration status in the United Kingdom. The notification also includes information about how they can access and share their immigration status information online, and about where they can find help to do so if needed. However, it is important that we do not return to relying on insecure paper documents, which can be lost, damaged or stolen, to evidence immigration status and entitlements.

The use of digital technology is now a well-established mechanism that people use when banking and shopping. Employers, landlords and service providers are likely to be concerned by any decision to issue what is specified as an insecure physical document, such as a paper certificate. They would also see it as an undesirable retrograde step that places additional administrative burdens on them to ensure that their staff are aware of the characteristics of a certificate, which might be some years old, and what it means. It would also be very susceptible to forgery and being tampered with, which could actually make it more difficult for EEA citizens, employers and others to determine genuine entitlement. We cannot allow that to happen.

Break in Debate

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster - Hansard

My right hon. Friend hits the nail on the head, and that is particularly true in an era of modern computing, scanning and high-quality printers available at home. We used to rely on paper documents as standard across society—for example, driving licences. To be fair, the previous Labour Administration moved away from having a paper driving licence that nowadays could probably be easily printed on most printers at home, and towards a plastic version. As we now move on, most people do checks digitally—for example, how many of us have a physical MOT certificate? It is done via an online system, which allows people to check easily. It is even possible to check online whether a car has an MOT before buying it, rather than having to look for a paper certificate.

We all know about the issues there used to be with paper MOT certificates, with blank books being quite valuable. That is why we have started to move towards digital status, which is more secure. It is, of course, retained by the Home Office for many years and allows that access. Again, we touch on some of the lessons learned from the Windrush review. Part of this is about having up-to-date and easier ways to access information, rather than relying on people to recognise documents that could have been issued some decades before. It is better that we have secure digital status that can be easily shared as technology advances and people move forward. That is right, but we are still already obliged to send a PDF confirmation so that if someone wants to print something out and keep it for their records, they can.

Holly Lynch Portrait Holly Lynch - Hansard
16 Jun 2020, 4 p.m.

I just stress the point that we are not talking about an either/or approach to digital confirmation and physical proof. I am open to the taking of physical proof, and whatever format the Minister is most comfortable with. However, we are not talking about a system where someone relies exclusively on physical proof. Something will be issued in addition to digital status. Does the Minister accept that that would address the anxieties felt by the 3 million and more?

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster - Hansard
16 Jun 2020, 4:03 p.m.

Again, I appreciate the points that are being made, but a secure, easy-to-share digital status does what it says on the tin. More and more countries are heading towards that, and we have seen it in other areas of life. To be clear, the new clause specifies a paper certificate as the preferred means. I do not think that something like that adds to something that is easily shareable—and easy to update, in relation to changing passport, or in other areas. That is why we have taken this approach and why we are clear that it is what we want migration status to move towards more generally. I do not think that printing out paper certificates, and having that as an either/or, is the best place to be headed, in trying to prove status. It is better that there should be a clear process and that landlords and employers should know the process that they need to engage with when employing EEA citizens beyond the end of the transition period.

As a transition measure, employers, landlords and public service providers will continue to be able to accept the passports and national identity cards of EEA citizens until 30 June 2021—the same day as the deadline for applying to the EU settlement scheme. After that date, EEA citizens with status under the EU settlement scheme will need to share their immigration status online to prove their rights and entitlements in the UK. Alongside that, in future, when an individual accesses public services such as benefits or healthcare, the Home Office will be able to confirm their status to the service provider automatically through system-to-system checks, at the point at which the person seeks to access the service. Their non-EEA family members will also continue to be able to use their biometric residence card until we have completed the roll-out of digital services online.

Eventually, all migrants to the UK—not just from the EEA but from the rest of the world—will have an immigration status that can be accessed and shared online. Having to rely on a document to prove immigration status will be seen as old-fashioned and vulnerable to abuse. By contrast, new clause 19 would impede our ability to encourage migrants to access and share their immigration status securely online, creating confidence that it is the appropriate process, and giving confidence to those who engage with it. I hope that, with the assurances that I have given, the hon. Lady will feel able to withdraw the new clause.

Holly Lynch Portrait Holly Lynch - Hansard
16 Jun 2020, 4:03 p.m.

I am grateful to the Minister for his explanation of why he rejects the new clause. I stress again the vulnerability that people feel in the shadow of Windrush, when they do not have something they can physically hold in their hand, to give an assurance of their immigration status. There is great support for the physical proof approach in the House of Lords and I suspect that we have not necessarily seen the end of the issue, but I do not want to divide the Committee at this time and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New Clause 21

Annual review: Impact on health care and social care sector

‘(1) The Secretary of State must commission an annual report from the Migration Advisory Committee on the impact of the provisions of this Act on the health care and social care sector in the UK.

(2) In undertaking the evaluation, the Secretary of State must consult—

(a) the relevant Scottish Ministers;

(b) the relevant Welsh Ministers; and

(c) the relevant Northern Ireland Ministers

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

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

Brought up, and read the First time.

Holly Lynch Portrait Holly Lynch - Hansard
16 Jun 2020, 4:04 p.m.

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

Break in Debate

Holly Lynch Portrait Holly Lynch - Hansard
17 Jun 2020, midnight

The new clause would require the Government to commission the Migration Advisory Committee to produce a report on the impact on the health and social care sector of ending free movement.

I very much welcome some of the new developments that the Minister outlined earlier, to do with the changes in the way that the Migration Advisory Committee will operate. The group includes a number of new clauses, and we very much recognise the merits of all of them. In essence, they all plead with the Government fully to think through the implications of putting this hard stop on free movement in place without the systemic reforms to health and social care that would be required to address the workforce issues in those co-dependent sectors.

At the evidence session last week, we heard some pretty damning evidence from witnesses, even though, interestingly, none of them were there explicitly to represent the health or care sectors. Martin McTague of the Federation of Small Businesses told the Committee that the FSB felt that the £25,600 minimum income threshold

“should be lower, because there are quite a few jobs, especially in the care sector, that pay less than £25,600.”

He went on:

“That is why we have called for a care sector visa, because we think the requirements of that sector will always be uniquely different from most of the rest of the economy.”––[Official Report, Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Public Bill Committee, 9 June 2020; c. 6, Q5.]

In response to a follow-up question from my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North, Martin McTague said:

“It is clear from the experience that we have had over the last few months that this sector is under massive pressure. Any major changes would be disastrous.”––[Official Report, Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Public Bill Committee, 9 June 2020; c. 11, Q16.]

We can all agree that this Bill represents a major change in immigration.

Brian Bell of the Migration Advisory Committee made a number of scathing points, which we should all reflect on. He said that

“immigration has historically been used as an excuse to not deal with the problems of the social care sector.”––[Official Report, Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Public Bill Committee, 9 June 2020; c. 21, Q44.]

He is right. The problem is, when we suddenly turn off freedom of movement at the end of December and the Government are not able to deliver the radical reforms required in that timeframe, what happens to social care?

I will answer that. Unless we have a significant breakthrough with a vaccine, care homes and the care sector will still be battling the coronavirus. If we do not do our due diligence on this, by adopting the new clause, the Bill will be set recklessly to undermine social care at a time when it can least afford it.

A MAC report is necessary, and would give the Government an opportunity to develop a coherent strategy by conducting the exercise annually for the health and care workforce. That could inform both the domestic skills agenda and our immigration policy, allowing us to create fast tracks within immigration based on our needs at the time. Without that, the NHS will struggle to function. According to the British Medical Association, 29% of doctors in the NHS are from overseas. Freedom of movement has greatly facilitated that, as for years EEA staff have benefited from the flexibility it grants, allowing them to work in the UK and EEA simultaneously.

We have discussed in earlier stages of the Committee the potential introduction of visas and the costs attached to the changes brought about by the Bill. That might act as a major disincentive against attracting the best talent to the NHS. As always, there should be a clear national commitment to training future healthcare workers. Nevertheless, it is hard to imagine that the domestic workforce alone will be able to deliver. For a long time, the workforce has been supplemented with EEA workers.

The NHS reported nearly 90,000 job vacancies between October and December 2019. That has already led to rota gaps across the medical profession, and to well-founded concerns about the ability to staff services adequately. It can take up to 10 years to train a doctor. It is unrealistic to believe that a domestic push will address that vacancy shortage or likely subsequent shortages due to the UK’s decision to leave the EU and free movement.

Domestic recruitment drives also have barriers to overcome. The Royal College of Nursing has reported that the Government’s much publicised increase of 50,000 nurses consists of 12,000 more international nurses, 15,000 student nurses and another 15,000 retained nurses who had previously left the profession. In reality, therefore, only about 27,000 nursing vacancies have been filled, and that fails to address adequately the 40,000 nursing vacancies reported in the NHS in November 2019.

In the evidence session, Brian Bell, interim chair of the MAC, stated that occupational shortages were

“a failure of the British education system”.––[Official Report, Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Public Bill Committee, 9 June 2020; c. 24, Q49.]

If the Government seek to prioritise domestic healthcare recruitment over immigration, some pretty urgent steps must be taken to address that.

The threat of ending free movement for the NHS is incredibly concerning. The threat of ending free movement for our social care sector is existential. The proposal to extend the tier 2 visa system to EEA nationals would sever recruitment and compound gaping occupational shortages.

The Institute for Public Policy Research modelled the impact on EEA nationals currently living in the UK and working in social care, and found that 79% of EEA employees—about four in five—working full-time in social care would have been ineligible to work in the UK under the skills and salary thresholds proposed by the MAC. Unison reports that there are currently 110,000 vacancies in social care, and while I suspect the Minister will tell me that his aspiration is to fill those solely through domestic recruitment, I wonder what assurances he can give us that that is possible in the timeframes required.

It was encouraging to hear the MAC report that senior care workers would be eligible to be included in future shortage occupation lists, yet we fear that deterring the recruitment of care assistants and more junior care workers from overseas may lead to a further increase in job vacancies in the care sector. We have all heard the warnings from Brian Bell that migrant workers cannot continue to act as a sticking plaster, working their socks off on low pay to mask the systemic problems in social care, but it is clear that we will be exacerbating the workforce issues impacting on the quality and availability of care unless the Government undertake a full and regular review. I urge the Government to adopt new clause 21 in order to fully understand the ways in which the new immigration system will affect patient care across all health and social care settings.

Brendan O'Hara Portrait Brendan O'Hara (Argyll and Bute) (SNP) - Hansard
16 Jun 2020, 4:14 p.m.

As always, it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer. I will speak to new clause 61, which seeks an independent evaluation of the specific impact of the Bill on the health and social care sectors across the United Kingdom. This independent evaluation would follow from consultation between the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, the relevant Ministers in the Scottish and Welsh Governments, the relevant Northern Ireland Ministers, service providers, those requiring health and social care services, and others. The new clause would require the Secretary of State to lay a copy of that report before both Houses of Parliament

“no later than one year after this Act is passed”,

and would require a Minister to make arrangements

“no later than six months after the report has been laid before Parliament”

for it to be debated and voted on in Parliament.

The new clause has gathered support from service users, third-sector organisations, trade unions and charities from every part of the UK, among them the Scottish and Northern Irish councils for voluntary organisations, Disability Wales, Unison, Camphill, Scottish Care, and the Welsh and Northern Irish branches of the British Association of Social Workers. I think the reason why they and many others have supported this independent assessment is that, as people who work on the frontline of health and social care every day, they are extremely worried that the Bill, which will end freedom of movement and introduce a points-based immigration system, will adversely affect hundreds of thousands of their clients: disabled people, children and young people, older people, unpaid carers and those with long-term health conditions—those who rely most on the health and social care services to look after them every day.

There is no doubt that the current coronavirus pandemic has given us all the opportunity to see just how precious our national health service and social care sector are. The NHS has risen to the challenge magnificently, as has everyone who works in it, and we are all hugely indebted to them. It has also reinforced just how lucky we are to have our national health service—should that have needed reinforcing—and we must do everything we can to protect it, so that future generations can have what we currently enjoy. We cannot afford to take chances with the future of our NHS or our social care services, and I believe that anyone who took chances with them would never be forgiven.

That is why so many in the health and social care sector are deeply concerned about what is contained in the Bill: they recognise that there is already a crisis in social care across the United Kingdom. On top of the seemingly relentless pressure on funding, we have an ageing population with increasingly complex care needs. The health and social care sector is battling every day to find and keep the workforce it requires, yet this Government have cut off a source of labour, with no clear plan as to what will replace it.

At the end of September 2019, NHS England reported having more than 120,000 unfilled posts—an increase of 22,000 on the previous year. Both the Care Inspectorate and the Scottish Social Services Council have found that 40% of social care organisations have unfilled vacancies going back over a year.

Break in Debate

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster - Hansard
16 Jun 2020, 4:23 p.m.

Thankfully, we will see many jobs come back. The Chancellor himself said that it will be difficult to save every role, and we can see that some of the changes in our economy, particularly in the retail sector, have been sped up. I am sorry that the SNP is looking to put its political philosophy ahead of the practical situation. I do not think it is controversial to say that, in Scotland, where there are vacancies, we should be trying to make sure Scottish-based workers are going back to work. I think the SNP will find it very interesting when it meets the electorate next May and explains why that was not its priority.

Holly Lynch Portrait Holly Lynch - Hansard

Does the Minister not accept the example that we have just been through? The Government, having recognised the labour shortage in agriculture, made a co-ordinated attempt to redeploy people who are currently out of work into the agriculture sector, but it proved incredibly difficult and the numbers have not transpired in reality. If he is saying that we can do something similar for social care, we would be keen to see the plan. What is his plan if we cannot redirect those people into social care in the timeframe that we are talking about?

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster - Hansard
16 Jun 2020, 4:25 p.m.

There is a slight difference between talking about temporary roles in seasonal agriculture and carers, which is not a seasonal job. I represent a constituency with plenty of seasonal roles. It would be odd to start describing care as a seasonal one; it is not, for obvious reasons. People’s care needs do not vary by the season in the way the agricultural sector’s needs do in terms of picking fruit and veg.

Certainly, there is a need to make sure that we have the appropriate structure. Again, I think that people outside this room would be stunned that Opposition Members do not think that, at the moment, we should prioritise getting UK workers back to work. That might explain why, in December, people did not feel that those were the parties they wished to trust with being in government.

Moving on, our new firmer, fairer and swifter immigration system will have benefits for all sectors of the economy, but we recognise the special role that the NHS and those connected with it have in our society, which the events of the last few months have demonstrated clearly. That is why, in line with our election manifesto, the Government are introducing a healthcare visa, which will provide eligible health and social care workers with fast-track entry, the support of a dedicated team in UK Visas and Immigration and reduced visa fees.

As I said earlier, we are looking to exempt all those working in health and social care from paying the immigration health surcharge. We are also investing in social care. For example, in response to the coronavirus crisis, we have announced £2.9 billion to help local authorities respond to pressures in key services, such as adult social care, and to enhance the NHS discharge service, which allows patients to return home safely. No one should doubt our support for that critical sector of our society.

The hon. Member for Halifax talked about damning evidence, so it is worth remembering the evidence that the chair of the Migration Advisory Committee, Professor Brian Bell, gave to the Committee on 9 June. He said:

“If people say that the response to the social care issue should be, ‘Well, employers should be allowed to bring in as many migrants as they want at the minimum wage,’ first, that does not sound like the low-wage problem of the social care sector is being dealt with, and secondly it suggests that one of the groups that will really suffer from that is the social care workers. You are saying that you are going to keep on allowing their wages to be held down by allowing employers to bring in workers at the minimum wage”.––[Official Report, Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Public Bill Committee, 9 June 2020; c. 22, Q44.]

On new clause 21, the MAC is an independent non-departmental public body that advises the Government on immigration matters. It has a UK-wide remit and works across Government to provide transparent, independent, evidence-based advice. It currently undertakes work based on commissions from the Government; the Government determine the matters that they believe require consideration and ask it to consider and advise. As we have touched on, the Government are committed to expanding that role. This will be the first year that the MAC has produced an annual report, which is an important development to increase transparency and provide more regular evidence on issues relating to immigration.

In future, in addition to specific commissions from the Government, the MAC will be able to undertake other work that it considers necessary, including regular reporting on migration matters. I therefore cannot support a clause that requires it to look annually at a specific sector. As hon. Members will be aware, its reviews are thorough, and it takes time to seek views and analyse a broad range of evidence from across the UK. That means that the reports often take many months to complete, and we must be mindful of its finite resource and time. Requiring it to undertake an annual review on health and social care may prevent it from undertaking reviews on other issues where there may be a more pressing need, or may duplicate work that it plans to do.

I am also unable to support new clause 49, which would require the Government to consider the impact of the Bill on EEA citizens, but which ignores the new points-based system that we will implement at the beginning of January 2021. The Government have already published an impact assessment of the points-based immigration system, which sets out the impacts on all those who will use the system, not just those from the EU or the EEA.

We understand fully that ending free movement and the proposals for the future immigration system will have an impact. However, with the dramatic changes that we have seen in the UK labour market over recent weeks, it is right that we focus on getting UK-based workers back into employment and ensuring that employers are investing in and retaining the existing workforce. Migration policies need to be considered alongside that work, not in isolation from it. The Migration Advisory Committee will have the opportunity to decide what it wishes to consider alongside its annual report.

Break in Debate

Holly Lynch Portrait Holly Lynch - Hansard
16 Jun 2020, 4:31 p.m.

I heard the Minister’s comments. I would stress, once again, that new clauses 21, 49 and 61 are genuine attempts to ask the Government to recognise our concern about health and social care when free movement comes to an end. We are not attempting to play politics; our concern is genuine. We would be very happy for the Government to go away and look at any one of those options. Without pushing this to a vote, we ask the Minister to consider these issues in all further deliberations on the future immigration system. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New Clause 22

Tier 2 Immigration skills charge

“No Tier 2 Immigration skills charge will be payable on an individual who is an EEA or Swiss national and is coming to the UK to work for the NHS.”—(Holly Lynch.)

This new clause would exempt NHS employers from having to pay the immigration skills charge.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Break in Debate

Holly Lynch Portrait Holly Lynch - Hansard
16 Jun 2020, 4:31 p.m.

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

I rise to speak in support of new clause 22, tabled in the name of the shadow Home Secretary, myself and my Committee colleagues. The new clause would exempt NHS employers from having to pay the immigration skills charge.

As I have already stressed in my attempts to win support for other new clauses, the NHS workforce has historically relied on the support of professionals from across the world coming to the UK. In recent decades, that has included a supply of EU nationals. Nearly 10% of doctors, 8% of social care staff and 6% of nurses working in the UK are from EEA countries.

As things stand, NHS trusts pay the skills charge for those coming to work in the NHS from countries outside the EU and will be expected to pay those costs for those coming from EU countries after free movement ends. The immigration skills charge is effectively a skills tax paid by employers who have recruited from overseas instead of from the domestic workforce, to act as a disincentive and to promote recruitment from a local talent pool. That is fair enough, but in the context of the NHS, levelling the tax on NHS trusts is nothing short of an outrage.

If trusts cannot find clinical specialists here in the UK, they have no choice but to find them from overseas. The UK has a number of clinical skills shortages in many specialist areas and, in the absence of any Government strategy to respond to that domestically, the NHS has to hire from overseas.

We have already heard a lot about Brian Bell’s contribution to the evidence session last week. He gave the example of the nurse shortage. He said:

“often the shortage occupation list identifies a failure of the British education system to provide the people who are needed. A classic example of that is nurses. Nurses have been on the shortage occupation list since I can remember ever hearing of it. Every time they are put on the list, we hear statements along the lines of, ‘Yes, we know that they are in shortage, and we have a plan to increase the number of nurses who go through training so that we deal with the shortage in the long run.’ They are still on the shortage occupation list. We should be using the shortage occupation list to signal both to Government and to employers that there are training needs that need to be fulfilled.”––[Official Report, Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Public Bill Committee, 9 June 2020; c. 24, Q49.]

An NHS trust cannot unilaterally decide to train more nurses from the domestic labour force if it is struggling to recruit; it needs Government intervention to deliver the uplift.

In the MAC’s 2019 full review of the shortage occupation list, where all doctors were added to the list, under section 4B on health occupations, the review was keen to stress that

“the rise in vacancies and concern over lack of staff has occurred under freedom of movement and during a period when many health occupations have been on the SOL. Ultimately it will take more effective workforce planning and efforts to increase the flows into health professions (and decrease flows out) to meet growing demands.”

That is a worrying thought.

We have clinical workforce shortages almost across the board in the NHS, and that has been while we have had free movement. Adopting new clause 22 would be just one small step towards protecting the NHS from the inevitable impact of free movement coming to an end with the Bill.

As constituency MPs, we all have casework relating to patients with rare medical conditions who have been on waiting lists for years to see a specialist, because there may be only one or two doctors specialising in that condition in the country. There may be only a handful in the world, so trusts are regularly looking to recruit from overseas because they seem to have no choice. The immigration skills charge punishes trusts for doing so, with the Government taking back much-needed cash from budgets in order to pay the fees. It seems grossly unfair and counterproductive, and it takes money out of frontline hospital services.

The Labour party has submitted freedom of information requests to 224 NHS hospital trusts in England, asking how much of the charges they are paying back to the Government. So far, only 45 have responded—around 21% of the trusts. To give an indication of what some hospitals are paying out, I should say that Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust had to pay the Government £961,000 in immigration skills charges over the past three financial years. Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust tells us that it paid out more than that in the 2019-20 financial year alone, with a bill for £972,000 in just 12 months; it has paid over £2 million in immigration skills charges since 2017. The Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust has paid over £1 million in the same timeframe, and the University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust has paid £1,224,509 since 2017.

From the 21% of trusts that have responded to our FOI request, we know that nearly £13 million has been taken out of the NHS and handed back to the Government since 2017—nearly £13 million from just 21% of hospital trusts in England. That some hospitals can pay out nearly £1 million in immigration skills charges in a single year surely has to be a sign that the system is not working as intended. To repeat the point made by the MAC, this is all while people have been able to come under free movement, where fees would not have been applicable. That is about to come to an end. I urge the Minister to adopt new clause 22 to mitigate any further detrimental impact on the NHS workforce and to ensure that NHS funding stays in the NHS.

Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald - Hansard
16 Jun 2020, 4:30 p.m.

In a sense, this debate echoes the one we had on the immigration health surcharge. I support everything that the shadow Minister has said, but I would push the Labour party to go a bit further and scrap the whole scheme.

I have nothing against the principle that employers should pay a contribution towards the cost of training and developing the skills on which businesses rely, but why should it apply only to those who recruit from abroad? That is not in any way a proxy for determining which businesses, companies and employers are not doing enough training in their own right. In fact, very often the opposite is the case: many of the businesses, companies and employers who recruit from overseas are also the ones who invest considerable sums of money in training and upskilling their workers.

However, skill shortages often arise at very short notice. For all the workforce planning that they do, and for all the training that they invest in, employers regularly have a need to recruit from abroad. As I say, it is a very poor proxy for trying to target companies that are not properly investing in training. The whole thing needs rethinking.

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster - Hansard
16 Jun 2020, 4:40 p.m.

I thank the hon. Members for Halifax and for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East for tabling the new clauses. The objective of the immigration skills charge is to incentive UK-based employers to take a long-term view of investment and training, and it is designed to address the UK’s historical underinvestment in training and upskilling. The income raised is allocated to the Department for Education and the devolved nations to address skills and training gaps in the resident workforce.

We can all agree that immigration must be considered alongside investment in, and development of, the UK’s resident workforce, and it is only right that we provide those workers with opportunities to develop skills in order to further their careers and to contribute to the future economy. That is with particular reference to the situation we see at the moment in our country, where many people might need to find new employment opportunities due to the economic impact of covid-19.

The Committee may also wish to note that the introduction of the charge was supported by the independent Migration Advisory Committee as part of its December 2015 review of the tier 2 route.

The Migration Advisory Committee also recommended that the charge be extended and retained to cover employers of EEA citizens in the future immigration framework. In its September 2018 final report on the impact of EEA migration in the UK, the MAC said:

“We believe that extending the ISC to cover EEA citizens under any post-Brexit work-permit scheme would, on balance, be appropriate.”

It would also make no sense, now that we have left the European Union, to apply exemptions based purely on being an EEA national, as this suggests.

On new clause 22, the Government recognise the vital nature of the health and social care sector to the United Kingdom. Health and social care will be at the very heart of the UK’s new points-based immigration system, and we are doing all we can to ensure that the new system is fair, attractive and welcoming to the best and brightest overseas migrants. The new skilled worker route will be open to a broader range of roles in the sector—following the expansion of the current skills threshold—than the tier 2 general route.

As I mentioned earlier, the income for the immigration skills charge is used to address skills and training gaps in the resident workforce, including the healthcare sector. It is right, therefore, that we focus on providing UK resident workers with the opportunity to develop skills that will enable them to become the healthcare heroes of tomorrow—the revenue from the immigration skills charge does that. For those reasons, the Government are not prepared to accept the two new clauses.

Holly Lynch Portrait Holly Lynch - Hansard

We absolutely cannot wrap our heads around that, given how much money is being taken out of the NHS frontline, which seems to be an indication that the whole approach is not functioning as intended. However, with that in mind, I will not seek to divide the Committee. But the Labour party may return to this point at a later date. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

Ordered, That further consideration be now adjourned. —(Tom Pursglove.)

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

(Committee Debate: 4th sitting: House of Commons)
Holly Lynch Excerpts
Thursday 11th June 2020

(3 months, 1 week ago)

Public Bill Committees
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Home Office
Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald (Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East) (SNP) - Hansard
12 Jun 2020, 12:05 a.m.

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Stringer. I am grateful to the Minister for his extensive response, but he is right in one thing, which is that he has not fully satisfied me about the need for these powers. Much of what he said related to how the Government propose to use these powers or what they are planning to do, but that is not how we should go about assessing whether the scope of the powers is appropriate. We need to assess what the scope of these powers would, in theory, allow the Government to do, and that goes way beyond what he set out.

We do not hand powers to the Government on the basis of assurances that they are going to do only a, b and c. Listening to the list of proposals the Minister made, I am utterly unconvinced that that could not be done very simply with a much more narrowly drawn clause and power. Nothing in any of these amendments would stop the Government bringing free movement to an end—sadly.

The Minister alluded to the fact that some of this is about trying to limit the scope for judicial oversight. I am trying to keep MPs in a job here scrutinising legislation, but I am also trying to make sure the judiciary is not excluded from the proper review of the use of Executive power. The House of Lords Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee said that these are “significant” powers and also used the word “disturbing” at one point, so I am afraid I cannot accept the Minister’s explanation that they are justified.

On amendment 22, I am disappointed that the Minister did not engage with the principles themselves, because other amendments have been tabled with respect to the principles of immigration law and we are constrained by the scope of this Bill to limiting these amendments to dealing with EU, EEA and Swiss nationals. Although that does not mean we think we should be confined in this way to them, it is in the Government’s gift to extend this much more broadly, so I am very disappointed that he did not engage with what those principles are. I hope we will have a fuller debate when we come to other amendments. On that basis, I shall press amendment 2 to a vote.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

Holly Lynch Portrait Holly Lynch (Halifax) (Lab) - Hansard
11 Jun 2020, 2:21 p.m.

I beg to move amendment 13, in clause 4, page 3, line 8, at end insert—

“(5A) Regulations under subsection (1) must provide that EEA nationals, and adult dependants of EEA nationals, who are applying for asylum in the United Kingdom, may apply to the Secretary of State for permission to take up employment if a decision at first instance has not been taken on the applicant’s asylum application within six months of the date on which it was recorded.”

May I say what a pleasure it is to serve under your chairmanship again this afternoon, Mr Stringer? The amendment would give European economic area and Swiss nationals who apply for asylum in the UK the right to apply to the Secretary of State for permission to work if a decision has not been taken on the applicant’s asylum application within six months of the date on which it is recorded as having first been made.

The amendment is the legislative outcome of the Lift the Ban campaign, a movement headed up by Refugee Action and with the support of more than 200 organisations, including the likes of Oxfam and the British Red Cross; trade unions, including the National Education Union, Unison and the TUC more broadly; industry players such as Ben & Jerry’s and the Confederation of British Industry; and organisations such as the Adam Smith Institute. We worked on the drafting of the amendment with Refugee Action, as well as with legal professionals, and we are of course truly grateful, as ever, to the Committee Clerks. The proposal is limited to EU nationals to ensure that it falls within the scope of the Bill.

This amendment was tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston in the Bill Committee on the previous version of this Bill during the 2017-19 Parliament. At that point, the Government argued that the UK is allowed to treat an asylum claim made by a citizen of an EU country as automatically inadmissible unless exceptional circumstances apply, and that a claim made by a non-EU EEA national would be considered on the basis that it is likely to be clearly unfounded. The implication was that there would be no one who would benefit from the amendment, and in any case treating asylum seekers from the EEA differently from those from the rest of the world on the grounds of their nationality was not only illogical but discriminatory.

The Minister and I know, though, that the amendment sets out the proposal in principle, within the bounds of what is permissible in respect of the scope of the Bill. It gives us the opportunity and the platform to outline the case for change, and I am delighted that it also has the support of SNP Members.

In August and September 2018, the Lift the Ban coalition conducted a survey with a group that had direct experience of the asylum process and found that 94% of all respondents said they would like to work if they were given permission to do so. We have all met asylum seekers: they are people not dissimilar to ourselves who have often had to flee their own countries when faced with immediate danger. They are often skilled, able to work and want to work. Rose is one example. She is currently in the asylum system, so I appreciate that she is not an EU national, but hers is the experience that we could start to change and transform if the Government accept the merits of the amendment.

Rose has been waiting for a decision on her asylum claim for three years. Not having the right to work while she waits for a decision on her asylum claim is not only putting pressure on her family life but damaging to her children, who are unable to understand why she cannot work. She said:

“Not being able to work, it cripples you…As a parent, you feel that you are not good enough…When you have kids, their daily needs—there are things that you need to give them. If I were working, I would not have to go to charity shops all the time to get hand-me-downs for my kids.”

Rose wants to be given the opportunity to be productive and show what she is capable of. She said:

“I want to work so I can prove myself to my children.”

The amendment would give people in the future asylum system from EEA countries the opportunity to use their skills and make the most of their potential. It would improve the mental health of people such as Rose in the asylum system by giving them a sense of worth and purpose, and it would enhance the opportunities for integration into their new communities, as well as allowing them to satisfy the strong work ethic that Rose clearly has and wants to pass on to her children.

The impetus for this change has only been intensified by the coronavirus pandemic. The brilliant campaigning and advocacy from the group Freedom from Torture has shone a light on the pittance that asylum seekers receive in support rates. At present, people in the asylum system receive a little over £5 a day per person in allowances. While at the onset of the crisis the Chancellor increased universal credit by £20 a week to “strengthen the safety net”, no proportional measures have yet been introduced for asylum support rates.

The uncertainty and rise in demand for specific items due to the pandemic has only exacerbated the difficulty faced by asylum seekers in finding the supplies they need to keep themselves and their families healthy and safe. Even before the onset of coronavirus, 52% of Refugee Action survey respondents reported having to use a food bank at some point within the last 12 months. If the Government are not minded to increase asylum support rates, it is both moral and logical to grant asylum seekers the right to work after six months. To forbid both options is to back some of the most vulnerable people in our society into an unescapable corner.

The Government could transform the financial health of a vast number of asylum seekers by accepting the amendment. Additionally, it would allow asylum seekers to play an active role in getting the British economy moving again, following the immense disruption caused by the pandemic. Refugee Action estimates that this change in policy could benefit the UK economy through net gains for the Government of £42.4 million. This would also be an overwhelmingly popular policy. Refugee Action carried out a survey of the public where 71% agreed that people seeking asylum should be allowed to work.

Accepting the amendment would help to fix the structural and deeply entrenched problems that exist with the current system. People seeking asylum in the UK can only apply for the right to work after they have been waiting for a decision on their asylum claim for over a year. The UK is the global outlier in time taken to give people in the asylum system the right for work. Ireland, Hungary, France, the United States and Poland, to name just a few, all have a much swifter process.

Even then, the few people who are granted such permission are rarely able to work in practice because their employment is restricted to the list of professions included on the Government’s shortage occupation list. This is the equivalent of putting square pegs in round holes, and disregards the skills and potential of many people in the asylum system. Refugee Action found that 74% of survey participants had secondary level education and 37% had an undergraduate or postgraduate degree. People in the asylum system can and should work in a wide variety of jobs that are hugely beneficial to both the UK economy and public wellbeing.

My involvement with the campaign is largely thanks to two amazing women in my own constituency. I pay tribute to Veeca Smith and Florence Kahuro, who set up the wonderful and incredibly effective local campaign group Sisters United. I am sure they would be delighted to meet the Minister in the not-too-distant future—I am sure he would struggle to get a word in edgeways. They are absolutely brilliant. They both sought asylum in the UK and founded the group to offer peer support to others in their situation and campaign for simple things such as accommodation that is not plagued by health and safety issues, and the right to go out and earn for themselves.

I hope that the Minister will appreciate the broad consensus that exists behind this amendment and accept the multitude of benefits that adopting the amendment would bring. It is time we treated people in the asylum seekers with dignity and as people with unrecognised potential to contribute to our society.

Taiwo Owatemi Portrait Taiwo Owatemi (Coventry North West) (Lab) - Hansard

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer.

I rise in support of amendment 13 and lifting the ban. As with any legislation, there is a requirement to strike a balance between addressing the issue at hand, in this case our withdrawal from the EU, while also being practical and compassionate to ensure that people are not hard done by. The reality is that thousands of asylum seekers in the UK who came here for refuge are unable to work—unable to properly provide for themselves and their children and possibly loved ones, and unable to make what has been a difficult life a reasonable and normal one. Instead, as the Refugee Council highlights, these people must live on as little as £5 a day, which many of us here in this Room could not even countenance. That is £5 a day to feed themselves and loved ones, buy toiletries, pay for transport to go about their everyday lives, and do any other thing that a normal person would do.

Break in Debate

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster - Hansard

I could make this a very quick response by saying that EEA citizens’ asylum claims are inadmissible, but given the constructive nature of Opposition Members’ speeches, I will respond more fully than the strict wording of the amendment allows me to. To my knowledge, there is literally no one with an outstanding asylum claim from an EEA country because they are inadmissible and therefore would not have to wait six months for a determination.

To be clear, our rules on the inadmissibility of asylum claims from EU citizens derive from the so-called Spanish protocol—part of the treaty of Amsterdam, dealing with this specific issue—which allows EU member states to treat an asylum claim by a citizen of another EU country as automatically inadmissible, unless exceptional circumstances apply. Those will, by their nature, be very rare. Claims from EEA citizens who are not part of the EU are considered by the UK, but on the basis that they are likely to be clearly unfounded. All EEA citizens, including those not in the EU, are considered to be from safe, democratic countries and are highly unlikely to suffer a well-founded fear of persecution or serious harm there. For those reasons, and because we do not foresee a change in these circumstances given the nature of the countries concerned, we intend to continue our policy on inadmissibility for EU citizens and rules regarding EEA citizens post the transition period. As a consequence, amendment 13 would be inconsistent with our broader policy on asylum claims from EU and EEA citizens.

Turning to Members’ wider remarks, our current policy allows asylum seekers to seek permission to work in the UK if their claim has been outstanding for 12 months through no fault of their own. Those permitted to work are restricted to jobs on the shortage occupation list—to use one example cited by the hon. Member for Coventry North West, a doctor—which is based on expert advice from the independent Migration Advisory Committee. We have recently commissioned the MAC to advise us on the shortage occupation list under the new points-based system. As Members will know, the required skill level is going from RQF6, graduate, to RQF3, A-level, which will potentially expand the number of posts that are available. Given the type of countries and education systems, it is likely that we will have more, for example, skilled chefs, who would be considered to be at level RQF3 and not RQF6.

Holly Lynch Portrait Holly Lynch - Hansard

I am grateful to the Minister for the constructive tone of his response. We heard in evidence from the Migration Advisory Committee earlier this week that there is quite a significant delay in determining which jobs are on the shortage occupation list. We may well have skills that could be put to good use but have not yet found themselves on that list. Is there not a more dynamic way that we can have another look at that?

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster - Hansard
11 Jun 2020, 2:40 p.m.

I appreciate the sentiment. Traditionally the MAC has only operated on commission, when the Home Secretary or the Immigration Minister asks it to look at something. We are in the process of appointing a new chair of the Migration Advisory Committee, and we are looking at how it can work on a more predictable cycle. The call for evidence on the shortage occupation list is open, and with the skills threshold changing, we need to update the list for 1 January 2021. I would certainly encourage any organisations that the hon. Member is in contact with to make submissions, given the quite significant change, which will allow a wider range of practical skills, not just the purely academic skills that the list inevitably reflects by setting the bar at degree level. Senior careworker is a good example of a position that we expect to be between RQF3 and RQF6, rather than not qualifying, and it is worth remembering that that list will apply on a global basis.

Returning to the amendment, it is important to distinguish between those who need protection and those seeking to come here to work, who can apply for a work visa under the immigration rules. Our wider immigration policy could be undermined if there was an incentive for individuals to try to bypass the work visa rules by lodging wholly unfounded asylum claims in the United Kingdom.

Secondly, unrestricted access to employment opportunities may also act as an incentive for more people to choose to come here illegally, rather than claiming asylum in the first safe country they reach, particularly within the European Union. We cannot have a policy that increases that risk, even though it has to be said that clearly an EEA citizen would not be fleeing war or persecution.

Break in Debate

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster - Hansard
11 Jun 2020, 2:42 p.m.

As I touched on, there is some ability to work for those whose claims have been delayed for a significant period of time, but we are not satisfied, given what we have seen with past attempts to use parts of the migration system to avoid the restrictions or avoid having to come through the appropriate process to work here, that what the hon. Lady said would not be the case. We cannot readily dismiss the impact that removing such restrictions would have, nor its impact on our capacity to support genuine refugees who are in need of our protection, given that our system also has to deal with those claims that are unfounded and are more about intending to acquire a right to work in the United Kingdom.

I will take this opportunity to make it clear that I acknowledge the well expressed concerns of Opposition Members. The Government are committed to ensuring that asylum claims are considered without unnecessary delay, to ensure that individuals who need protection are granted asylum as soon as possible and can start to rebuild their lives. As the hon. Member for Halifax will know, once someone is granted asylum they are given immediate and unrestricted access to the labour market.

I heard the points that were made eloquently by the hon. Members for Coventry North West, and for Stretford and Urmston about the time that it can take to make some of these decisions. That is also a concern for me as a Minister and for the Government, because if people have a founded claim, we want it brought to a resolution as quickly as possible, so that they can move on and rebuild their lives. Similarly, if a claim is wholly unfounded or based on—if I might put it this way—inaccurate information being provided by the applicant, we want to come to a speedy decision to facilitate their removal from the United Kingdom, to ensure that our system is fair as well as firm.

The new service standard for asylum applications, which is intended to try to bring back some balance to the system, is currently being developed. UK Visas and Immigration is engaging with stakeholders as part of these plans and considering any insight that those stakeholders offer as it tries to shape a new service standard, which was touched on by the hon. Member for Coventry North West, as a start in attempting to tackle some of these issues.

Finally, the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston asked about the review commissioned under a previous Home Secretary. We are in the process of reviewing the right-to-work policy, with officials looking at the body of evidence available. Therefore, it would be inappropriate for me to comment further until that review is complete, other than to say that that process is ongoing.

Having made those comments, the Government cannot accept the amendment and we hope that it will be withdrawn.

Holly Lynch Portrait Holly Lynch - Hansard
11 Jun 2020, 2:44 p.m.

I am grateful for the Minister’s constructive response, but as I am sure he will appreciate, I am also a little disappointed by it.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry North West and congratulate her on what I think was her maiden Bill speech, which was an excellent contribution. [Hon. Members: “Hear, Hear.”] Very well done.

We accept that the spirit of the amendment would not be able to be delivered as intended through this particular measure. However, we will continue to work with Members across the Benches, in coalition, to move towards the change that we would very much like to see. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment proposed: 15, in clause 4, page 3, line 8, at end insert—

“(5A) The Secretary of State may make regulations under subsection (1) only if satisfied that the regulations would have no detrimental effect on the children of EEA and Swiss nationals resident in the United Kingdom.

(5B) Before making regulations under subsection (1) the Secretary of State must lay before Parliament, and publish, a statement explaining why the Secretary of State is satisfied as mentioned in subsection (5A).”—(Kate Green.)

Question put, That the amendment be made.

Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald - Hansard

I beg to move amendment 5, in clause 4, page 3, line 9, leave out subsection (6).

This amendment would narrow the scope of the powers provided to the Secretary of State in Clause 4, as recommended by the House of Lords Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee.

Break in Debate

Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald - Hansard
11 Jun 2020, 2:49 p.m.

We are back to the nuts and bolts of delegated legislation. This time, rather than considering the scope of the powers, we are looking at the procedures that should be used when they are exercised. Amendment 5 is designed to keep MPs in a job: we should be ensuring that we maximise our role in scrutinising what the Government do with their power to make laws.

Clause 4(6) to (10) sets out the procedures for making these regulations. I apologise in advance, Mr Stringer, if I get some of the terminology wrong. Even after five years in this place, I still regularly confuse my made affirmative, affirmative and negative procedures. As I understand it, the most extreme made affirmative procedure is allowed for the first set of regulations that would be made under the clause. That means that the Government would be able to bring rules into force immediately, before MPs had the chance to scrutinise the proposals. MPs would then have 40 days to pass an affirmative resolution to keep the rules in place. No good parliamentarian should ever be comfortable allowing the Government to bring rules into force before we even have the chance to look at them.

The more usual affirmative procedure would apply to subsequent draft statutory instruments through which the Government were amending Acts of Parliament. That too is a really drastic power, but it would mean that nothing came into force until we positively approved it. Although I object to Henry VIII powers for rewriting Acts of Parliament, if they must exist, that should be the method for regulation making here.

Other regulations that do not directly impact on Acts of Parliament would use the much less satisfactory negative procedure. Although a draft of those regulations would still be tabled before they came into force, they would almost inevitably do so unless, exceptionally, Parliament prayed against that negative resolution. All these amendments do is ensure that MPs have their say, and have a proper role in scrutinising the Government before regulations come into force, which is important given the very important subject, and the effect that these provisions could have on immigration law. I hope the Committee will be sympathetic to what we argue for.

Holly Lynch Portrait Holly Lynch - Hansard
12 Jun 2020, 12:01 a.m.

As the SNP spokesperson says, this group of amendments, like most of those in the previous group, continues to seek to limit the transfer of powers to the Executive and away from Parliament. We have gone over the arguments against such sweeping Henry VIII powers in principle at length, so I will not repeat those. This group largely seeks to ensure that regulations made under clause 4 are subject to the affirmative procedure, and to leave out subsection (6).

Martin McTague from the Federation of Small Businesses was I think the only witness who said in his evidence on Tuesday that he actually did see some merit in the powers in clause 4, yet when asked further, he was keen to stress that

“the Home Secretary will be answerable to Parliament about the decisions that she or he has made. That would be a way in which Parliament could ensure there was proper scrutiny.”––[Official Report, Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill Public Bill Committee, 9 June 2020; c. 14, Q29.]

However, as the Bill stands, proper scrutiny will be missing.

As has been said, proper scrutiny is exactly what we are in the business of in this place. It is why the Government say they have thrown caution to the wind in returning to a physical Parliament when we could have been undertaking our duties from home, as is still the public health advice. If the Leader of the House is such a big fan of parliamentary scrutiny, why are we going to such lengths to avoid it with these powers? Putting changes through the affirmative procedure has to be the way forward if we are to shape legislation for the better and deliver on parliamentary democracy. That is why we support this group of amendments.

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster - Hansard

I thank the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East for speaking to his further amendments on clause 4. Amendments 5, 6, 8 and 9 deal with the parliamentary procedure for regulations made under the clause 4 powers, as has been outlined. The made affirmatory procedure is needed in the event that there is a short window between the Bill’s Royal Assent and the end of the transition period on 31 December 2020. This is why the provision for the affirmative procedure that the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Halifax have suggested would not work. Free movement must end on 31 December at the end of the transition period, and it is important to ensure that regulations made under this power align the treatment of European economic area and non-EEA citizens who arrive in the UK from 1 January 2021.

To clarify, under the made affirmative procedure, Parliament will be asked to approve the regulations within 40 days of their being made to enable them to continue in force, so Parliament does have scrutiny of the use of this power. If either House does not approve the regulations, they will cease to have effect, but subsection (10) preserves the effect of anything done under these regulations before that point to ensure legal certainty—in essence, for someone who is granted immigration leave after applying under a rule that would come into effect on 1 January.

Using this power does not mean avoiding parliamentary scrutiny. The secondary legislation to be made under this power is still subject to full parliamentary oversight under the established procedures, although I expect the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East may actually be disappointed at just how limited and benign they end up being. It is important to debate the appropriate use of delegated powers, but the Government are committed to ending free movement now that we have left the EU, and this clause is an essential part of delivering that and ensuring that it can be done, with the new system in place, on 1 January 2021. We therefore cannot accept these amendments.

Break in Debate

Holly Lynch Portrait Holly Lynch - Hansard

We are enormously sympathetic to all the points that the Scottish National party spokesperson has just made on amendment 1, but I want to focus my comments on new clause 34, which we support. It would ensure that EEA and Swiss spouses of UK nationals were not ineligible for visas because of job cuts and furloughs resulting from the coronavirus. For many families, the coronavirus crisis has already led to loss of livelihood and prolonged separation. Now, families of British citizens with EU spouses fear that they will be permanently separated if their partner cannot secure a visa because their job security has been affected by coronavirus and they no longer meet the income threshold to settle in the UK.

We feel strongly that we should at this time give families as much security as possible. In the crisis, unemployment has crept up significantly, and there are limited work prospects. A recent publication for the Institute for Public Policy Research, using data from the labour force survey, found that migrants to the UK are far more likely to be working in industries affected by the crisis, including accommodation and food services. Migrants are also more likely to be self-employed and in temporary work, which puts them at particular risk of losing income, or having diminished income, as a result of the crisis.

We can foresee a ruthlessly competitive job market in the aftermath of the crisis. The new clause seeks only an appropriate grace period for the duration of the crisis on the minimum income requirement, for those who were working hard to ensure that they met it. It seems entirely appropriate to use the expiration of the Coronavirus Act 2020, as set out in the new clause, to set that.

A constituent of mine who worked at McDonald’s needed to meet the threshold so that his wife could stay in the country, and will fall short, having been furloughed. Another woman who contacted me has a one-year-old and is pregnant with her second child. Having been furloughed, she has had to get a second job to top up her income, to meet the minimum income requirement for her partner to join her. A raft of visa issues have been exacerbated by coronavirus, and I do not think that I am being unreasonable in saying that the Government have not been particularly swift in offering clear, effective advice about the status of citizens throughout lockdown. That is causing huge additional and unnecessary anxiety for affected families at what is already a worrying time.

We have heard that there has been ambiguity about information on the Government website this week. The Home Office issued information for those on furlough, announcing on 9 June that if someone had earned enough to meet the minimum income requirement in the six months before March 2020 but their salary had dropped on being furloughed, they could still apply as if they were earning 100% of their income. That is welcome, but are the Government minded to extend consideration to those who lost their jobs entirely, and to grant them a grace period of some kind?

I should be grateful if the Minister responded to those points and considered the new clause as a way not to pile further worry and uncertainty on to families who are looking to reunite.

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster - Hansard

I appreciate the intention behind amendment 1, which is to create a means whereby, in future, EEA citizens would be able to join a spouse, partner or parent in the UK who was either a British citizen or settled here, without being subject to the current and established financial requirements for family migration. I also appreciate the intention behind new clause 34, which is to extend the concessions that the Government have already put in place for people subject to the minimum income requirement who are affected by covid-19 and the measures necessary to tackle it.

So that those subject to the requirement will not be unduly affected by circumstances beyond their control, a temporary loss of income during the pandemic will be disregarded. I hope that members of the Committee will appreciate that it would be difficult, and probably not appropriate, for me to go through an exhaustive list of circumstances that we might consider. However, new guidance is certainly online; I have just checked. I have summarised some of the details at least in one answer to a parliamentary question this week. It is my clear understanding that if someone is furloughed and, under their contract of employment, their potential earnings at 100% would be over £18,600—there are a couple of caveats to that, but we will stick with £18,600 for now—but the 20% furlough effect takes them below that figure, that drop in income will be disregarded. It is their substantive income that we will take into account, if they are still in their job and able to return to it when furlough comes to an end. For convenience, I will write to the Committee setting out the guidance we have given so that Members have it to hand, given the concern and interest that has been shown.

Let me be clear from the outset that the effect of amendment 1 and new clause 34 would be to create a separate and preferential family migration system for EEA and Swiss nationals and their families when compared with the situation of British or settled people’s family members who are non-EEA citizens. That is the intention of the amendments. That would lead to a perception that non-EEA family members were being discriminated against for no reason other than their nationality and would likely be regarded as unlawful for that reason, given that we have now left the European Union and the basis for having a two-tier immigration system has fundamentally been removed. I accept that Members would argue that they would like to change the rules overall, not just for EEA citizens, but the focus of the Bill is EEA citizens; it is not a general migration Bill.

Holly Lynch Portrait Holly Lynch - Hansard

Does the Minister not accept, however, that the difference for British citizens in EU countries is that when they took decisions to form relationships and families elsewhere in Europe, they did not envisage that the rules would change and that free movement rights would be taken away from them? The immigration rules have changed for them in a way that they have not for other British citizens in other countries around the world.

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

When anyone takes the decision to go and live abroad, there is no guarantee that migration rules will not change while they are living abroad; rules have changed over the years for British citizens living outside the EEA. However, we have put in place a longer transitional period, which I think will be to 2022—it will be nearly six years after the referendum by the time that is implemented—for those who have moved abroad on freedom of movement. Even then, they will still have the ability to move back under the family migration rules, the same as UK citizens living anywhere else.

It is also worth noting that someone who might apply for a spousal visa could also apply under tier 2. To touch on the point about potential earnings in this country, someone who qualified for a skilled work visa would be able to apply through that route if they were not able to apply through the spousal visa route. They would not, for example, be barred from settling with a UK citizen here because they were on a tier 2 visa rather than a spousal visa. Actually, under some of the provisions, particularly if they were a healthcare worker, they would potentially be quicker to settlement overall if they took that opportunity. I know that is a point that has been raised about those who might have an earning potential.

Let me go into some of the details of why we do not think amendment 1 is the right approach. The amendment seeks to replace the minimum income requirement for British citizens and settled persons to sponsor EEA family members with a test that has three separate components: being able to maintain and accommodate the family without recourse to public funds; taking account of the prospective earnings of the EEA nationals seeking entry; and taking into account any third-party support available. Let me address those in turn.

The first component—the simple ability to maintain and accommodate without recourse to public funds—would take us back to the policy that was in place before the minimum income requirement was introduced in 2012. It was partly because the test for whether a family could maintain and accommodate themselves without recourse to public funds was difficult to apply consistently that the minimum income requirement was introduced. The minimum income requirement provides certainty to all by ensuring that family migrants are supported at a reasonable and consistent level that is easy to understand. As Opposition Members have alluded to, the minimum income requirement has been based on in-depth analysis and advice from the independent Migration Advisory Committee.

I turn to some of the points about differentials across the United Kingdom. The Migration Advisory Committee found no clear case for differentiation in the level of the minimum income requirement between the UK’s countries or regions. A single national threshold provides clarity and simplicity. Data also show that the gross median earnings in 2018 exceeded the minimum income requirement in every country and region of the United Kingdom.

Break in Debate

Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald - Hansard
11 Jun 2020, 3:21 p.m.

I beg to move amendment 14, in clause 4, page 3, line 28, at end insert—

“(11) Regulations made under subsection (1) must make provision enabling UK citizens falling within the personal scope of the Withdrawal Agreement, the EEA EFTA separation agreement or the Swiss citizens’ rights agreement to return to the UK accompanied by, or to be joined in the UK by, close family members with whom they lived while residing in the EEA or Switzerland.

(12) Regulations under subsection (1) may not impose any conditions on the entry or residence of close family members which could not have been imposed under EU law relating to free movement, as at the date of this Act coming into force.

(13) References in subsection (11) to the Withdrawal Agreement, the EEA EFTA separation agreement and the Swiss citizens’ rights agreement have the same meaning as in the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020.”

This amendment would mean UK citizens who had been living in the EEA or Switzerland but wish to return to the UK, could continue to be accompanied or joined in the UK by close family members who would otherwise lose their rights (under the Surinder Singh route) because of this Act.

I am being kept busy this afternoon. I am pleased to move amendment 14. Once again, it is all about family. We are talking about what became known as the Surinder Singh route, because of a judgment of the European Court of Justice. I talked in my previous contribution about the unfairness of separation that immigration rules can cause; in the case of the Surinder Singh families, that is coupled with a real sense of unfairness and the loss of a legitimate expectation.

We are talking about UK citizens who have gone to live somewhere in the EEA at a time when the rules were quite clear that the UK was part of the European Union, so there would never be any conceivable difficulty about being able to return to this country with family that they may have settled down with in another EU country.

To my mind, we should say that they had a legitimate expectation when they left that they would be able to return to this country at the appropriate moment with their EU family members. The problem now arises that if they return after the transition period that the Government have put in place—it is better than nothing; that is absolutely true—they will face the £18,600 threshold, which I previously alluded to.

There are folk over there with huge dilemmas to address. The briefing we have had from British in Europe sets out a very typical example. Sarah is a 48-year-old British national living in Germany with her 52-year-old German husband and children. She is the only child of an elderly mother in the UK. Career and schooling reasons mean that she cannot realistically return to the UK by March 2022. What happens if Sarah’s mother becomes so frail or ill that she needs the care of her daughter in five years’ time? Sarah will have a huge decision to make: either to uproot her family at a hugely disruptive and inconvenient time, to come back to look after her mother, or to leave her family behind and come back to look after her mother. Alternatively, she will just have to hope that her mother is able to cope.

Sarah was not negligent in going abroad without taking this future prospect into account when she made the decision to travel and live in Germany, because it just did not arise. We were part of the EU and free movement was always going to be there.

I am grateful for and welcome the fact that the Government have reviewed the immediate cut-off, but 2022 does not give enough time. Why do we not have an open-ended cut-off for the people from this country who have made their lives in other parts of the European Union or the EEA, and let them return here under the regime that was in place when they left? That is the purpose of amendment 14, and I hope it will have a sympathetic hearing.

Holly Lynch Portrait Holly Lynch - Hansard

Once again, we are very sympathetic to the amendment. As we have already heard, it is not dissimilar to amendment 1, and it would offer reassurance to the 1.2 million British nationals who live in EU countries. Failure to implement measures such as those proposed in the amendment would show the Government’s indifference to British citizens who decided to make their homes and lives in Europe and, as in the example we have just heard, could force people to choose between loved ones there and loved ones here.

The example provided by British in Europe paints a picture of something that is affecting thousands of people and has the potential to affect thousands more in future, as family members age and their circumstances change. The amendment characterises the significance of forming laws and policies; what is discussed and decided on in this building has far-reaching implications and consequences affecting vast swathes of people in their day-to-day lives.

Until March 2022, any citizen going to live in an EU 27 country did so with the security of knowing that if they were to form a relationship and/or have a family, they would have the right to return to the UK with their partner and family, with no or very few conditions attached. That was the point I made to the Minister in challenging and seeking further clarification on some of his points about differences being potentially discriminatory against returning UK citizens and spouses from other parts of the world, not just EEA countries.

As I am sure we can all appreciate, families and relationships can be complex. The provisions afforded to British citizens through freedom of movement would allow any citizen to return to the UK with their partner and family if a situation arose where they needed to do so, potentially at quite short notice. If the UK citizen returned to be either employed or self-employed, there would be no conditions on their return; if they returned to be a student or to be non-economically active, they would have to have sufficient resources not to become a burden on the social assistance system of the UK, and have comprehensive health insurance.

In comparison, under the proposed new immigration rules, spouses and partners who wish to enter the UK with their British partner will have to meet the minimum income requirement of £18,600, and the figure is increased if the family have children. That is a wholly restrictive requirement that will severely deter families from returning and coming to the UK. In some cases, it may stop British citizens returning to the UK altogether.

As highlighted in evidence by Jeremy Morgan, the right of citizens to return with their families to their country of origin was deemed outside the scope of the UK-EU withdrawal negotiations, resulting in a serious inequality between UK citizens in the EU and EU citizens in the UK. Bizarrely, the UK Government are discriminating against their own citizens in this instance, since nationals continue to enjoy their right to return to their countries of origin with their non-EU family members.

Furthermore, EU citizens resident in the UK and covered by the withdrawal agreement also have an unconditional lifelong right to bring in family members, including non-EU members, to the UK, provided that the relationship existed before the end of the transition period. The amendment tabled would address that discrepancy.

The coronavirus pandemic has only heightened the need for the Government to carry out their basic duty to support UK citizens living abroad. What if the pandemic had occurred after 29 March 2022? As countries began lockdown, British citizens in Europe would have been faced with the unenviable choice of remaining or hastily returning to the UK. The minimum income requirement would have meant that many British citizens and their families would have been simply unable to return, despite both global and personal crises.

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster -