Debates between Holly Lynch and Kevin Foster

There have been 12 exchanges between Holly Lynch and Kevin Foster

1 Mon 13th July 2020 Oral Answers to Questions
Home Office
3 interactions (293 words)
2 Thu 18th June 2020 Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill (Eighth sitting)
Home Office
7 interactions (1,166 words)
3 Thu 18th June 2020 Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill (Seventh sitting)
Home Office
12 interactions (3,482 words)
4 Tue 16th June 2020 Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill (Sixth sitting)
Home Office
23 interactions (6,430 words)
5 Tue 16th June 2020 Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill (Fifth sitting)
Home Office
2 interactions (1,215 words)
6 Thu 11th June 2020 Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill (Third sitting)
Home Office
11 interactions (2,087 words)
7 Thu 11th June 2020 Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill (Fourth sitting)
Home Office
20 interactions (5,248 words)
8 Tue 9th June 2020 Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill (Second sitting)
Home Office
17 interactions (3,061 words)
9 Tue 9th June 2020 Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill (First sitting)
Home Office
11 interactions (1,873 words)
10 Mon 18th May 2020 Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill
Home Office
2 interactions (3,487 words)
11 Fri 6th July 2018 National Living Wage (Extension to Young People) Bill 2 interactions (1,265 words)
12 Wed 28th February 2018 Middle Level Bill
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
2 interactions (336 words)

Oral Answers to Questions

Debate between Holly Lynch and Kevin Foster
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 (Eighth sitting)

(Committee Debate: 8th sitting: House of Commons)
Debate between Holly Lynch and Kevin Foster
Thursday 18th June 2020

(3 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
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Home Office
Holly Lynch Portrait Holly Lynch - Hansard
18 Jun 2020, 2:11 p.m.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 (Seventh sitting)

(Committee Debate: 7th sitting: House of Commons)
Debate between Holly Lynch and Kevin Foster
Thursday 18th June 2020

(3 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
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Home Office
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

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster - Hansard

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

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

Holly Lynch Portrait Holly Lynch - Hansard

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

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New Clause 28

Annual review: Higher education

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

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

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

Brought up, and read the First time.

Break in Debate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Holly Lynch Portrait Holly Lynch - Hansard

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

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New Clause 30

Procedures for amending Immigration Rules

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

(2) After section 3(2) insert—

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

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

(a) explains the proposal; and

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

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

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

(a) any representations; and

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

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

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

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

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

Question negatived.

New Clause 32

Annual report on labour market

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

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

Brought up, and read the First time.

Break in Debate

Holly Lynch Portrait Holly Lynch - Hansard

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

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

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster - Hansard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Committee Debate: 6th sitting: House of Commons)
Debate between Holly Lynch and Kevin Foster
Tuesday 16th June 2020

(3 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
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Home Office
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

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

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.

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

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 (Fifth sitting)

(Committee Debate: 5th sitting: House of Commons)
Debate between Holly Lynch and Kevin Foster
Tuesday 16th June 2020

(3 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
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Home Office
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.

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

(Committee Debate: 3rd sitting: House of Commons)
Debate between Holly Lynch and Kevin Foster
Thursday 11th June 2020

(3 months, 1 week ago)

Public Bill Committees
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Home Office
Kevin Foster Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Kevin Foster) - Hansard
11 Jun 2020, 11:34 a.m.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Edward, and I will take on board the comments you have just made. If you will permit me, I would like to make a few introductory remarks—at the start of Committee proceedings and before we begin to debate the detail—on the purpose of the clauses.

The Bill delivers the ending of free movement of people and lays the foundations for introducing a fairer, firmer skills-led immigration system. The coronavirus pandemic is the biggest crisis we have faced in our lifetime. We need people, regardless of nationality, to continue coming together, using their skills and expertise to support the United Kingdom’s recovery.

As you will know, Sir Edward, legislating is not an academic exercise; there must be a point to it. The point is that we will introduce a new system by ending preferential treatment for EEA citizens. That will mean a system that prioritises the skills people have to offer and how they will contribute to the United Kingdom, not where their passport comes from.

The Government recognise the tremendous contribution people are making to keep vital services running during this incredibly difficult time and the dedication shown by millions demonstrates to employers the skills and work ethic we have here. Colleagues may well recall that this Bill was introduced in the previous Parliament. There have been no substantial changes to the content since it was previously considered. The only changes made are minor drafting clarifications in places and updates to the list of retained EU law to be repealed.

We remain committed to delivering a points-based immigration system that benefits the whole UK from January 2021. We will open key routes from autumn 2020, so people can start to apply ahead of the system taking effect on 1 January 2021. I want to clarify that the details of the future system will be set out in the immigration rules and not in the Bill, as is the case now for the non-EEA immigration system and has always been the case under previous Governments. The rules will be laid before Parliament later this year.

Turning specifically to clause 1, this introduces the first schedule to the Bill, which contains a list of measures to be repealed in relation to the end of free movement and related issues. The clause fulfils a purely mechanistic function to introduce the schedule.

Holly Lynch Portrait Holly Lynch (Halifax) (Lab) - Hansard
11 Jun 2020, 11:35 a.m.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Edward, as we start line-by-line scrutiny of this particularly important legislation in these highly unusual times.

I thank the Minister for his opening speech on clause 1 and schedule 1. Early in proceedings, I want to put on the record my thanks to the Clerk of the Bill Committee. He has been absolutely invaluable to all Committee members with assistance on the amendments and new clauses before us.

I also want to put on the record—I am sure that the Minister will join me, in the spirit of some early unity, as might you, Sir Edward—an expression of our disappointment about the audio arrangements for Tuesday’s evidence session. The poor sound quality was problematic not only on the day, as on occasion exchanges between Members and witnesses were seriously restricted, but for Hansard during the afternoon sitting. Colleagues worked incredibly hard to make that Hansard report available, but, unfortunately, it was not published until after 11 o’clock last night. That made preparations for today’s line-by-line scrutiny based on that evidence incredibly difficult.

That said, I turn to clause 1 and schedule 1. As the Minister is aware, we voted against the Bill on Second Reading, and the clause is the Bill in a nutshell. We will go on to discuss in great detail the various clauses and to outline our reservations at the different stages, but, ultimately, we fear that the Bill—right now, and in this form—holds none of the answers to the problems facing the country and actually stands to exacerbate them.

It is not difficult to see how implementation of the Bill could have severe consequences for the health and social care sector, a point made by several of the witnesses on Tuesday. The sector will require special consideration. The policy statement published in February on what comes after clause 1 specifically comes into effect simply saying to those earning less than £25,600:

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

Many of the people on the frontline fighting the coronavirus earn less than that. We need them now, and we need them to recover. The policy paper and the Minister state that they are looking to the domestic workforce to plug those gaps, but on Tuesday we heard from the Migration Advisory Committee—we can all see and feel this—that systemic failures underpin the problems in social care, and those will not be resolved by January. If we put a hard stop on free movement without having resolved some of those issues, there will be consequences when the country can least afford that.

Concerns about the clause fall into two distinct groups: ensuring that we have done the right thing by the some 3.5 million EU citizens who are already here under free movement rules when those come to an end, and certain groups in particular, and looking ahead to the future impact of restricted migration flows. Since the Bill’s predecessor was presented to the House in the 2017 to 2019 Parliament, the EU settlement scheme has come into effect to give European citizens who reside in the UK a pre-settled and a settled status.

The numbers coming through the scheme are positive, but there are concerns about certain groups, some with specific vulnerabilities. Eligible children in care, for example, are one cohort that we will return to under the new clauses. The impact of coronavirus on Home Office capabilities alone, in addition to its impact on applicants, inevitably has heightened our concerns that some groups will need more support than ever to access the scheme.

Turning to the impact that ending free movement will have on migration flows in key sectors, the Bill provides more questions than answers. It is incredibly narrow in scope, as we have discussed, which is extraordinary given that it will create the biggest change to our immigration system in decades. Instead of putting forward a new immigration system, which Parliament could discuss, debate, amend and improve, the Bill grants powers to Ministers to introduce whatever system they like with extensive Henry VIII powers.

The Government’s February 2020 policy statement indicated what such a system might be like. Properly debating most of that new system will be deemed out of scope for this Bill and this Committee, but we will do what we can within scope to set out principles and solutions for when clause 1 comes into effect.

A number of the witnesses on Tuesday were critical of the Government’s planned £25,600 threshold—not just on health and social care—and transitioning on to a visa system and sponsorship routes will cause headaches and shortages for a range of businesses, exacerbating economic uncertainty. For example, the Bill fails to address the UK’s need for migrant workers to allow the agriculture sector simply to function, which is another issue that we will explore when we debate the new clauses.

To be clear, Labour has no problem with an immigration system that treats all migrants the same, no matter where they come from, but that is not the system the Government propose. A points-based immigration system could be effective. However, it would be predicated on receptive analysis of occupation shortages, parallel education and skills strategies that seek to fill long-term job gaps with domestic talent, and a pragmatic yet empathetic Border Force. The Bill fails to do any of that, and we will seek to remedy this, within the bounds of its scope, through our amendments and new clauses.

Break in Debate

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster - Hansard
11 Jun 2020, 11:45 a.m.

I will reply briefly. I recognise the position of the Scottish National party on the Bill and on these particular proposals. There is a fundamental difference, but I assure the hon. Gentleman that he is always worth listening to, even when we disagree. He laments the absence of the tourism and hospitality industries on Tuesday. Regardless of our views on the Bill, we all look forward to an era when those industries will be able to think about recruiting again, rather than being in the position that we expect them to be in of significant job losses, including in my constituency, over the coming weeks and months, given the impact of recent weeks.

To turn to the comments of the hon. Member for Halifax, I was listening on Tuesday to the evidence from Professor Brian Bell, interim chair of the MAC, particularly on social care, and I cannot remember him saying that a general route for employers in the social care sector to recruit abroad at or near the minimum wage would be good news for the social care sector. In fact, I think he said precisely the opposite. To be clear, the general salary threshold is being reduced to £25,600, but where an occupation is deemed to be in shortage, it will be subject to a lower salary level of £20,480 a year.

It is also worth pointing out that for more than 20 categories of healthcare professional and allied healthcare professional, their eligibility will be based on the national salary scales paid in the NHS, rather than the general salary scales set out in the wider immigration rules. That is linked to the creation of what we are looking at as a healthcare visa to give fast-track access and reduced fees to people under that scheme. It is important that we keep placing those facts on the record so that people are aware of them, given some of the not very well informed commentary we have seen in the media, such as the claim that nurses will not be eligible, when in fact they will be fast-tracked and prioritised under our system.

Holly Lynch Portrait Holly Lynch - Hansard

I am concerned that the Minister has put words in my mouth in relation to what the MAC said about social care. What we did hear loud and clear from a number of witnesses, however, was that there is no plan to address workforce issues in social care when free movement ends. Is he minded to have specific remedies for social care in his future plans, before we end free movement?

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster - Hansard

Again, if people think, from what we have seen in the last few weeks, that the remedy for social care is to recruit more people at or near to the minimum wage from abroad, that is an odd conclusion to draw.

Holly Lynch Portrait Holly Lynch - Hansard


Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster - Hansard
11 Jun 2020, 11:48 a.m.

We will certainly talk to the Employment Minister. Again, I am conscious of the scope of the Bill and not going off more widely into our labour market strategies.

One conversation I recently had with the Employment Minister was about how, sadly, a lot of people in my constituency, and I am sure in the hon. Lady’s constituency as well, need to find new employment opportunities. Social care, and the healthcare sector more widely, will be part of providing some of those opportunities, not just through entry level jobs, but by ensuring that education, colleges and others are training people towards skilled jobs and providing real career progression.

For me, that is the solution for social care, rather than looking to the migration system as the overall labour market solution. I am sure we all share the sentiment, whatever any of us thinks of ending free movement, that the sector needs to be more invested in and more valued, and that there need to be clearer paths of career progression that people can see when they are deciding what they want to do for a job and a career.

I am conscious, Sir Edward, of what you said about the scope of the Bill. We could have an interesting discussion about the overall labour market strategy, but for now, this is a focused debate about why clause 1 is important and delivers the core of what the Bill is about.

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

Break in Debate

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster - Hansard

The clause is minor and technical in its nature, but it is important for the implementation of the Bill and for a fully functioning statute book. Effectively, it states that the Bill will be one of the Immigration Acts. I commend the clause to the Committee.

Holly Lynch Portrait Holly Lynch - Hansard
11 Jun 2020, 12:32 p.m.

There is so little in clause 3 that we will not make a contribution to it.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 3 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 4

Consequential etc. provision

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

(Committee Debate: 4th sitting: House of Commons)
Debate between Holly Lynch and Kevin Foster
Thursday 11th June 2020

(3 months, 1 week ago)

Public Bill Committees
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Home Office
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.

Break in Debate

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

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 - Hansard
11 Jun 2020, 3:28 p.m.

I again thank the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East and his colleagues for tabling amendment 14 and allowing us to have this discussion. As the hon. Gentleman has said, the amendment would require the Government to include in regulations, made in consequence of this Bill ending EU free movement law, lifetime rights for UK nationals to bring their close family members to the UK on EU free movement terms, where the UK national was resident in the EEA or Switzerland in accordance with EU law by the end of the transition period at the end of this year. Those family members would thereby continue indefinitely to bypass the immigration rules that otherwise apply to family members of UK nationals.

I will set out the Government’s policy for this cohort of family members before I explain our reasons for rejecting the amendment. In certain circumstances, family members of UK nationals who have resided together in the EEA or Switzerland are able to come to the UK under EU free movement law. That applies where a UK national has exercised free movement rights in the host state—as a worker or self-employed person, for example—for more than three months. That is sometimes referred to as the “Surinder Singh route”, after the relevant judgment of the Court of Justice of the European Union.

Surinder Singh family members are not protected by the withdrawal agreement, as was said. None the less, as a matter of domestic policy, the Government decided that UK nationals resident in the European Economic Area or Switzerland under EU free movement law until the end of the transition period, which is the end of this year, will have until 29 March 2022 to bring their existing close family members—a spouse, civil partner, durable partner, child or dependent partner—to the UK on EU law terms. The family relationship must have existed before the UK left the EU on 31 January 2020 unless the child was born or adopted after that date, and it must continue to exist when the family member seeks to come to the UK, for obvious reasons.

Break in Debate

Holly Lynch Portrait Holly Lynch - Hansard

Yet again, I rise to echo a great deal of what has already been said by the SNP spokesperson. The Opposition have spoken consistently in favour of a declaratory approach, and the Home Affairs Committee has also tabled an amendment outlining its preference for that approach, so, while we have sought to deal with the scheme in front of us by way of our amendments and new clauses, should he push amendment 16 to a vote, he would certainly have our support.

In our 2019 manifesto, we committed ourselves to ending the uncertainty created by the EU settlement scheme by granting EU nationals the automatic right to continue living and working in the UK. This new declaratory system would allow EU nationals the chance to register for proof of status if they wished, but they would no longer have to apply to continue living and working in this country. This would help to secure reciprocal treatment for UK citizens living in the EU, prevent a repeat of the shameful Windrush scandal and avoid unnecessarily criminalising hundreds of thousands of EU nationals.

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster - Hansard

This has been a useful debate. As has been pointed out, amendment 16 would require the Government to establish a declaratory system for those eligible for residence rights under the withdrawal agreement or the immigration rules for the EU settlement scheme. That was touched on by the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East, who speaks for the SNP. It is a familiar argument we have been having over the last couple of years, and I suspect we will continue having it over the next year or two.

As the hon. Member alluded, EEA and Swiss citizens resident in the UK by the end of transition period and their family members can secure their rights here through the EU settlement scheme and through applications that are free of charge to make. So far, more than 3.5 million applications have been received and more than 3.2 million concluded, despite the efforts of one or two people to encourage people not to take part, as my hon. Friend the Member for Moray highlighted. This is with still more than a year to go before the deadline for applications on 30 June 2021 for those resident here by the end of the transition period on 31 December.

It is worth pointing out that the UK’s immigration system has long been predicated on individuals applying to the Home Office to be granted leave to enter or remain, under what we call a constitutive system. The Government have repeatedly made it clear that the constitutive system, introduced through the EU settlement scheme, is the best approach to implementing the citizens’ rights elements of the withdrawal agreements. It provides EEA citizens and their family members with clarity about what they need to apply for and by when, and with the secure evidence of their status that they need.

A requirement to apply for individual status by a deadline provides a clear incentive for EEA citizens living here to secure their status in UK law and obtain evidence of this, whereas a declaratory system, under which individuals acquire an immigration status under an Act of Parliament, would significantly reduce the incentive to obtain and record evidence of status. Indeed, the amendment does not include any requirement to do that, so in decades to come it could result in some of the issues we saw in the Windrush scandal: people with a status that has been granted, but for which there is no clear or recorded evidence.

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

(Committee Debate: 2nd sitting: House of Commons)
Debate between Holly Lynch and Kevin Foster
Tuesday 9th June 2020

(3 months, 1 week ago)

Public Bill Committees
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Home Office
Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster - Hansard
9 Jun 2020, 2:10 p.m.

Yes. Effectively, there are negotiations ongoing, and the issue is what happens if the Government reached an agreement and wished to implement it before that time.

Jeremy Morgan: I should start by saying that we were fairly careful in the representations that we made. We are a group that represents British citizens in Europe who are affected by Brexit and were there before Brexit. We have tended not to get into policy post the end of the transition period, simply because it is not within our remit to do so. It is for others to express views on that. Clearly, if a further agreement is made for rights that extend to others beyond those who are already in the EU, it is important that the Government should be able to implement that, but whether that is by primary legislation or regulations made at the time for that purpose is a matter for this Committee to decide. I do not think British in Europe would have a strong view about it.

Holly Lynch Portrait Holly Lynch (Halifax) (Lab) - Hansard
9 Jun 2020, 2:10 p.m.

Q Perhaps I can come to Professor Ryan first. Thank you very much for your written submission to the Committee. Can you talk us through what you think might be missing from clause 2?

Professor Bernard Ryan: Certainly. First, I thank the Committee and the Chair for the invitation.

Break in Debate

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster - Hansard
9 Jun 2020, 2:41 p.m.

Q I have two questions, one for each witness; I will ask them both and then we can just cover them off at the same time.

The first question is to Mr Goodhart. I noticed that the January 2018 report from Policy Exchange, “Immigration after Brexit”, welcomed the ending of free movement. As you will appreciate, the main provision of the Bill is to alter UK law to remove the provisions for free movement. I wondered how you saw that, and how you saw the system that will seek to replace it, which we confirmed in a policy statement in February.

My question to Ms Rutter is this: given, obviously, the area that she covers in her group’s interest, I wonder how she sees the working of the European settlement scheme, which has now had 3.5 million applications, in terms of securing the continuing rights of EU citizens in the UK, or EEA citizens in the UK to be exact, under the withdrawal agreement.

David Goodhart: A general comment on the Bill is that I think it is broadly welcome. Part of the motivation behind Brexit, and perhaps the 2019 election too, was a more moderate level of immigration. It is true that immigration has dropped down the list of things that people worry about, for obvious reasons, even before the covid crisis, but I think that was partly because people saw that the Government were actually doing something about it. And I think the Government have broadly got it right to focus very much on restricting lower-skill immigration.

I think the higher-skill immigration channels are probably somewhat more liberal even than the Migration Advisory Committee envisaged. I mean, there has been a big liberalisation both on the salary threshold and on the qualification threshold. Bringing the qualification threshold down from degree level to A-level is a big move, and it will be interesting to see whether those changes achieve the goal of an overall lower level of immigration. I think the perfectly reasonable and democratically willed goal is a lower equilibrium level of immigration without damaging the economy. That is the goal that the Government are hoping to achieve, and I think the measures they have introduced are likely to achieve that.

I think I would probably have gone for slightly tighter restrictions, perhaps keeping the degree-level qualification and then having more exemptions—the type of exemptions that we see in the agricultural sector and so on—because Governments have made promises about immigration many times in the last 15 years or so, and they have very clearly said that they want the overall levels to be lower. I think it is quite likely that in a couple of years’ time they will not really be significantly lower, and then that will set off a whole—but then we will have the levers, at least, to do something about that.

Jill Rutter: I would like to make some general points before coming to your question on the EU settlement scheme. I am going to draw from the National Conversation on Immigration, which is the biggest ever public engagement activity on this subject and included a nationally representative survey and discussions in 60 locations across the UK, including a good few of your constituencies.

Although public confidence in the ability of successive Governments to manage the immigration system has been and still remains low, most people are balancers who see the pressures and gains of migration. Generally, most people want immigration to be controlled, they want migrants who come here to make a contribution and they want everybody to be treated fairly. However, control means different things to different people. It can be about UK sovereignty, controlling numbers, a selective immigration system and enforcement.

There are two further points in terms of public confidence. Immigration is a national issue that people see through a local lens, so what happens locally is quite important, and people’s understanding of immigration policy is very top line. They do not know the details of our policy, such as the detail of the EU settlement scheme.

Treating people fairly is hard-wired into most people. Most people want to see fair play and humanity. They want immigration to be controlled, but that has to be fair, and you do not win support by sounding nasty. In terms of the EU settlement scheme, nobody wants people who are here to be sent home. Towards the end of the National Conversation, when Windrush was an issue, people also talked about the unfairness of the Windrush scheme.

In terms of the Bill, the devil is in the detail and policy will be set through immigration rules, but areas to look at perhaps include people who have been awarded pre-settled status being automatically granted settled status, rather than having to apply again, and also thinking about citizenship. The public find it very reassuring when people make the UK their home and then take up British citizenship. That can sound a bit counterintuitive, but there is a preference for people becoming citizens, rather than having guest-worker schemes. On immigration policy, you could look at how one can make the acquisition of citizenship smoother and easier—by reviewing the cost of citizenship, for example.

Holly Lynch Portrait Holly Lynch - Hansard
9 Jun 2020, 2:43 p.m.

Q More broadly, through your work at Policy Exchange and British Future, how have you seen public attitudes towards immigration change over the past 12 months? David, may I come to you first?

David Goodhart: As I just mentioned, it has certainly dropped down in terms of priority and level of anxiety, but pretty consistently over the past 20-odd years about two thirds of the public have said that immigration is either too high or much too high. That may have come down a little bit recently. It has certainly come down in terms of priority, partly because other things have been happening, even prior to covid. It is also because of a feeling that, with Brexit finally happening and the end of free movement from the European Union, we would be in control of it again, so a source of anxiety was removed.

Jill Rutter: To echo what David said, immigration has certainly dropped down of the list of issues of public concern. It is much less salient. Ipsos MORI has also tracked the same group of people over a five-year period, and has seen a slight warming of attitudes. That is evident in other polling data, too.

I think the reason for that is, first of all, as David said, that people feel that now we are leaving the European Union, the UK has control over immigration from the EU. But also the referendum itself enabled a much more open, public debate about immigration in pubs and among groups of friends. Inevitably, in that discussion, there is a kind of moderation of our attitudes. That is a reason, too. Again, there is a displacement effect: covid-19 has pushed immigration off the news agenda.

Break in Debate

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster - Hansard
9 Jun 2020, 3:21 p.m.

Q Northern Ireland as well.

Adrian Berry: Yes, of course, but there needs to be primary legislation in whatever format, in my view, and not statutory instruments using the affirmative procedure.

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

Q Bella Sankey, perhaps I can come to you first. Will you outline for us what your hopes for change are, in terms of detention, through this piece of legislation? Will you also comment on David Goodhart’s remarks that those who, for one reason or another, have not applied for pre-settled or settled status through the EU settlement scheme may find themselves in a very precarious immigration position, and could find themselves in detention? What are the implications for those people, and what might need to change?

Bella Sankey: Thanks very much, Ms Lynch. For some time now, Detention Action has been working with a coalition of civil society organisations, including the Bar Council, the Law Society, the Equality and Human Rights Commission, Stonewall and others, and with MPs across the divide—Conservative, Democratic Unionist Party, Labour, SNP and Liberal Democrat MPs—to build a consensus around the idea that there needs to be a strict statutory time limit on immigration detention.

Immigration detention is a peculiarity of our public policy, in that there is no time limit. Unlike the criminal justice system or the mental health system, you can currently be detained indefinitely for months or years, and redetained indefinitely for months or years, without any statutory time limit in place if you are subject to immigration control.

It is a sweeping power that was introduced in 1971, when a series of immigration Acts acted to limit immigration from Commonwealth countries with the explicit intention of trying to reduce black and brown migration to the UK. The system was set up then, and has not been properly amended or looked at by Parliament. From the 1970s right up until the 1990s, a handful of people were detained, but it is now the case that thousands and thousands of people are detained each year. At present, as we sit here, 12 people in immigration detention have been there for more than one year.

The system is arbitrary and cruel. There is a crisis of self-harm in the system. Every day, my caseworkers speak to people who have suicidal ideation as a result of the indefinite nature of their detention. That is what everyone who has experienced the system will tell you: it is the indefinite nature that creates psychological torture and uncertainty. That means that people begin to lose the will to go on and live. We are seeking to implement a time limit through this Bill.

Break in Debate

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster - Hansard
9 Jun 2020, 3:57 p.m.

Q Just to be clear, I used the figure of 3.2 million in terms of decisions as well as the figure for applications. Coming on to the social security co-ordination parts of the Bill, do you have any thoughts on those? Are you concerned about the Government perhaps not being able to promptly implement any agreement that we might be able to reach with the European Union on those areas?

Luke Piper: I will defer to the points that Mr Berry made in his presentation previously on the issues of social security co-ordination. Our central concern is that at this stage much of the rights-based provisions of the withdrawal agreement, both under title II and title III, have been delegated away by the Bill and the previous European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act to various Ministers, and there is a lot of legislation and regulations that we have still to see to fully understand how those rights and obligations will be implemented.

Holly Lynch Portrait Holly Lynch - Hansard
9 Jun 2020, 3:59 p.m.

Q Luke, your organisation and a number of your members have been clear that you would like some sort of physical proof of pre-settled or settled status. Can you explain to the Committee why that is?

Luke Piper: Yes. There are clear points as to why we feel physical documents will help people in their day-to-day lives. First, it is the No. 1 ask of our members and people that we speak to who are EU citizens in this country. They would like physical proof of their status to live here. It is something that unfortunately has not been followed through.

Indeed, 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. We also had concerns about the availability of an online status; there may be instances when the status is not available for IT reasons. Also, online systems can be hacked. There are real security risks.

Finally, we also have concerns about the newness of the digital-only scheme. It is essentially being tested on over 3 million people. A digital-only identity system like this has never existed before in the UK, and it is being rolled out for a massive cohort of people. We had rather hoped that there would be an opportunity to trial the scheme substantively before people were pushed into a digital-only set-up. Those are the key reasons why we desire a physical document.

Break in Debate

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster - Hansard
9 Jun 2020, 4:14 p.m.

Okay, we will leave it there. I think you have made the points that are needed.

Holly Lynch Portrait Holly Lynch - Hansard
9 Jun 2020, 4:14 p.m.

Q On the same subject, perhaps you could explain what engagement The Children’s Society has had with local authorities about this. What problems are local authorities reporting to you that would be overcome if they had an ability to provide those names to Government, with some assurances that those children would be eligible?

Lucy Leon: At the moment, this is a significant burden on social workers. We welcome the guidance that has been issued, the funding that has been put in place, the prioritisation of this issue, and the fact that the Minister has taken time to write to council leads to ensure the issue is seen as a priority. However, we know—because we see it in our frontline services—that the information is not trickling down, and many social workers are unclear about what they are meant to be doing and how to help young people.

In the current pandemic, with helplines and embassies being closed and people being unable to travel, it has become even harder for social workers to support young people in locating the right paperwork to help them through this process. Social workers are also not always aware of who needs to apply, and some of the cases are very complex. Some children and young people are entitled to British citizenship, and the struggle to access legal advice and helplines at this time has made that very problematic for social workers. We see the proposal as not only taking the pressure off local authorities, but taking the stress off young people.

We see young people who have been incorrectly given pre-settled status, when they are entitled to settled status. We want to enable automatic settled status at this pivotal moment in young people’s lives, when they are planning their future, thinking about their education and thinking about pathways to work, so that they know that they can have indefinite leave to remain and can stay in this country, which is their only home. We are talking about children in care who would have had a history of abuse and neglect. It is imperative that, as corporate parents to those children, we give them as much stability as possible in the long run.

Break in Debate

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster - Hansard

They are historical pieces of legislation.

Alison Harvey: Yes, they have totally gone now.

Holly Lynch Portrait Holly Lynch - Hansard
9 Jun 2020, 4:40 p.m.

Q We have heard evidence this afternoon from other witnesses regarding their concerns about some of the Henry VIII powers in the Bill. May I ask you to share your thoughts on those, and what they mean not only for parliamentary democracy, but for practitioners of law? Do you have concerns about them?

Alison Harvey: Very much the concerns that Mr Berry expressed about certainty. If it is said that provisions of retained EU law are not compatible with the Immigration Act, please can we have a list? Tell us what they are. You must know, Home Office, otherwise you are not going to be able to operate the system. As he said, we had the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 and the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020, both of which essentially give us powers to save EU law. They also give us powers to knock out retained EU law bit by bit, so what is the point of the Bill at all, in substance terms?

I think the point must be, because immigration is a sensitive area and because it involves people, to give you the opportunity to put in place safeguards. I suppose the Bill goes beyond the European Union (Withdrawal) Act and the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act in that it would allow you to build a new system. There are wider powers of delegated legislation. I think most of the repeals could have been done under those Acts. If you want to test that, you go back to March, when the Immigration, Nationality and Asylum (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 were passed. Look at some of the things that they do: “Let’s give all Gibraltarians a right to apply for British citizenship.” There are big chunky powers in those regulations that are not in the Bill.

The Bill is an opportunity to put some brakes in. What is astonishing is that the Bill looks almost the same as it did last time it appeared; yet last time we did not have a withdrawal agreement. All the wait and see markers that justified not putting something in primary legislation have gone. Similarly, although the Home Office delegated powers memorandum has got longer it has produced, for example, absolutely no more substance on why the powers on fees are needed. The Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee said that this is so unsubstantial you cannot even say it is a skeleton.

There really is no justification to explain why there possibly need to be those powers. It creates tremendous uncertainty. It certainly creates lots of opportunities for litigation; to go in and argue that, no, something is not incompatible. That does not seem to me helpful at all.

Ian Robinson: Alison has said everything that I could and more.

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

(Committee Debate: 1st sitting: House of Commons)
Debate between Holly Lynch and Kevin Foster
Tuesday 9th June 2020

(3 months, 1 week ago)

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

My question to Mr Burgh is about the fact that he talked about the process of sponsorship and becoming licensed. He may be aware that the Home Office is looking to streamline that system. Is there a particular change, or changes, he thinks we could make to the sponsorship licensing system that would help address some of the concerns he outlined?

Martin McTague: [Inaudible] it is welcome. It is a change that we were keen to see, and there has been a welcome change in the Government’s approach.

Richard Burge: To add to that, first of all, I have great admiration for the Home Office team working on this. I have worked for Matthew Rycroft before, in the Foreign Office, and he is one of the most talented managers in the public service. I think umbrella licensing is a good idea: it has good precedents, and it would create a huge relief for small businesses if they felt they could go to an organisation that had the ability to provide umbrella licensing. It would provide reassurance to the Home Office and a workable solution for small businesses, and we would be happy to be part of that process.

Holly Lynch Portrait Holly Lynch (Halifax) (Lab) - Hansard
9 Jun 2020, 9:39 a.m.

Q As free movement comes to an end with this Bill and we transition to the minimum income requirement of £25,600, how have your members responded to that minimum income threshold?

Richard Burge: In two ways. One is relief that the threshold was lowered; it is now a much more realistic threshold. I have to say, though, that it is going to be a lot more workable within London than it is for my colleagues who run chambers in other parts of the country. A threshold of £25,600 is quite high in different parts of the UK, given the wage levels there, so while I think it is workable in London—not ideal, but workable—I also think we concentrate on income too much as an indicator of value, rather than skills, and that in parts of the country, the threshold is still probably too high.

Break in Debate

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster - Hansard
9 Jun 2020, 10:34 a.m.

Q I will ask one question, because of constraints of time. How do you see your members working with the proposed new migration system?

Matthew Fell: I think our members completely understand that free movement of people is ending. Business gets that, and it is ready to phase into a new immigration system. I think, with the proposed approach of a points-based system, it is entirely possible to design a system that works for business. There are many positives in it so far—the headline salary threshold changes that have been announced and the commitment to streamline and improve the system are all positives—but I would say that there are perhaps three areas of concern for our members at the moment.

One concern is the absence of any route at all below level 3, which will prove challenging for the care, hospitality and logistics sectors and so on. The second, from the Government’s perspective, is introducing this with a phased approach; I can perfectly see where they are coming from, but it means that business will be left with a reasonably cumbersome system from the off, with a promise of improvements to come. The third is that we are getting very close to the deadline for the system being introduced, and business is still looking for further clarity, time to prepare and assurances that the system will be ready in time. Those are the concerns, against a backdrop of an effort to really make this work and lean into it.

Holly Lynch Portrait Holly Lynch (Halifax) (Lab) - Hansard
9 Jun 2020, 10:34 a.m.

Q Bearing in mind what you have just said, what are the things that you would really like changed about the Bill? Alternatively, what would the Government need to do to support you to manage the impact that it will have on your businesses?

Matthew Fell: There are a few things that we would like to see in the proposed new immigration system. We believe that a temporary route for people to come and work in this country would be a helpful addition to the system as it is currently set up.

Secondly, I would say to accelerate efforts to streamline the proposed approach. The vast majority of businesses have never previously had to engage with the visa system; something like only 30,000 businesses in the country have grappled with it so far, because we have lived and worked with free movement of people for so long. It will be a big change, so I would say to accelerate the changes to streamline and improve the system, reduce red tape and so on.

The final piece, just to reiterate, is to accelerate efforts to get clarity and detail out there and known to businesses as soon as possible, so they can begin to familiarise themselves, prepare and get ready.

Break in Debate

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster - Hansard
9 Jun 2020, 10:41 a.m.

I will say it slowly; it will sound weird. How do you see the manufacturing sector working with the new system?

Tim Thomas: In terms of how the manufacturing sector will work with the new system, it will be a considerable challenge to cope with the end of free movement. Around 95% of our members employ an EU worker and about 5% employ a non-EU worker, so the majority of Make UK members do not currently interface with the tier 2 non-EU migration system. There will be a considerable change for manufacturers’ recruitment practices with the implementation of the points system.

It is fair to say that the changes to the proposed points-based system for manufacturers will ease the route. The reduction in the qualification level from level 6 to level 3 and the reduction in the salary threshold will make things easier for manufacturers than they would be. However, manufacturing is a global business; about half of manufacturing exports go to the European Union, and they cannot export their British-manufactured goods to the EU without an exchange of people. People, and the cross-fertilisation of people between the UK and the EU, go hand in hand with trade in manufactured goods. There is a strong connection with the EU and global trade in the manufacturing sector, and the ability to recruit people from outside the UK is vital to that trade.

Holly Lynch Portrait Holly Lynch - Hansard
9 Jun 2020, 10:42 a.m.

Q As free movement comes to an end, Mr Thomas, how satisfied are you that the Migration Advisory Committee and the shortage occupation list understand the requirements of the manufacturing sector and are able both to respond to potential shortages in skills and to understand the variety in salaries paid in your sector?

Tim Thomas: At Make UK, we have responded over several years to calls for evidence from the Migration Advisory Committee, and we are preparing our response to the current call for evidence. If I may make one point before I come to your question, the call for evidence from the MAC has a very short window for Make UK and other organisations to respond. That is because the points-based system is being implemented on a very truncated timeline. In gathering the evidence for the MAC, Make UK and other organisations face a stiff challenge in ensuring that our response is evidence-based and provides a realistic forward look at the manufacturing sector and the jobs we will need in the future.

As for how realistic the MAC can be in its work and how realistic we can be, covid-19, the changes to the manufacturing sector and the difficulties it is in have presented a challenge in showing the MAC the true state of what occupations are in shortage in our sector at the moment. The manufacturing sector systemically suffers from long-term skills shortages—we are no different from any other western European economy in that regard—and that is not because manufacturers do not train. About 75% of manufacturers have apprenticeship programmes, and Make UK is an apprenticeship provider. We are investing in training the next generation of talent, but the fact is that there are certain skills, including digital skills, that are not available in the UK, and we need them to make sure the manufacturing sector is internationally competitive and productive. In terms of the work of the MAC, it needs to take a realistic view of what the UK labour market can provide, given those skills shortages and how long it will take it to adjust at the end of free movement, given that those skills can be brought in through the points-based system.

There are some key elements of the manufacturing sector for which workers tend to come from the European Union. One is new green technology. We all support the move away from an economy in which electricity generation is carbon-based, towards clean energy. Clean energy is something that our members are investing large amounts of resource in. A lot of those skills, simply because the technology has been deployed for longer in the European Union, exist in, for example, Germany and Denmark to a greater extent than they exist in the UK. Accessing those green skills—those environmentally friendly skills—and that new technology is something that most people would support. We just need to make sure the MAC captures the fact that those skills are in shortage in the UK at the moment.

Break in Debate

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster - Hansard

Q The Migration Advisory Committee also advised specifically against having regional variations in the migration policy, specifying that there should not be any in the Bill. Is there any particular reasoning behind that recommendation?

Brian Bell: We were asked explicitly to think about whether there should be regional variation in the salary thresholds that are a key part of the system. The easiest way to answer that is to think about the fact that the median wage in Edinburgh for a full-time worker is higher than it is in Newcastle, Manchester, Leeds, Birmingham, Cardiff and Belfast. Compared to Dumfries and Galloway, it is 25% higher. In other words, regional wage variation—if by that you mean either the nations of Britain or the regions of England—demonstrates that variation within those areas is much greater than variation across them. If you really wanted to go down that route, you would need an immigration system that set thresholds in every local community around Britain. I do not quite know how that would be enforced. You would be explicitly saying that low-wage areas should stay low-wage areas and that high-wage areas should stay high-wage areas. I am not sure that it is a very sensible policy.

Holly Lynch Portrait Holly Lynch - Hansard

Q Just to come back to the points you made about social care, I am inclined to agree with a great deal of what you have said about social care. There will be a shock to the social care sector delivered by that cut-off when free movement comes to an end, combined with—we hope—the UK’s emergence from the coronavirus pandemic. We have heard concerns about the Migration Advisory Committee, including concerns that it is not particularly dynamic. When you factor in all those considerations, would the committee need to do a lot more to assess shortages in social care workforces at that moment in history?

Brian Bell: I think I can answer that, hopefully. At the moment, the Migration Advisory Committee is being asked to report on the shortage occupation list for the new system. We will report in September and we are taking evidence at the moment. Senior care workers are eligible for the new system.

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

(2nd reading: House of Commons)
(Money resolution: House of Commons)
(Programme motion: House of Commons)
(Ways and Means resolution: House of Commons)
Debate between Holly Lynch and Kevin Foster
Monday 18th May 2020

(4 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Home Office
Holly Lynch Portrait Holly Lynch (Halifax) (Lab) - Hansard
18 May 2020, 12:05 a.m.

Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. It is a real shame that we could not hear the rest of the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Kate Osamor). She chairs the APPG on no recourse to public funds, and I know that she has done a lot of really important work. We will have to hear the rest of her contribution on another occasion.

It is a pleasure to be back at the Dispatch Box on behalf of Her Majesty’s official Opposition on such an important piece of legislation—important not just because of what it will do but what it paves the way for. It is historic, in that it starts its passage through the House of Commons for the second time during a crisis that we know will shape this country, and what we need from legislation like this, for years to come.

With that in mind, as so many others have said, this country has never been more aware or more appreciative of the contribution of migrant workers to the UK. We can all agree with the hon. Member for Bracknell (James Sunderland) that the efforts of key workers have been the stuff of legend. To those working in our NHS, care homes and research labs, and in our fields and factories, keeping food on the shelves—to all those working right across the key sectors—we are truly grateful for all that they are doing, and we need legislation that recognises that contribution. As we have said, we all go out and clap for our carers and our key workers every Thursday, but today the detail of the Government’s approach says to them that they are not skilled enough and not paid enough to be valued in their proposed new immigration system. It is not as though the Government are proposing to work with right hon. and hon. Members to shape a better policy. Instead, the Bill grants sweeping Henry VIII powers to Ministers, diminishing the role of Parliament and MPs.

I am incredibly grateful to all those who have taken part in this important debate. My hon. Friends the Members for Leicester East (Claudia Webbe), for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) and for Streatham (Bell Ribeiro-Addy), and others, including the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis), made important points about indefinite detention, and we will be looking to work cross-party with all MPs on amendments to address some of those concerns. My right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) and my hon. Friends the Members for Manchester, Gorton (Afzal Khan) and for Wirral South (Alison McGovern) made the point that we are being asked to consider only half a Bill, with my hon. Friends the Members for Leeds East (Richard Burgon) and for Streatham and my right hon. Friend the Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) rightly saying that we cannot simply give the Government a blank cheque on immigration policy. They ask us to trust them on this, but the hostile environment is a very clear reason why I am afraid we simply cannot do that.

Several hon. Members, including my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford, my hon. Friends the Members for Leeds East, for Streatham, and for Wirral South, my right hon. Friend the Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, and my hon. Friends the Members for Manchester, Withington (Jeff Smith) and for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green)—and so many others—have raised concerns about the delegated powers contained in the Bill. The previous version of this legislation, which failed to complete its Committee stage because of the snap general election last year, contained an almost identical clause 4. As the shadow Home Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds), said in his opening remarks, the Lords Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee report on that Bill articulated very clearly its concerns about this clause:

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

The Committee expressed “significant concerns” about clause 4(5), recommending that it be removed altogether

“unless the Government can provide a proper and explicit justification for its inclusion and explain how they intend to use the power”,

as it

“confers broad discretion on Ministers to levy fees or charges on any person seeking leave to enter or remain in the UK who, pre-exit, would have had free movement rights under EU law.”

This is bad not just for parliamentary democracy, but for our public services and the economy. Parliamentary scrutiny is the most effective way for stakeholders to work with MPs to shape legislation to respond to the needs of the country. It is not just Labour Members who are concerned about the delegated powers in the Bill, but the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association, the British Medical Association, London First, Universities UK, the National Union of Students, trade unions and the Children’s Society, as just a sample of the cross-section of organisations that share our concerns that a transfer of powers to the Executive is not the way to develop good-quality legislation. On that basis, we simply cannot sign off on this legislation.

So many others have said today that what we take exception to now more than ever is an approach that puts rhetoric ahead of the practical solutions that this country so desperately needs to find if we are to make it through the coronavirus crisis. Nothing is more important in this fight than the key workers in our NHS and in social care in particular. Given that some 29% of doctors working in our NHS hospitals and 12% of the overall health care workers in the UK are from overseas, the Bill has massive implications for the wellbeing and strength of the healthcare workforce.

The Government’s inability to address the systemic problems in the social care sector also extends, I am afraid to say, to their immigration policy. The Institute for Public Policy Research recently found that four out of five employees from EEA countries working full time in social care would be ineligible to work in the UK under the £25,600 salary threshold proposed in the Government’s immigration White Paper published in February. As much as hon. Members might talk about the ability to respond quickly through the shortage occupation list and the Migration Advisory Committee, special consideration for the social care sector in a future immigration system has already been ruled out, so how do the Government plan to respond to the shortage of workers, the impact of which we are already experiencing and which will only become more acute, given the demand for social care as a result of the crisis?

Across sectors, but particularly in the NHS, it is not just the NHS surcharge that does not seem fair: the immigration skills charge is another problem. It is paid by employers who recruit migrants on tier 2 visas and, come 1 January, employers will also have to pay for staff to come from EU countries as well as non-EU countries. The immigration skills charge is also paid by NHS trusts which, if they cannot find clinical specialists here in the UK, have no choice but to find them from overseas. I asked my local NHS trust, Calderdale and Huddersfield, how much the Government take back from it in immigration skills charges. In the last financial year, the trust had to pay Government just short of £163,000 out of its annual budget in immigration skills charges. So because we have clinical skills shortages in many specialist areas in the UK, and in the absence of any Government strategy to respond to that domestically, the NHS has to hire from overseas. The same Government then punish trusts for doing so by demanding those fees, taking much needed cash back from their budgets. That seems grossly unfair. It indicates not only that our immigration approach simply does not work for the NHS and social care, but neither does our domestic skills policy.

A number of other important points have been raised in this Second Reading debate.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford East (Imran Hussain) spoke of his pride that Bradford is a city of sanctuary, and I share his pride as my constituency is part of a valley of sanctuary. My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Withington, a great music lover, spoke in his typically passionate speech of the contribution that migrants and visitors to the UK make to the music sector. My hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Tonia Antoniazzi) said that to assess a person based on what they earn is a blunt tool which masks their true value. My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton reminded us that the Prime Minister himself understands the value of migrants working in the NHS, and my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Rushanara Ali) made the powerful point that those who have died working in the NHS were from every corner of the world. My hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston is a passionate campaigner on the rights of children in particular and raised a number of important questions that we will return to in Committee.

In closing, I want to say to all those workers in the NHS who have had their visas extended for one year free of charge, it is not that the Government are doing them a favour—they are doing our country a massive favour by staying in our NHS and fighting on our frontline to save our lives. As others have said, we urge the Government to extend those visa extensions across the social care sector. We have heard the call from the hon. Member for Belfast East (Gavin Robinson) and we will very much play as constructive a role as we can in Committee, but we cannot support legislation that transfers powers to the Executive and away from Parliament alongside proposals that will only put even greater pressure on the NHS, social care and a number of other key sectors. That is why we will vote against the Bill this evening.

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

It is a pleasure to formally welcome the new shadow immigration Minister to her post; I have not had the chance to do so before at the Dispatch Box.

The breadth of views expressed by Members today clearly demonstrates how important an issue this is, not only to our constituents but personally. Given the unusual circumstances in which we meet, I will not have time to give a detailed response to each point raised, but will seek to respond to the broad themes that have been brought out in the debate.

The Bill is before the House not only to deliver on our manifesto pledges, but to lay the framework for our new immigration system, which will be fairer because we will treat people from every part of the world equally, while respecting our historic links with Ireland and the Belfast agreement, and firmer, because we will have control of our own borders from 1 January and all migration policy will be in the hands of this Parliament. It will be skills led, because the system will be based on the skills, talents and qualifications that people can bring to this country, not two radically different systems based on where someone’s passport comes from.

Let us be clear: this is a framework Bill, not an immigration shopping list. In response to some comments, especially from those who wish to build an economic version of Hadrian’s wall, I emphasise that this Bill sets up the framework for a single, global points-based migration system, with the rights of Irish citizens protected and ensuring the ability of Ministers to respond to any agreement on social security co-ordination.

The detail of our migration rules will continue to be set in secondary legislation, to ensure that they remain flexible and able to respond to changing situations but always based on the key policy principles I have outlined. The reaction to the coronavirus emergency shows why that is necessary. Imagine our having to pass primary legislation to amend visa end dates, automatically renew NHS workers’ visas, grant waivers to in-country route-swapping conditions or allow tier 4 sponsors to move courses online. Hence this Bill, in common with those on this subject that came before it, does not replicate the immigration rules in statutory form, and neither should the House regret its not doing so.

We have already moved to create the first part of our new migration system with the creation of our global talent route. I saw at first hand at Glasgow University what this could result in and the strong offer it presents, clearing the path for some of humanity’s most complex problems, such as the fight against malaria, to be solved by teams recruited on a global basis and based here in our United Kingdom. The new graduate route, which will be introduced next summer, will help to retain some of the brightest minds coming out of our universities, giving a simple path to future residence and settlement. As our universities see an increasing number of international students arrive to study here, we know that more will be inspired to make their life and career in vibrant locations such as Glasgow, Belfast, Exeter, Cardiff and Coventry. Our immigration system should allow them to do so.

I hear the frustrations of those who see our migration and humanitarian protection system being abused by those who engage in human trafficking—as highlighted well by my hon. Friends the Members for Dover (Mrs Elphicke) and for Hastings and Rye (Sally-Ann Hart) —and the risks being run by those using small boats to cross the channel. A key part of ensuring a fairer system is to tackle that type of behaviour. My hon. Friend the Minister for Immigration Compliance and the Courts is leading work on that, which is benefiting from the input of my hon. Friends.

The Migration Advisory Committee report earlier this year provided a strong and evidence-based view for our future points-based migration system. We accepted its key recommendations: a reduction in the general salary threshold for the key skilled worker visa from £30,000 to £25,600; moving the skills threshold from degree to A-level, to ensure that we include those with significant skills levels, such as senior carers; and tradable points, with a salary floor of £20,480 for jobs on the shortage occupation list or where significant potential is shown by holding a relevant STEM-based PhD. We are working hard to bring the new system into effect, and I thank the teams in the Home Office who have continued doing this in the extraordinary circumstances we have found ourselves in over recent weeks.

We will continue to work closely with the Migration Advisory Committee and its interim chair, Professor Brian Bell. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has already commissioned the Migration Advisory Committee to advise on the future shortage occupation list. Its call for evidence has now been issued, and that will provide an opportunity to look at the skills needs of a range of sectors that Members have highlighted today. I encourage all businesses to take part and have their voice heard; no one should allow themselves to be silenced. Several Members have been keen to highlight groups with whom I can speak about this. For example, I look forward to a video conference with seafood businesses in north-east Scotland arranged by my hon. Friend the Member for Banff and Buchan (David Duguid). I know he shares my passion for ensuring that the new migration system serves our whole Union and the skills needs of Scottish businesses, rather than the political aims of Scotland’s separatists.

Talking of serving the needs of our nation, no organisation has done that more than our NHS and social care services over recent weeks. Our new system will not just allow but actively welcome a range of health professionals to the United Kingdom. This will be via not only the points-based system being based on national salary scales for roles such as doctors, nurses and physiotherapists, but an NHS visa, which includes discounted fees and fast-track application processes for those with a job offer from our NHS or for those providing services to it. This process will build on the dedicated team that the Home Secretary has already established in UKVI to process applications from those with NHS job offers. Our social care sector will benefit from simpler processes to recruit qualified medical staff and key roles such as senior carers on a global basis.

One area that has been regularly queried in the debate is our acceptance of the MAC’s recommendation that there should be no general route for employers to seek to employ temporary or permanent employees on the legal minimum wage with limited training and no requirement to speak a basic level of English. I gently say to Members that if the lesson they have taken from the events of the last two months is that paying the legal minimum to those working in social care who migrate to the UK from low-pay economies is the right approach, they have drawn the wrong conclusion. Similarly, those who think that the migration system is the go-to option for recruitment issues in social care, rather than creating career paths and increasing the value of such roles, should read the MAC’s specific rejection of this.

No one can deny the economic impact that the measures necessary to deal with the coronavirus will have. Many of our friends and neighbours will need to find new employment opportunities, and it is therefore vital that our migration system aligns with this goal, rather than providing an alternative to it. I have welcomed speaking to my hon. Friend the employment Minister about how we can ensure that our goals align and that those seeing migration as their first port of call are instead steered to the efforts being made to get UK-based workers back into employment and to the Disability Confident scheme, which helps to get unique talents into the workplace. There will still be some flexibility. For example, there is provision for the further expansion of our youth mobility schemes, through which 20,000 young people come to the UK for a period of work and travel each year, along with the adult dependants of those who come as skilled workers, who can also access the employment market. However, we will not create a minimum wage general migration route.

Alongside creating our new points-based global migration system, we are also taking the chance to work on a long overdue simplification of the immigration rules. I am grateful to the Law Commission for its thoughts on this area of work, and we will take most of them forward as we create the new system. Many will not be headline-grabbers but changes that will make it easier for those who need to use our immigration system to both understand the requirements and to comply with them. This will sit alongside moves such as the abolition of the resident labour market test, which will make it easier for employers to recruit skilled labour, and will remove some of the bureaucracy and time associated with doing so.

Finally, it was predictable that some would use this debate to re-fight the battles of Brexit, despite the clear result in the recent general election. The Bill delivers one of the key commitments that the Government made: a single global migration system. However, we are also delivering on our pledge to protect those who have moved here and made their life here in good faith under the current arrangements. The European settlement scheme is the largest documentation of immigration status in UK history. More than 3.5 million applications have been received, with more than 3 million decisions made, and only a tiny number of refusals by comparison. I am afraid that those calling for systems where rights are granted but not recorded do not seem to have learned the lessons of the past. The European settlement scheme means those entitled can prove their status easily for the rest of their lifetimes, while also ensuring that those who arrive in years to come cannot abuse the scheme’s provisions.

We recognise that immigration is vital to the social, cultural and economic life of this country. The new system will aim to create global equality of opportunity, giving everyone the same chance to live and work in this country. The Bill is the first step in ending free movement, establishing a fair and equal immigration system and upholding the scientific and commercial excellence of our country. Above all, it will help us to build a better future for this country and its people as we rebuild after the impact of covid-19. I therefore commend the Bill to the House.

National Living Wage (Extension to Young People) Bill

(2nd reading: House of Commons)
Debate between Holly Lynch and Kevin Foster
Friday 6th July 2018

(2 years, 2 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Holly Lynch Portrait Holly Lynch - Hansard
6 Jul 2018, 2:19 p.m.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention. He is right—that has never been forthcoming in the Government’s justification. However, it is a point that is made to me by young people time and again. They do not get a reduction in any of their outgoing costs because of their age, so why should they see a reduction in their pay packets?

When I asked the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) for a debate on this issue when he was the Leader of the House, he replied:

“I…think it is important to do everything that we can to incentivise employers to take on young people.”—[Official Report, 28 April 2016; Vol. 608, c. 1564.]

Although we all want to see lower youth unemployment, the Federation of Small Businesses has pointed out that the Government’s approach could see employers wandering into legally precarious territory. In evidence to the Low Pay Commission, the FSB said:

“our survey data suggests that some businesses may focus their recruitment on the under 25s. However by doing this they run the risk of potentially breaching age discrimination legislation, which should lead many employers to re-evaluate this stance.”

An employer that actively seeks to recruit under-25s to cut wage costs will almost certainly fall foul of age discrimination legislation.

The Equality Act 2010 prohibits discrimination on a number of grounds, and section 5 recognises age as one of those characteristics. It is direct discrimination if, because of a protected characteristic, one person is treated less favourably than another. The House of Commons Library has confirmed that to recruit workers on the basis of their age would constitute direct age discrimination.

Ministers often claim that other countries also discriminate by age yet, in the entire developed world, only Greece has taken a similar approach and set the age threshold as high as 25. France pays the full rate from 18 onwards, as does Germany, and even in the significantly more deregulated US there is no difference in wages based on age, apart from the option to pay workers under 20 a lower rate for their first few months of employment.

The Government continue to insist that any rise in the wages of young people risks

“pricing them out of employment”

yet there are serious flaws with keeping wages low to supposedly help the young, not least that employers that actively seek to recruit under-25s to cut wage costs risk falling foul of age discrimination legislation. Any employer interviewing for a role is legally required to choose the best candidate for the position, regardless of age. Any monetary incentive can only be acted on if the employer discriminates against older applicants. It is simply not going to work.

The point made to me by young people time and again, and which my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Gareth Snell) just outlined, is that under-25s get no discounts on utility bills or rent, food is not cheaper for them, and there is no discount on the transport that they use to get to work. Why should their younger age be reflected in a smaller pay packet when it is not reflected in their outgoing costs? A recent survey by the Young Women’s Trust found that a quarter of young people in England and Wales have to borrow to make ends meet. For those people, a decent wage is desperately needed.

Thankfully, many companies recognise the contributions made by under-25s and are opting to pay them more than the minimum wage. Nestlé in my constituency employs up to 1,000 people and was accredited by the Living Wage Foundation in June 2014 as the first mainstream manufacturer in the UK to become a living wage employer, paying all its workers the Living Wage Foundation’s living wage from the age of 18. Nestlé said:

“As a major employer in Halifax and across the UK, we know this is the right thing to do. Not only does it benefit our people but also the communities they live and work in.”

The company knows that it is important to maintain morale in the workforce and that young workers deserve respect.

The Living Wage Foundation is explicit in outlining that the living wage should apply to everyone over the age of 18. The Government did not decide to rename the national minimum wage the national living wage by accident, so I ask them to consider adopting the Living Wage Foundation’s principle that fair pay for fair work starts at 18, in the same way that they have adopted its name.

My private Member’s Bill will help to restore the dignity of young workers and assist people such as Katie and Imran to get a much deserved pay rise. I thank the trade unions Unison and Unite, my trade union the GMB, and the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers. I also thank the Living Wage Foundation, the Young Women’s Trust, Young Labour and my incredibly hard-working parliamentary assistant, Matt Dawson. As one of Parliament’s younger MPs—although I confess I am ageing rapidly, Mr Deputy Speaker—I am pleased to have been able to give this campaign a platform once again, in the hope that the Government are listening.

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster (Torbay) (Con) - Hansard
6 Jul 2018, 2:28 p.m.

I am conscious of the time, but I suspect that, although I love him to bits, the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, my hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Andrew Griffiths), has quite a lengthy speech prepared, so I want to give some slightly more positive comments on the issues we have just heard about.

Let us be clear that, when we talk about the wage rates under the law, they are the minimum rates that an employer has to pay someone so that they do not get prosecuted; they are not about setting a rate for the job. It was interesting to hear the observations of the hon. Member for Halifax (Holly Lynch) on what would, rightly, happen to an employer who decided to, shall we say, put aside a candidate aged 26 or 27 who was more skilled for the job in favour of a 22 or 23-year-old, purely so that that employer could take advantage of the discount deal.

It would be interesting if the Government produced some analysis of what would happen if, instead of an age-based system—we would all accept the difference at 18, because there is a difference with employing children—we switched to a system in which a different rate applied in a first period of employment. First, that might be a period in which people are training and building up skills, as we already reflect in the different rate for apprentices; and secondly, that might encourage employers to take back into employment people who have been out of employment for a while. That would be fairer than a system in which someone can work for four or five years and be quite experienced, but stay on a different rate. By that point, there is clearly not going to be any productivity difference between someone aged 23 who has worked for five years and someone who is 28 and has worked for five years. If we are being sensible, we are not going to see a difference.

Those are some of the things that could be sensibly considered. If the Bill had perhaps had more time for debate, we could have explored, for example, the differences between 18 and 21, applying the rate around training and employers being prepared to sponsor people to go to university. It is positive that we are having this debate and that we have such a positive image of young people. Too often, there is this idea in the media—

Middle Level Bill

Debate between Holly Lynch and Kevin Foster
Wednesday 28th February 2018

(2 years, 6 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Holly Lynch Portrait Holly Lynch - Hansard
28 Feb 2018, 6:01 p.m.

I understand the hon. Gentleman’s point, which is a valid one, and of course we want to improve accessibility so that everyone can enjoy our waterways. It is certainly something we would consider further in later discussions on the Bill, but it is not something we would vote for later today.

Taking everything into account, we are satisfied that the Bill is sensible in updating the legal framework setting out the role of the Middle Level Commissioners and bringing them into line with what is now standard practice across comparable waterways. Despite its unusual journey through Westminster, we have no problem supporting it this afternoon.

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster - Hansard
28 Feb 2018, 6:02 p.m.

It is a pleasure to get another opportunity to speak on the Bill. Given that it has already had its Second Reading, I will focus my remarks on today’s amendments and the changes made in Committee.

As the hon. Member for Halifax (Holly Lynch) just mentioned, a number of positive changes were made to the Bill in response to the petitioners’ concerns, and I was grateful to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Sir Christopher Chope) say that changes had been made and that people had listened. It is appropriate, however, that I say briefly why I do not think it would be appropriate for the amendments and new clauses to be accepted.

New clause 1 would set a minimum navigation depth actually lower than the one in current legislation. New clauses 2 to 5 refer to specific facilities that could be provided. As suggested in an intervention, it does not seem logical to specify in statute things such as coin-operated water showers. Were that to sit in primary legislation, it would run the danger of the Bill becoming completely outdated. It also makes sense for users, via the mechanisms proposed in the Bill, to be able to discuss what are appropriate facilities. The inclusion of some of these items might also render particular powers ineffective where planning permission is refused. I therefore urge the House to reject all the new clauses.