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EU Settlement Scheme

Volume 657: debated on Monday 1 April 2019

The Government’s approach has been informed by extensive, regular engagement with external stakeholders representing the needs of a broad range of people, to ensure that the EU settlement scheme is accessible to all. The Home Office has introduced a range of support, including £9 million of grant funding for voluntary and community organisations, and support via the EU Settlement Scheme Resolution Centre.

I welcome the Government’s honest and transparent approach, which I know gives EU citizens living in my constituency the reassurance that they need. What steps is the Minister taking to give EU citizens as much reassurance as possible throughout the whole process?

The EU settlement scheme opened fully on Saturday, and we have worked with EU citizens to make it as simple and straightforward as possible. Last week, we launched a £3.75 million programme of communications that provides both information and the underlying message that EU citizens are our friends, our colleagues and our neighbours, and we want them to stay.

I have met the Minister to discuss this, but will she tell the House what assurances she can give those who are not citizens of the European economic area but are married to EEA citizens? Under the current system, they have to obtain the permission of those EEA citizens to secure their settled status, regardless of whether or not they are victims of domestic violence.

I thank the hon. Lady for that question. It is not correct that people have to get the permission of somebody who may well be a perpetrator of domestic violence, but it is important that, through our £9 million of grant funding, we work with groups and support the most vulnerable in the community so that they can help evidence their time in the UK and be granted status through the channels that we have put in place.

In the light of contact I have had with a constituent who is undergoing cancer treatment, may I urge the Minister to state in the clearest terms that EU nationals living in this country will continue to be entitled to NHS treatment?

That is absolutely correct. There will be no loss of entitlement to NHS services and treatment, and I thank my right hon. Friend for her assistance in conveying the message to her constituents that we want our EU friends and neighbours to be able to stay and access the services and benefits to which they are entitled. That is important.

As the Minister says, the EU settled status scheme opened at the weekend, but the Government have not introduced a right of appeal to a tribunal against a decision under it. So in the event of a dispute about whether a person qualifies, the only means of independent redress is judicial review, which can be expensive and time-consuming. Does the Minister agree that that is not satisfactory? Will she commit to introducing a proper right of appeal?

Of course, the hon. and learned Lady will know that an entire package of citizens’ rights for EU citizens is planned as part of the withdrawal agreement. That will provide the route, and her party might consider voting for it.

As always, the Minister does not answer the question. It seems to me that there is no intention of introducing an independent right of appeal. Perhaps she can answer this question: the Costa amendment required the Government to ring-fence what had already been agreed for EU citizens’ rights; what progress has been made on securing that ring-fencing? Will the Prime Minister raise the matter at the EU Council on 10 April?

I thought my response was quite clear. I reiterate to the hon. and learned Lady that the best way to ring-fence citizens’ rights is to vote for the deal.

As of 30 March, the EU settlement scheme is fully open. Efforts to promote the EU settled status scheme are too little, too late. No matter how well the Government advertise, there will be people who fail to apply before the deadline. Even if that is just a small percentage, hundreds of thousands of people will be stripped of their rights and subjected to the hostile environment. Will the Government accept proposals for a declaratory scheme—the only way to avoid a repeat of Windrush for EU citizens?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. He will of course know that the first three phases of the scheme were in testing mode, and it opened publicly for the first time on Saturday. That was designed to coincide with a widespread communications campaign, on which the Government are spending £3.75 million. He well knows that we debated the issues about a declaratory scheme in the Committee stage of the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill. We are very conscious of the fact that we want people to have status that they can evidence. That is why we put the scheme in place. They will have digital status, which will provide them with the ability to share just the information that is required for landlords and employers. I encourage all hon. Members to ensure that EU citizens living in their constituencies take part in the scheme.