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EU Settlement Scheme

Volume 667: debated on Monday 28 October 2019

The EU settlement scheme is designed to be simple and straightforward for people to apply to. The Government are also putting in grant support for a wide range of voluntary and community organisations, as well as digital and telephone support through the resolution centre.

As a remainer, I wish that the EU citizens in my constituency had not been put in this position. As the Minister has mentioned, applications can be made by phone or iPad, but connectivity in parts of my constituency is absolute mince, to use a Scottish expression. I have raised this time and again—we would be better off with two cans and a length of string. Cannot the Government see that this lack of connectivity militates against the EU citizens who want to remain in my constituency?

People do not have to do things digitally. They can speak to people or they can send things in. We also have several hundred centres that people can go to. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman could join us in encouraging the Scottish National party to support the Prime Minister’s work to see broadband rolled out more widely across the country, so that Scotland can benefit just as the rest of the UK can.

I am delighted that the settlement scheme is progressing at pace, with 2 million or so people signing up. However, some individuals in my constituency really benefit from face-to-face contact, so what steps are being taken, through pop-up shops or whatever, to ensure that they can get the vital hands-on support they need?

The Home Office is undertaking a programme of work through voluntary organisations, and the £3.75 million scheme includes working with people at pop-up events. I visited one in Great Yarmouth that is doing excellent work with communities so that people can see how simple the system is and are able to apply, and we encourage more people to do so. We have now reached 2.2 million applications, and I look forward to that number growing quickly.

Thank you, Mr Speaker.

Introducing digital-only proof of status will cause many problems for EU citizens, and low digital users in particular. The Home Office’s own assessment of creating a digital-only “prove your right to work” service said that there was

“very strong evidence that this would cause low digital users a lot of issues”,

so does the Minister agree that the same will apply to the EU settlement scheme? Will he reconsider the provision of physical documents?

People applying through the settlement scheme obviously get an email confirming that the application has been processed and dealt with. The process is being done digitally as we are moving to a digital system more generally. It is the right way, it works for employers, and the fact that 2.2 million people have already applied through the scheme in just a few months confirms that.

In Scotland, the Scottish Government have taken a number of steps to reassure EU citizens, and the First Minister has launched a “Stay in Scotland” campaign, which provides practical advice and support to EU citizens during this uncertain time. The Scottish Government have also announced funding for a new programme in Scotland called Settled, which is designed to target vulnerable EU citizens and offer them help with applications to the scheme. Does the Minister welcome that initiative by the Scottish Government? Will he be doing anything similar in England?

The hon. and learned Lady should not be using that kind of language. There is no reason for anybody to have any concerns or be unsettled. We have been clear that we want EU citizens to stay, and that is why we introduced a scheme to ensure that we protect their rights and put £9 million into work with voluntary groups in addition to the £3.75 million to ensure that we get the message out. I am happy to work with anybody who wants to ensure that we are spreading the message positively and properly. Some 2.2 million people have already applied through the scheme, and I look forward to seeing all 3.5 million people processed as quickly as possible.

The money that the Minister has made available for voluntary groups is welcome, but does he recognise the specific concern around hard-to-reach groups, such as elderly people in care homes and people working in rural areas, in agriculture and in construction? Does he agree that there is a need for real outreach to ensure that all EU citizens have a chance to clarify their position in law?

My right hon. Friend makes a good point. We are working with voluntary groups and through the EU settlement resolution centre to ensure that we reach all those vulnerable and harder-to-reach groups, particularly in rural areas. For example, we are working with local communities by holding pop-up events, such as the one that I saw in my constituency, to reach out to as many as possible. People have until December 2020 to apply to the scheme, and it would be good to get 3.5 million through as quickly as possible.

The Minister will be aware of the genuine concern among EU nationals, their families and their employers about the workings of the EU settlement scheme. He will also be aware, as will Members on both sides of the House, about the general problems with delays at the Home Office. For instance, the proportion of leave to remain applications taking more than six months doubled between 2014 and 2017. The Minister correctly said that more than 2 million applications to the EU settlement scheme have now been made, but 18% of them have not been resolved. The Minister caused concern recently when he said that EU nationals who fail to apply before 2020 could be deported. Will he give the House an assurance that every effort will be made to reach out to those who have yet to apply and that applications will be processed promptly?

The short answer is yes. Just to give a bit of flavour to that, there are no delays with the EU settlement scheme; the right hon. Lady conflated two completely different schemes in her question. People’s status under the EU settlement scheme is decided very quickly, and 2.2 million people have now applied through that process. In the whole of the process, only two people out of the set of figures that she gave have been refused, on grounds of criminality, which is absolutely right.