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Public Bill Committees

Debated on Thursday 21 October 2021

Health and Care Bill (Fifteenth sitting)

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairs: † Mr Peter Bone, Julie Elliott, Steve McCabe, Mrs Sheryll Murray

Argar, Edward (Minister for Health)

Crosbie, Virginia (Ynys Môn) (Con)

† Davies, Gareth (Grantham and Stamford) (Con)

† Davies, Dr James (Vale of Clwyd) (Con)

† Double, Steve (St Austell and Newquay) (Con)

Foy, Mary Kelly (City of Durham) (Lab)

Gideon, Jo (Stoke-on-Trent Central) (Con)

† Higginbotham, Antony (Burnley) (Con)

† Madders, Justin (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab)

† Norris, Alex (Nottingham North) (Lab/Co-op)

† Owen, Sarah (Luton North) (Lab)

Robinson, Mary (Cheadle) (Con)

† Skidmore, Chris (Kingswood) (Con)

Smyth, Karin (Bristol South) (Lab)

† Timpson, Edward (Eddisbury) (Con)

Whitford, Dr Philippa (Central Ayrshire) (SNP)

Williams, Hywel (Arfon) (PC)

Huw Yardley, Sarah Ioannou, Committee Clerks

† attended the Committee

Public Bill Committee

Thursday 21 October 2021

[Mr Peter Bone in the Chair]

Health and Care Bill

I understand that the Government wish to move a motion to amend the programme order, which was agreed by the Committee on 7 September, to cancel this afternoon’s meeting.

I beg to move,

That the Order of the Committee of Tuesday 7 September be amended, in paragraph 1(h), by leaving out “and 2.00 pm”.

As Committee Members know, the Minister for Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood, is today attending the funeral of our dear friend James Brokenshire. My hon. Friend is grateful to the Opposition Front Benchers for their support and willingness to be flexible in that regard. In the light of this, we will not seek to make any further progress on the Bill today.

Because this motion has not been agreed by the Programming Sub-Committee, it may be proceeded with only if everyone is content.

Question put and agreed to.

Ordered, That further consideration be now adjourned. —(Steve Double.)

Adjourned till Tuesday 26 October at twenty-five minutes past Nine o’clock.

Elections Bill (Ninth sitting)

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairs: Christina Rees, Sir Edward Leigh, Mark Pritchard, † Rushanara Ali

† Anderson, Fleur (Putney) (Lab)

† Badenoch, Kemi (Minister of State, Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

† Bell, Aaron (Newcastle-under-Lyme) (Con)

Bristow, Paul (Peterborough) (Con)

† Clarkson, Chris (Heywood and Middleton) (Con)

† Furniss, Gill (Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough) (Lab)

Gibson, Peter (Darlington) (Con)

† Grady, Patrick (Glasgow North) (SNP)

† Harris, Rebecca (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury)

Hollern, Kate (Blackburn) (Lab)

† Kruger, Danny (Devizes) (Con)

† Mayhew, Jerome (Broadland) (Con)

O'Hara, Brendan (Argyll and Bute) (SNP)

† Randall, Tom (Gedling) (Con)

† Shelbrooke, Alec (Elmet and Rothwell) (Con)

† Smith, Cat (Lancaster and Fleetwood) (Lab)

Smith, Nick (Blaenau Gwent) (Lab)

Adam Mellows-Facer, Chris Stanton, Committee Clerks

† attended the Committee

Public Bill Committee

Thursday 21 October 2021

(Morning)

[Rushanara Ali in the Chair]

Elections Bill

Before we begin, I have some preliminary reminders for Committee members. Please switch electronic devices to silent if you have not already. Please wear masks when you are not speaking, in line with Government and House of Commons Commission guidance. Please give each other and members of staff space when seated and when entering and leaving the room. Please send your notes to our Hansard colleagues at hansardnotes@ parliament.uk.

Clause 9

Local elections and Assembly elections in Northern Ireland

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

With this it will be convenient to consider that schedule 5 be the Fifth schedule to the Bill.

Clause 9 and schedule 5 ensure that the changes made to parliamentary elections in Northern Ireland in part 1 of the Bill are applied to local and Assembly elections in Northern Ireland. We have already considered the substantive detail of these changes to parliamentary elections in clauses 1 to 8. The same measures will apply to Northern Ireland’s local and Assembly elections. For that reason, I do not want to go through the detail of the changes again. However, hon. Members may note that, although the existing Northern Ireland identification provisions remain unaltered, some small technical changes made in clause 1 will apply to the equivalent rule in Northern Ireland, including the requirement that the returning officer must provide a private space for voters to produce their identification should they require it.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 9 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 5 agreed to.

Clause 10

Extension of franchise for parliamentary elections: British citizens overseas

I beg to move amendment 79, in clause 10, page 13, line 4, at end insert

“and

(c) the person satisfies at least one of the following conditions—

(i) he or she was included in a register of parliamentary electors at some time in the past fifteen years;

(ii) he or she was resident in the United Kingdom at some point in the last fifteen years;

(iii) he or she is a member of the United Kingdom armed forces;

(iv) he or she is employed in the service of the Crown;

(v) he or she is employed by the British Council;

(vi) he or she is employed by a United Kingdom public authority;

(vii) he or she is employed by a designated humanitarian agency; or

(viii) he or she is the spouse or civil partner of a person mentioned in sub-paragraphs (iii) to (vii) above and is residing outside the United Kingdom to be with his or her spouse or civil partner.

(1A) The Minister for the Cabinet Office or the Secretary of State may by statutory instrument define ‘United Kingdom public authority’ and ‘designated humanitarian agency’ for the purposes of subsection (1)(c).

(1B) A statutory instrument containing regulations under subsection (1A) is subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.”

This amendment is a probing amendment to enable debate on the premise of maintaining 15-year rule with exemptions for certain citizens.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Ms Ali. The amendment relates to the 15-year rule exemptions. I will make some introductory comments on overseas electors as a whole, in order to put the amendment into context. As a modern, progressive party, Labour is committed to building a truly global Britain and championing our core values of equality, social justice and opportunity for all. All hon. Members will agree that no area of electoral law is more important than the franchise—who gets to vote and is able to participate in our democracy. Overseas electors play a significant role in providing a close connection not only to our European neighbours but to countries across the world, and we must continue to encourage that valuable connection.

Under the current system, British citizens who have moved abroad can register to vote as an overseas elector in the last constituency in which they were entered on an electoral register. British citizens who have lived overseas for more than 15 years cannot register to become an overseas elector. The Opposition are committed to taking radical steps to ensure that all eligible voters are registered and able to use their vote. The issue of extending voting rights for overseas electors is important and must be considered properly.

The extension of overseas voting rights has come a long way since 1985, when British citizens living outside the UK were unable to register to vote in any elections. The Representation of the People Act 1985 introduced new provisions allowing British citizens living overseas to qualify as electors in the constituency where they were last registered to vote before moving. The time limit from 1985 was only five years. In 1989, that was extended to 20 years, before being reduced to 15 years in 2002.

In the 2015 and 2017 general elections, it was a Conservative party manifesto commitment to abolish the 15-year rule and allow British citizens a vote for life in parliamentary elections. Indeed, about three years ago, a private Member’s Bill was tabled by the then Member for Montgomeryshire that would have changed voting rights for overseas electors, but it did not progress in the previous Parliament. Our position has not changed since those debates in 2018: we are committed to building a franchise that ensures that everyone living in, and contributing to, the UK has their voice heard and represented. The current 15-year rule strikes the right balance between allowing expats to maintain strong links with the UK and ensuring the integrity of the electoral process. It means that expats can continue to engage with our democracy for a significant period of time after they have left the UK, but it maintains the balance in our representative democracy by which people who are affected by rules and laws get to decide who makes them.

My biggest concern about the overseas electors section of this Bill is the fact that it could undermine the integrity of our electoral process. Not only does this change threaten to overwhelm our election teams—who, frankly, are already overworked and under-resourced enough—it threatens to allow foreign money to flood into our democracy. Let us be clear: the true motivation behind these changes to overseas voting is to create a loophole in donation law that would allow donors unlimited access to our democracy, and allow them to bankroll Tory campaigns from their offshore tax havens. There is no possible justification for changing the law, other than to open a loophole so that donors can continue to funnel money into the Conservative party. For example, the new law will allow one of the Tories’ biggest donors to keep bankrolling the party for life, despite having reportedly lived in the Bahamas for a decade. John Gore has given almost £4.2 million to the Conservative party, making him the Tories’ No. 1 donor, despite his having spent more than a decade away from the UK.

The Conservative party accepted more than £1 million from UK citizens living in tax havens ahead of 2017 through existing methods, as reported in The Times. The new law will remove those barriers, and what angers me most is that in one fell swoop, expats will be granted more flexibility in registering to vote than people who live in this country. If the Conservatives were serious about improving democratic engagement, they would be extending the franchise to 16 and 17-year-olds, as well as concentrating efforts on registering the millions of adults in this country who are not currently on the electoral roll. This Bill allows expats to vote in UK elections regardless of whether they have previously been on an electoral register. It is a free ticket for anyone hoping to fraudulently register in a swing seat, who only require another expat to vouch for them.

The hon. Lady can be assured of the Scottish National party’s support for these amendments. It is interesting that she mentioned that many of these voters live in places that are described as tax havens, because when I tabled a written question to the Treasury to ask what estimate it had made

“of the total tax receipts paid to the UK Exchequer by UK citizens registered as overseas electors in each of the last five financial years”,

the Treasury Minister said:

“No estimate has been made of the information requested. HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) cannot identify individuals registered as overseas electors within tax data.”

That puts quite an interesting spin on the old phrase “no taxation without representation”, does it not? It is very possible that we might see quite a lot of people getting representation without any taxation.

The hon. Member could not have made his point about the loophole that this legislation will create any more clearly, and I agree about the principle of no taxation without representation. It strikes me that there are 16-year-olds in this country who are going out to work and are paying tax, and are affected by things such as the rise in national insurance contributions, who have no say in who their UK parliamentarians are, while overseas electors who live in tax havens will suddenly get free rein. Rather than taking the necessary steps to safeguard British democracy from malign foreign influences, as highlighted in the Russia report, the UK Government are instead allowing even more foreign interference in our democracy.

Turning to the issue of the election teams that register electors in councils up and down the country, the representations this Committee has heard have proven that those teams are already under a lot of pressure. They cannot cope, and if this clause becomes part of the Bill, the impacts on electoral return officers and councils is going to be huge, because the process of registering an overseas elector can take around two hours. If those officers were to see a huge increase in the number of overseas electors registering to vote, at a time when councils already face huge funding cuts and pressures, that would threaten the integrity of our elections as well.

Obviously, overseas electors fall off the register every 12 months, so the vast majority of registration applications occur immediately ahead of a general election, when the pressure on our electoral administrators is already at its most intense. Abolishing the 15-year rule and therefore increasing the number of British citizens overseas who can register to vote would completely overstretch electoral administrators, who are already being pushed to the limit.

I put three questions to the Minister, which I hope she will answer in her response. Do the Government have any indication of how many of the estimated 5 million Britons living abroad would apply to be overseas electors in the run-up to a UK parliamentary election or national referendum if the 15-year rule were removed? How does the Government intend to fund the electoral registration officers for the additional costs that will be incurred by the proposals, and what steps will the Government take to ensure that election teams have the resources and capacity to manage that increased volume of electors? If the Government are so intent on granting votes for life, why do they not focus on domestic voters and grant 16 and 17-year-olds the vote? The Bill will further embed and entrench current laws that prevent 16 and 17-year-olds, either abroad or in the UK, from engaging in parliamentary elections.

I will not speak for long on amendment 79 because it is probing, and I wish to trigger a debate on the premise of maintaining the 15-year rule with exemptions for certain citizens. The amendment attempts to demonstrate that abolishing the 15-year rule entirely is a drastic, extreme move that will flood our democracy with money from overseas and threaten its integrity. Instead of abolishing it entirely, the Minister could exempt certain groups of people from the 15-year rule, with the necessary checks in place. For example, the Minister might want to exempt those who have fought for our country and might lose their right to vote by being away, which seems very unfair. In the same spirit, we may not want those who serve our country in the service of the Crown—some 1% of our civil service are permanently based abroad—to miss out on their chance to vote, nor those working for the British Council, with the services they perform for our nation and standing in the world, or those employed by a UK public authority or a designated humanitarian agency. Will the Minister consider that this approach might achieve her aim of enfranchising expats while still protecting our democracy?

I read the amendment very carefully, and it is a shame so much was put into it because it contains some interesting points that we could discuss with the Opposition given the spirit of what they are trying to do. I recognise it is a probing amendment as well. Unfortunately, the way the amendment has been worded would completely undermine our manifesto commitment to scrap the 15-year time limit on British citizens voting from overseas. I reiterate that we intend to deliver votes for life and extend the franchise for UK parliamentary elections to all British citizens living overseas who have previously been registered in the UK, and extending the franchise to those people sets a sensible boundary for the franchise for those who have a strong connection to the country.

Given that we have been talking about fraud and ensuring that the franchise is protected, proposed new paragraph (c)(ii) is interesting, and I would have liked to have spoken to the hon. Lady about it. I know these amendments came in fairly late and perhaps we might be able to discuss what she is seeking to achieve there.

However, the additional conditions set out in the amendment would weaken the sensible boundary I mentioned and exclude a large number of citizens with a deep relationship with the UK, so we cannot accept the amendment for that reason. Most British citizens overseas retain those deep ties: many still have family here; some will return here; many will have a lifetime of hard work in the UK behind them; and some will have fought for our country in the past but are no longer a member of the armed forces. We can see the strength of their continuing connections in the passion of the campaigns for votes for life. The amendment purposely excludes the voices of those who have deep ties and wish to participate in our democracy, but through no fault of their own do not meet those strict conditions.

The Minister is speaking of the deep ties that people who have lived away from this country for more than 15 years continue to maintain. Given that the Treasury told me it has not made any estimate of and “cannot identify” individuals registered as overseas electors within tax data, does she think that, once the system is up and running, some kind of survey, canvass or random sample might be worthwhile? That would help us understand the demographics and nature of those electors. Perhaps, as part of that survey, there could be an assessment of what tax those people pay to the UK Exchequer.

I do not think there is anything wrong with the hon. Gentleman’s suggestion. Obviously, I will not commit to anything here, but it is always useful to know the exact demographic information and what people are and are not doing. We have done more than any other Government to prevent tax avoidance in this country. If he has good suggestions for what we can do, I am sure that the Treasury will take them up.

The hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood made a point about political donations. It is a shame that we are not rising above the fray and that we are making out that things are done for political reasons when they are not. A long-standing principle originally recommended by the Committee on Standards in Public Life is that permissible donors are those on the UK electoral register: if someone can vote for a party, they should be able to donate to it. Election law allows registered British expats to vote in UK parliamentary elections and to make those donations for up to 15 years.

I understand the point about taxation. However, since the adoption of universal suffrage, taxation has never been the basis of enfranchisement in the UK. Many people who could donate now pay tax in the countries they live in; others who pay tax on their pensions, property and investments in the UK might still not have a right to vote. Opposition Members’ tax explanation does not really add up.

I just wonder whether the Minister is aware of the famous suffragette slogan, “No taxation without representation”.

Yes, I have just referred to that. However, within the UK, there are many who do not pay tax who can still vote. That is my point: the principle is not used universally at the moment. Many of the people who they are claiming do not pay tax actually quite often do. A classic example is full-time students, who do not pay tax but are allowed to vote.

The hon. Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood asked whether the Government have an indication of how many people we are talking about enfranchising. I do not have that information at my fingertips, but I can write to her on that specific point.

On the funding of electoral registration officers, the new burdens doctrine applies. We will not ask people to do things for which they do not have the resources.

The House has debated votes for 16 and 17-year-olds exhaustively. The fact is that 16 and 17-year-olds will eventually get the right to vote. The clause is a completely different issue, and we should not muddle them up. Based on those answers, I hope the hon. Lady feels we have had a sufficient debate and agrees to withdraw her probing amendment. We can have discussions on what else we can do to tighten up the franchise.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Ali. I was not going to comment on the amendment. However, while I have great regard for the shadow Minister, as she knows, I was disappointed in the route her speech went down by trying to make the issue about political donations. There is a system in this country for how our political parties are funded, and it is a cheap kick-around to try to say that our system is being corrupted. Donations to the Conservative party are declared through the official lines. Some of the examples the hon. Lady gave would still be eligible to make donations under existing legislation.

I make that point because this clause offered the possibility for some probing amendments to try to expand this issue, because it does need a great deal of thought. I am disappointed because the amendment is perhaps not clean enough to go down that road. However, I think that we are doing all of us in this House a disservice when we try to link a political issue to extending the franchise and the reasons behind that.

The Committee may recall that my right hon. Friend the Member for North Thanet (Sir Roger Gale) gave the example of Harry Shindler and that question is the driving force behind why he feels, despite being a Labour party member, that it is important to try to extend the franchise. Within the thinking—I say this as a former vice-chairman of the Conservative party, the international chairman of the Conservative party—at no time in any of the discussions about the idea was it linked to trying to bring in further funding from abroad.

We can get into a real political knockabout on political funding. We can talk about union funding; we can talk about the lack of tax returns from Unite the union. We can have that knockabout. What I have found over the years is that, yes, political funding can be a problematic thing, and it can be kicked about, but it is still a better position to have it than to have state funding for political parties, whereby people have their taxation used to fund a whole bunch of political parties whose political beliefs are nowhere near their own.

When we probe the clause, I make the plea that we should move away from trying to make out that there is some kind of corruption behind it, and stick to the arguments that many have made over a great period of time. I am sure that there are varying views in my party, even though there was a very clean line in the manifesto on this issue, about how things should go ahead and the implications, including about somebody who has basically absented themselves from this country for a long time—these are issues that are to be debated.

I put on the record my disappointment about how the amendment has been drafted and that it has been brought down to an issue that I do not think does anybody in this House a service—that is, when we try to paint the picture that there is something corrupt underlying legislation. My plea to the shadow Minister, when she sums up, is that she speak more to the amendments, because I am genuinely interested in them, although I do not think they are quite clean enough. My plea would be that we should please not bring this down to a level of, “This is just so you can expand your political funding”.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his contribution. We always have very interesting to-ing and fro-ing in these Committees, as we both have a keen interest in elections and constitutional matters.

I will specifically address amendment 79. I am conscious not to stray too much into wider discussion of the clause, because we are debating the amendment. I am quite pleased with some of the reactions to it from the Government Benches, in exploring the options—not all of them. It would have been nice to have had a little more pre-legislative scrutiny, and maybe a draft Bill, because I think there was common ground on some of these issues.

I am keen not to stray too much into discussing political donations right now, but I am aware that I did set out my broad response to clause 10 to put amendment 79 into context. There is one very easy way of clearing up the matter, which would be basically not to have political donations attached to it, because then of course there would not be a debate at all.

I very much welcome the Minister saying that there was nothing wrong with the suggestion by the hon. Member for Glasgow North that there might be some Government assessment of tax intake from the voters who are likely to be enfranchised by this legislation. I certainly look forward to seeing such an assessment and I also look forward to her writing to me with the estimated number of overseas electors that the Department feels are likely to be enfranchised by the changes that clause 10 makes.

In that spirit, I beg to ask leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I beg to move amendment 80, in clause 10, page 13, line 36, at end insert—

“‘resident’ must be defined in regulations made by the Minister for the Cabinet Office or the Secretary of State”.

This amendment asks the Minister to address the challenges in defining residency.

With this, it will be convenient to discuss amendment 81, in clause 10, page 14, leave out lines 8 to 11 and insert—

“(3) The second condition is that the person making the declaration (“the declarant”) proves that they qualify as an overseas elector in respect of the constituency by providing valid supporting documentation to the registration officer.

(3A) Valid supporting documentation for the purposes of proving qualification for the previous registration condition are—

(a) a poll card, or

(b) a letter from the appropriate local authority stating that the person was on the electoral roll at the appropriate time.

(3B) Valid supporting documentation for the purposes of proving qualification for the previous residence condition must include—

(a) one document from List A, or

(b) two documents from List B.

(3C) For the purposes of subsection (3B), List A documents include but are not limited to—

household utility bill (such as gas, electric, water or telephone);

full UK photocard driving licence with signature or ‘old style’ driving licence (including provisional or expired licences);

bank, building society or credit card statement, or bank or building society passbook, local authority tax bill (e.g. council tax bill);

local authority rent book;

solicitor’s letter confirming house purchase or land registry confirmation, or an official copy of the land register or other proof of title;

HM Revenue & Customs (Inland Revenue) tax document such as a tax assessment, statement of account or notice of coding;

original notification letter from the relevant benefits agency confirming entitlement to benefits or the state pension;

pension or benefit correspondence from the Department for Work and Pensions;

instrument of a court appointment, e.g. probate or court-registered power of attorney.

(3D) For the purposes of subsection (3B), List B documents include but are not limited to—

payslip;

employment document, such offer of employment or reference;

school, college or university (or UCAS) document, such as offer of a place, or confirmation of attendance;

insurance documents, such as full insurance schedule, or letter confirming insurance cover;

student loans company letter;

mobile telephone bill;

other evidence prescribed in guidance given by the Minister.

(3E) To be valid supporting documentation, a document must contain both a date (which can be earlier than the date the declarant left the address concerned) and the declarant’s declared last address in the United Kingdom.”

This amendment puts pre-existing guidance for providing documentary evidence for residency (see 3C and 3D) on the face of the Bill. The amendment also outlines additional evidence for proving previous registration.

Amendments 80 and 81 both relate to the definition of residency and the evidence that is needed for someone to be classed as a resident. Amendment 80 is a probing amendment, with which I ask the Minister to address the challenges involved in defining residency. The ambiguity surrounding the notion of residency is critical to the future integrity of the franchise. There must be a clear definition of residency before the Government can consider enfranchising the millions of overseas electors who would be eligible under the new provisions. As yet, we have not seen any definition of electoral residence.

Currently, residence is understood to mean a considerable degree of permanence. That means that a person with two homes who spends the same amount of time in each can legally register at both addresses. A lot of hon. Members might be familiar with that situation, as many are registered to vote in both London and their constituencies. The Law Commission’s 2016 interim report recommended:

“The law on electoral residence, including factors to be considered by electoral registration officers, and on special category electors, should be restated clearly and simply in primary legislation.”

Over five years later, we have not had a Government response on that issue.

Although the definition of residence might seem a tedious issue, it is critical to the Bill. The Bill provides that overseas electors can register to vote using only evidence of previous residency, and that is an entirely new and untested voting qualification. The checks on residency in the Bill are very weak. A British expat qualifies to vote as a previous resident if they can provide one piece of evidence connecting them to a residence in the UK at any point in their lives. However, supplying a single piece of evidence at a single point in time does not actually prove residency. According to the Association of Electoral Administrators, scrapping the 15-year rule would increase the potential for electoral fraud, and it would be extremely difficult for EROs to determine the residency of overseas voters and check the validity of the attestation. Marginal constituencies in the UK could see an influx of overseas voters because of the changes brought in by the Bill. It is undoubtedly possible for a determined individual wishing to sway the result of a close election to forge documentation tying them to a past residency in a particular constituency. Moreover, there are no provisions to prevent an overseas elector registering with more than one local authority where they had been on the register. The Bill could open a Pandora’s box of unknown implications for the security of our elections, and for this reason the Government should define what exactly they mean by residency before we plough ahead with the policy.

Amendment 81 is also a probing amendment. It seeks to clarify what documentary evidence the Government see as necessary to register as an overseas elector. If an electoral registration officer needed to check on the registration of a domestic voter, they could simply go to the property, but that is not the case with overseas voters. The Bill asks EROs to determine whether evidence from overseas voters is sufficient. Although I trust the skill and experience of electoral registration officers, I am concerned that there will be a lack of consistent practice across the United Kingdom when it comes to deciding what is acceptable proof of previous residency or connection to a constituency.

Amendment 81 would put into the Bill the pre-existing Government guidance on declaration requirements. All domestic voters are now required to provide a national insurance number, full name and passport details, and they must be made aware of the criminal penalty for false declaration; the same should also be required for overseas voters. If it is good enough for domestic voters, overseas voters should be held to the same standard. I do not intend to press either amendment 80 or amendment 81 to a Division, but I hope the Minister might take the opportunity to clarify the issues that I have raised and perhaps to clarify the Bill with a Government amendment.

There are two aspects to this group of amendments: creating a statutory definition of residence and the list of evidence of residency. A statutory definition of residence, however well drafted, could end up inadvertently disenfranchising some groups or individuals. Linking the definition to physical residence could be problematic. For instance, an elector may be classed as resident at an address despite not being physically resident: they may be working in a different location, studying—students can register in two constituencies—or in hospital for a long time. Any definition must capture every eventuality; the risk is that, if it cannot, the results may not be as the hon. Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood intended as it would mean the inadvertent exclusion of these groups.

Turning to the question of supporting evidence, I do think that the hon. Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood is right. We are trying to make sure that there are fewer opportunities for fraud. There are many important questions touched on by amendment 81 about how someone demonstrates their connection to a person’s UK address. We had similar discussions around voter identification; the Government do not want to create new loopholes just after we have closed previous ones. Having said that, I do not think that to include this level of detail in primary legislation is the right approach. We have said that we are going to deal with things in secondary legislation; we do not want to be inflexible, and that is not the approach that we have taken elsewhere. I looked at the list of supporting documentation, and these are some of the things that we regularly see when we are asked to prove residency. However, at this point, I would not feel confident accepting all of these without further advice from, and discussions with, officials. I can go away and look at what we can do to provide some assurances, not just to the hon. Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood, but to colleagues on the Government side who are also concerned about this—not necessarily just members of the Bill Committee, but Members elsewhere.

Both existing electoral legislation and the Bill contain provisions that allow secondary legislation to be made relating to the evidence requirements for proving a previous address. We can talk more in our next sitting, and we will work with the hon. Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood and with other stakeholders on the detail to ensure that what is required is appropriate and proportionate. As part of this, it is definitely our intention to strike the right balance between ensuring the integrity of elections, facilitating participation and creating a workable system for electoral administrators. I hope the hon. Member understands why we will not accept the amendment at this point; hopefully she will withdraw it and we can look at other ways to achieve what I believe are our shared ambitions.

I welcome the Minister’s commitment to speak to her officials about ways that we can strengthen this—that is great.

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I beg to move amendment 82, in clause 10, page 15, line 5, leave out from first “requirements” to end of line 6 and insert—

“(fa) contain a valid attestation of identity under section [Attestation of identity],”.

This amendment requires an overseas elector’s declaration to include a valid attestation of identity in accordance with the requirements of Amendment 83.

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment 83, in clause 10, page 16, line 15, at end insert—

“1CA Attestation of identity

(1) A valid attestation of identity must contain attestations from two attestors.

(2) The first attestor must be a registered elector resident in the constituency in which the declarant wishes to be registered.

(3) The second attestor must be a registered overseas elector.

(4) An attestor must not be the spouse, civil partner, parent, grandparent, brother, sister, child or grandchild of the declarant.

(5) An attestation must—

(a) be in writing and signed by the attestor,

(b) swear that, to the best of the attestor’s knowledge, the declarant is the person named in the declaration,

(c) state the attestor’s British passport number together with its date of issue,

(d) be dated on the date on which the attestation is made,

(e) confirm that the person attestor is aware of the offence, under section 13D of the Representation of the People Act 1983, of providing false information to a registration officer, and

(f) confirm that the attestor is a person of good standing in the community.

(6) For the purposes of paragraph (5)(f), examples of a person of good standing in the community include, but are not limited to, the following or their local equivalents—

accountant

airline pilot

articled clerk of a limited company

assurance agent of recognised company

bank or building society official

barrister

chiropodist

Commissioner of Oaths

civil servant (permanent)

dentist

director, manager or personnel officer of a limited company

director or manager of a VAT-registered charity

director or manager or personnel officer of a VAT-registered company

engineer (with professional qualifications)

financial services intermediary (e.g. a stockbroker or insurance broker)

fire service official

funeral director

insurance agent (full time) of a recognised company

journalist

Justice of the Peace

lecturer

legal secretary (fellow or associate member of the Institute of Legal Secretaries and PAs)

licensee of public house

local government officer

medical professional

member, associate or fellow of a professional body

Merchant Navy officer

minister of a recognised religion (including Christian Science)

nurse (Registered General Nurse or Mental Health Nurse)

officer of the armed services

optician

paralegal (certified paralegal, qualified paralegal or associate member of the Institute of Paralegals)

pharmacist

photographer (professional)

police officer

Post Office official

publicly-elected representative (such as MP, Councillor or MEP)

president or secretary of a recognised organisation

Salvation Army officer

social worker

solicitor

surveyor

teacher

trade union officer

travel agent (qualified)

valuer or auctioneer (fellows and associate members of the Incorporated Society of Valuers and Auctioneers)

warrant officers and chief petty officers.”

This amendment, which relates to Amendment 82, requires overseas electors to provide two forms of attestation of identity – one from an individual living in the constituency in which the elector is registering and one from an overseas elector.

As is the theme, amendments 82 and 83 are probing amendments. They relate to attestation requirements for overseas voters, which there is space for the Government to strengthen substantially to prevent foreign interference in our elections. The amendments say that there should be two forms of attestation: one from an individual in the constituency where the elector is registering, and one from an overseas elector. This should provide a more robust approach to verifying the identity of an overseas elector. The Association of Electoral Administrators said that it had

“concerns as to integrity, with the possibility of increased applications via this route in a marginal UK parliamentary constituency.”

Such declarations could be made without documentary evidence, and the AEA questioned how likely it is that a false declaration would result in prosecution, when the attestor, as well as the applicant, live abroad. Given that, I do not think that a sworn statement is sufficient security to prevent fraudulent applications. Currently, all we require is that identity must be attested to by another overseas-registered elector who is not a close relative.

More worryingly, overseas electors who do not have access to documentary evidence are entitled to make a declaration of local connection. They can still register even if they have no proof that they were ever resident in the UK; they simply need another overseas elector to make a sworn statement about their identity. Effectively, multiple fraudulent overseas electors could attest for each other at different addresses in the UK using a declaration of local connection; that would allow for multiple false registrations. If it comes down to just a handful of votes—as does happen—fraudulent applications to register to vote could swing elections to this place. I ask the Minister to consider amendments 82 and 83, and to see ways that we can strengthen the integrity of our elections in this regard.

The amendments would require all declarations from overseas electors to contain two attestations, which is linked to the important principle of the Bill that only those entitled to register are permitted to do so. However, mandating applicants to in all cases provide an attestation of identity as part of their application would be inconsistent with the application process for domestic voters and the current process for overseas electors. The Government do not accept the principle that overseas electors ought to be treated differently and certainly cannot agree to such a burdensome threshold, which would add a significant extra layer of bureaucracy not only for the applicant but for the electoral registration officer, which the hon. Lady just mentioned wanting to avoid. Indeed, it could preclude people who are currently eligible from registering. We intend to strike that balance between ensuring that the registration system works well for citizens and administrators and maintaining the security of our elections.

I take the hon. Lady’s point that we should not create more opportunities for people overseas to do fraudulent things in order to get on the electoral register; that is quite right. We need to make sure that effective measures will be in place for overseas electors to prove their identity. That is absolutely our intention. As I have said when discussing previous amendments, the Bill contains provisions to make secondary legislation that will enable an electoral registration officer to seek additional evidence to verify an applicant’s identity where they consider that that is required, but it is not prescriptive about the nature of that evidence. I suggest that the Government continue to work closely with the hon. Lady and stakeholders to develop a balanced solution. To reassure her, I share her sentiments completely regarding the importance of having in place robust processes for applicants, but I hope she understands why, at this point, we cannot accept the amendment.

I thank the Minister for her comments. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I beg to move amendment 84, in clause 10, page 16, line 15, at end insert—

“1CA Closing date for electoral registration applications by overseas electors

(1) The Representation of the People (England and Wales) Regulations 2001 are amended in accordance with subsections (2) and (3).

(2) In regulation 56, after paragraph (7), insert—

‘(8) This regulation does not apply to applications by overseas electors.’

(3) After regulation 56 insert—

‘56A Closing date for electoral registration applications by overseas electors

(1) The provisions in this regulation relate to applications to vote by post or proxy by overseas electors in parliamentary elections.

(2) An application by an overseas elector under paragraph 3(6) or (7) of Schedule 4 shall be disregarded for the purposes of a particular parliamentary election and an application under paragraph 4(3) of Schedule 4 shall be refused if it is received by the registration officer after 5 p.m. on the eighteenth day before the date of the poll at that election.

(3) An application under paragraph 3(1) or (2), or 6(7) or 7(4) of Schedule 4 shall be disregarded for the purposes of a particular parliamentary election if it is received by the registration officer after 5 p.m. on the thirteenth day before the date of the poll at that election.

(4) An application under paragraph 4(1) or (2) or 6(8) of Schedule 4 shall be refused if it is received by the registration officer after 5 p.m. on the thirteenth day before the date of the poll at the election for which it is made.

(5) An application under paragraph 7(7) of Schedule 4 shall be refused if it is received by the registration officer after 5 p.m. on the eighteenth day before the date of the poll at the election for which it is made.

(6) An application under—

(a) paragraph 3(5)(a) of Schedule 4 by an elector to be removed from the record kept under paragraph 3(4) of that Schedule, or

(b) paragraph 7(9)(a) of Schedule 4 by a proxy to be removed from the record kept under paragraph 7(6) of that Schedule,

and a notice under paragraph 6(10) of that Schedule by an elector cancelling a proxy’s appointment shall be disregarded for the purposes of a particular parliamentary election if it is received by the registration officer after—

(i) 5 p.m. on the eighteenth day before the date of the poll at that election in the case of an application by an elector who is entitled to vote by post to be removed from the record kept under paragraph 3(4) of Schedule 4, and

(ii) 5 p.m. on the thirteenth day before the date of the poll at that election in any other case.

(7) In computing a period of days for the purposes of this regulation, the same rules shall apply as in regulation 56.’

(4) The Secretary of State must, by regulations, amend—

(a) the Representation of the People (Scotland) Regulations 2001, and

(b) the Representation of the People (Northern Ireland) Regulations

so that each closing date in Scotland and Northern Ireland for electoral registration applications by overseas electors moves back by seven days in keeping with the amendments made for England under subsections (2) and (3).”

This amendment pushes back the deadlines to register to vote for overseas voters by 1 week to allow electoral administrators more time to process applications.

Amendment 84 would push back the deadline for overseas electors to register to vote by one week, allowing electoral administrators more time to process applications. The timescale for registration deadlines does not work, as we heard in evidence, and the amendment seeks to improve that situation.

The single biggest concern I hear from overseas voters is that they do not receive their postal vote in time and so are not able to return it in time for their vote to count. Concern has already been raised with the Committee by the sector and more widely about the timescale for postal ballots for overseas voters to go out, which of course is not easy when postal systems globally are so varied. In many ways, there is currently simply insufficient time for an ERO to register and process overseas electors’ last-minute postal vote applications and to send them so that they can be returned in a timely manner. I seek a practical solution for this issue.

This may purely be my misunderstanding of the amendment, so I stand to be corrected, but would the consequence of the amendment be to extend the election period beyond 25 days?

I do not believe that it would; perhaps I have misunderstood the right hon. Gentleman’s intervention. The amendment would make overseas electors’ deadline to register as an elector in a constituency a week earlier than that for domestic voters so that EROs would be able to prioritise getting those postal votes out. In the evidence sessions, I was struck by what EROs were saying. An overseas elector currently has the same deadline to register to vote as a domestic voter. If EROs send a ballot paper to a postal voter in Lancaster who registered on the deadline day, we can be quite confident that our postal system is robust enough that the ballot paper could reach the voter and that the voter could return it. However, when it is going to the other side of the world, we know that they could not. Allowing that extra week would ensure that overseas voters’ votes are more likely to count when they cast their ballots, rather than so many, as currently, being disenfranchised because postal systems do not allow their ballot paper to get back in time.

I understand the point that the hon. Lady is making. What I am unclear about is what happens if the registration deadline is moved further into the election. I am not sure where the hon. Lady is going, because she is talking about the time to return the mail, so we are talking about registration and then the ballot being sent out and coming back. Is there confidence in the timeframe for the ballot itself to come back, if we are talking about delays in the timeframe, or do we need to add more time to the overall short campaign as a consequence of the amendment? I could be entirely wrong on all of this, which is why I am probing the hon. Lady on the amendment.

If I understand the right hon. Gentleman correctly, I think we have identified the same issue, and I am going to go out on a limb here and say that we probably agree it is a problem that so many of these electors’ ballots are not returned. My proposed solution—I would be very keen to hear solutions from any member of this Committee; I do not believe any one of us has a monopoly on knowledge or innovation—is that allowing EROs an extra week on the UK end, at the start of the process of issuing a postal ballot to an overseas elector, would increase the chances of many of these ballot papers being returned in time. I do not see the amendment as changing the electoral timetable for domestic voters or the wider election, which I think is what the right hon. Gentleman is asking.

I hope that the exchange that I and the right hon. Gentleman have just had has not confused the Committee too much. My intention is to give EROs the extra time that they will need to register overseas electors, which takes longer than registering a domestic elector. The aim is for them to be able to issue, post and have returned a postal voting form from overseas electors, thereby ensuring that fewer overseas electors are disenfranchised in future elections.

I am afraid that the amendment would have what I suspect is an unintended consequence, so we cannot accept it. In short, it prevents many overseas electors from casting their ballots, for this reason: the registration deadline for overseas electors is 12 working days before the poll. The amendment does not change that, but it makes the deadline for applying for an absent vote earlier than the registration deadline. The effect is that someone who registers by the registration deadline would not be able to vote because they would not have made their absent vote application, and the only way they could fix that would be to travel back to the UK for polling day. The proposed changes to move other absent vote deadlines further from polling day would make it more difficult for some overseas electors to update or alter their absent voting arrangements ahead of the election. Because our intention is to facilitate greater participation in our democracy among British citizens living overseas, we cannot accept the amendment.

May I ask a question about potentially putting some aspects of this into secondary legislation? In other countries, overseas electors are able to avail themselves of the opportunity of going to their embassy—or our equivalent, the high commission—in order to post their ballot paper. That might help with some of the short timings, and also with the burden that we are putting on our EROs in local councils here. Have there been any discussions with the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office about the use of embassies within this process to enable our overseas voters to vote?

I have not had a formal conversation with the FCDO, but I have had conversations with officials about what else we could do on the specific point that the hon. Lady has raised. The issue is that not everybody lives near an embassy, so that does not necessarily solve the problem that she has described, but we have tried to solve the problem of registration and making things easier for electoral registration officers in another way. The Bill enables overseas electors to remain registered for longer with an absent vote arrangement in place ahead of the election, so that is a burden that is being taken off the EROs. At the moment, the registration period for overseas electors is one year, so that is what those EROs have to deal with. We will extend that to three years in the Bill. Then, in addition, electors will be able to reapply or refresh their postal absent vote arrangements, as appropriate, at the same time as renewing their registrations. I think those changes will have the effect that Opposition Members want, by reducing the workload on electoral administrators during the busy election period.

Obviously, I am shocked that the Minister has not accepted my amendment. [Laughter.] That does not get away from the fact that we have a real problem with overseas electors not being able to cast their votes, and I feel that there is nothing in the Bill that goes far enough to ensure that overseas electors can get a vote returned to the UK in time for it to be counted in an election. Because of my frustration with that situation, I would like to press the amendment to a vote.

I beg to move amendment 85, in clause 10, page 18, line 31, at end insert—

“1F Report on awareness of how to participate in elections as an overseas elector

(1) The Secretary of State must publish a report on levels of awareness of how to participate in parliamentary elections as a UK elector among—

(a) persons entitled to vote as an overseas elector under the provisions of this Act, and

(b) overseas electors in general.

(2) The report shall consider awareness of—

(a) the law governing entitlement to qualify and vote as an overseas elector,

(b) the processes of registering and voting, and

(c) other matters as the Secretary of State sees fit.

(3) The report shall set out any steps the Secretary of State intends to take to increase awareness of—

(a) how to participate in elections as an overseas elector, and

(b) the provisions of sections 1 to 1E of this Act.

(4) The Minister may not make regulations to bring section 10 of the Elections Act 2021 into force until the report under this section has been laid before Parliament.”

This amendment would require the Government to report on levels of awareness among overseas electors as to how to participate in UK parliamentary elections before the provisions on overseas electors can come into force.

With this, it will be convenient to discuss amendment 86, in clause 10, page 18, line 31, at end insert—

“1F Report on the effects on the number of registered electors

(1) The Secretary of State must prepare and publish a report on the effects of sections 1 to 1E of this Act on—

(a) the number of overseas electors registered to vote in Parliamentary elections in each constituency, and

(b) the policy implications of any such changes.

(2) The report must consider—

(a) whether any differential effects on the electorates of constituencies necessitates a review of constituency boundaries, and

(b) the merits of creating one or more constituencies with electorates comprised of overseas electors.

(3) The report must be laid before Parliament no later than three years after the day on which the Elections Act 2021 is passed.”

Amendments 85 and 86 are on a report on awareness of overseas electors and a report on the effects of the number of registered electors. These two amendments ask the Government to provide crucial detail about the true impact of clause 10.

Amendment 85 would require the Government to report on levels of awareness among overseas electors about how to participate in UK parliamentary elections before the provisions on overseas electors can come into force. Surveys by the Electoral Commission have demonstrated the widespread lack of awareness about what it means to be an overseas voter and the eligibility criteria necessary to vote. That lack of awareness has no doubt created a significant barrier to casting a ballot.

An Electoral Commission survey found that there was a widespread lack of awareness about eligibility requirements, with 31% of respondents believing that eligibility required receiving a UK state pension and 22% believing that owning a property in the UK was required. Indeed, the Association of Electoral Administrators has previously stated that

“voter education is needed to inform overseas electors about the different ways available to them to cast their ballot.”

Before enfranchising millions more overseas electors, should not the Government focus on ensuring that those people who already have the vote are actually aware of their rights and how to exercise them?

Amendment 86 is tabled in a very similar spirit. It attempts to answer the number of unanswered questions that have resulted from clause 10. It is essential that there is appropriate evaluation and investigation of the effects on our democracy of passing the Bill. We must have a clear idea about the sheer volume of people who we are enfranchising and whether that is likely to impact our finely balanced constituency maps.

The potential introduction of millions of new voters will undoubtedly have consequences for our constituency boundaries—some Members have endured the attentions of the Boundary Commission as well. The number of overseas voters registering to vote has risen exponentially over the past 10 years and it continues to rise. It is estimated that potentially 5 million new voters will be enfranchised, so detailed provision must be put in place as to how those voters will affect current UK constituencies.

As the Minister knows well, the Opposition want a fair boundary system that benefits our democracy and not only the electoral interests of the Conservative party. The spread of new voters across these constituencies and how they will be allocated is crucial, and there must be detailed consideration to prepare for that.

In addition, I wonder whether the Minister has considered the benefits of introducing a separate constituency for overseas electors. On Second Reading of the Overseas Electors Bill in 2017, several Members referenced arrangements in France, where 11 seats in the Assemblée Nationale are reserved for French nationals living overseas, covering different zones of the world outside France and French territories, which of course have their own seats within the Assemblée Nationale. Will the Minister confirm whether any efforts have been made to investigate the potential benefits of overseas constituencies?

Unlike the previous amendments that we discussed, we are in complete disagreement with these amendments; the Government just do not believe that they are necessary. Amendment 85 would require the Government to produce a report that would unnecessarily delay the implementation of these measures. It is of course important that our fellow citizens are informed of these changes to their rights, and the Government fully intend to play our part in that process, working closely with the Electoral Commission and others. The transitional provisions in the Bill also include a discretionary power that would enable the Government to use the data we hold to promote awareness of the franchise changes around the time that they come into effect. In line with its statutory duties, the Electoral Commission will work on specific communications activity designed to target those overseas residents who have been added to the franchise, to raise awareness of the removal of the 15-year limit and how best to participate in future elections.

I want to pick up on what the shadow Minister said; Government Members have a great deal of regard for her, so this is purely a geeky rhetorical point. On overseas constituencies and the French example, the Third constituency for French residents overseas contains the United Kingdom and has about 85% of its electorate in Greater London. Does the Minister agree that that does not particularly serve the interests of constituents living in, for example, Estonia or northern Greenland, which are in the same constituency, who may not be able to access their Member of Parliament? Those constituents may have closer links with their home constituencies, where family members or friends may live.

My hon. Friend makes a good point about the complexity of that, which I will touch on later.

We do not agree with amendment 85. We encourage campaigners, parties and interested people of whatever political stripe to play their part in informing British citizens living overseas about these changes and related matters.

Amendment 86 would require a separate report on the impact on constituencies of the number of overseas electors. As my hon. Friend the Member for Heywood and Middleton sort of alluded to, overseas electors come from all corners of the United Kingdom. They will be entitled to register in the last place that they were registered or, if they were never registered, the last place that they were resident, which could be in any constituency. At each boundary review, the four boundary commissions take account of changes to the electorate to ensure a more equal distribution of electors across constituencies. All registered electors, whether domestic or overseas, form part of that electorate and will be part of the calculations for boundary reviews, so we do not need a report to determine whether a review of constituency boundaries is needed; that is already taken into account by the boundary commissions.

The proposed report in amendment 86 also refers to creating new separate overseas constituencies. We do not need a report to know that that is unnecessary and undesirable, not only because we are not French, but because overseas electors will continue to register in constituencies to which they have a significant and demonstrable connection. That constituency link is a cornerstone of our democracy.

On the shadow Minister’s point about effectively establishing an MP solely to represent overseas electors, that would be a significant change to the UK parliamentary system. The French have had it quite possibly even back to colonial times—I seem to recall that there were colonial MPs there; it is something that they have been doing for a very long time—but it would be a significant change to the UK parliamentary system, which would require complex bureaucratic deliberations to decide how many constituencies would be created and then to draw up and maintain those constituency boundaries. Overseas constituencies would also require changes to the way that the electoral administration of voters and conduct of polls is organised in Great Britain, where responsibility lies at local authority level.

The Government’s proposals in the Bill are the product of careful consideration. We want to work well with the Opposition and will continue to work closely with the electoral administration community and relevant stakeholders on the technical aspects of the policy’s implantation. However, the proposed report would not do what the amendment says and would not be a good use of that community’s time and resources.

I suppose this is the opportunity to respond to the hon. Member for Heywood and Middleton, who picked up on the issue of overseas constituencies being quite large. He gave the example of the northern European constituency in the French Parliament. Many UK constituencies are quite large—not quite as large as that, admittedly, but it would take me an hour and a half to drive from the most easterly to the most westerly point of my constituency.

I will; I decided to respond to his point in the hope that he would intervene on me so that we could further this exciting debate.

The problem is that we actually find it exciting. Does the hon. Lady accept that the boundaries Bill Committee, which we both served on, set a geographical limit on the size of constituencies; and that the proposed Highland North constituency, which will actually be slightly larger than Qatar, is at the extant limit of that?

We were right to do that in that Committee. I am conscious that I am veering into discussing an Act not related to this Bill Committee, so I will be careful in what I say and how I frame this.

There is a difference between UK constituencies and overseas constituencies. I envisage an overseas Member of Parliament communicating using electronic means. If we have learned anything from the last 18 months during the covid pandemic, it is that, even when we are locked in our own back bedroom because of lockdown, we are still able to communicate with our constituents via Zoom and telephone surgeries. The advancement of technology is, as we always say, making the world a smaller place and offers us more opportunities, as parliamentarians, to engage with our electorates.

However, one challenge with the current system of enfranchising overseas electors—I am interested in the hon. Gentleman’s thoughts on this—is that as the hon. Member for Heywood and Middleton, for example, he does not have an opportunity to canvass and knock on the doors of the overseas electors who will vote for him, or not, in a subsequent general election. Those voters often only register a matter of weeks before a general election. What he writes in his local paper as the Member of Parliament will often not be read by those voters, because they are not going down to the local shop and buying that paper. There is more space to explore.

The Minister said that introducing overseas constituencies would be a radical change to our democracy. That is not a reason to overlook it. There have been radical changes to our democracy before. The enfranchisement of women was a fairly radical change to our democracy—I would argue, and I am sure Committee members agree, that that was a good change—as was lowering the voting age from 21 to 18. I do not think that radical change is necessarily bad change, and I think we should explore overseas constituencies as a Committee. I can see that the hon. Gentleman is keen to intervene.

I will start on a note of agreement: radical change does not have to be bad change. I am the proud great-grandson of a suffragette who was arrested with Mrs Pankhurst—something we are very proud of in our family. However, I will pick up on the hon. Lady’s point about not being able to communicate with electors. I think she will agree that, in her constituency, for example, issues raised in in Fleetwood might not necessarily be the same as those raised in Lancaster, so there is already diversity within constituencies. That is certainly the case with Heywood and Middleton, two very different towns. Let us extrapolate from that. Hypothetically, if I represented a constituency that involved Israel, Cyprus and Egypt, very different issues would affect my constituents, and I would not actually be on the ground and directly engaged with those issues; I might live in one of those countries, but I might not be directly engaged with the issues affecting my constituents. The hon. Lady made a salient point about being able to use technology to communicate with people. If I want to speak to my overseas electors now, all I need to do is get the electoral roll, find out who is registered and put out a notice on my Facebook page—for example, “Are you registered to vote in Heywood and Middleton while living abroad? Here’s a Zoom call with Chris.”

There are ways of making this work—in fact, technology has made it more practical to do it as we are doing. Having overseas constituencies, however, creates disparate groupings; it would be very hard to represent the commonality of British citizens living in two different countries, with different ways of life, facing different challenges. They might include aid workers in the middle east and expats living next door to RAF Akrotiri. They will have very different interests. It is extremely difficult for an MP to represent that range, especially if they are not physically present most of the time.

I may have forgotten the first part of the hon. Gentleman’s intervention; I ask his forgiveness if I do not respond to that. If the hon. Gentleman put out a Facebook ask to his overseas electors about a Zoom surgery, I would be interested in how successful that was. Perhaps we can discuss that in the Tea Room when the Committee adjourns.

I come back to amendments 85 and 86, Ms Ali; I can sense your mood. They are probing amendments, and I am glad that they have stimulated debate—across the whole Committee, I hope, and not just from the hon. Member for Heywood and Middleton. He obviously has a varied constituency, with the issues raised in Heywood being very different from those raised in Middleton. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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

With this it will be convenient to consider that schedule 6 be the Sixth schedule to the Bill.

Clause 10 and schedule 6 deliver on the Government’s manifesto commitments to make it easier for British expats to vote in parliamentary elections and to get rid of the arbitrary 15-year limit on their voting rights. That will enable greater participation in our democracy among our fellow British citizens living overseas.

The Government believe that the current 15-year limit is arbitrary and anachronistic in an increasingly global and connected world. Most British citizens overseas retain deep ties to the United Kingdom. Many still have family here, some will return here, and many will have a lifetime of hard work in the UK behind them. Some will have fought for our country.

Going forward, any British citizen who has previously registered to vote in the UK or was previously resident in the UK will be able to register as an overseas elector. That sets a reasonable boundary for the overseas elector franchise. Previous registration or residence denotes a strong connection to the UK. Individuals will be eligible to register in respect of one UK address—the last address at which they were registered to vote, or, if they were never registered in the UK, the last address at which they were resident. This approach maximises continuity with the existing registration system, which electors and administrators are familiar with. It puts in place clear rules regarding where persons may register. It will also ensure that overseas electors, like now, have a demonstrable connection to the place where they vote.

As I stated when we were debating amendments 79, 80 and 81, I recognise and share some Opposition concerns, such as those about reducing the opportunities for fraud and for using loopholes. I will work with the hon. Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood and other stakeholders to make sure that we confer these rights properly. I reiterate that the changes will facilitate participation by making it easier for overseas electors to remain on the register, and there will be an absent vote arrangement in place as well.

Clause 10 will extend the registration period for overseas electors from one year to three years. That will be accompanied by a fixed-point renewal cycle, under which all overseas electors’ declarations will expire on the third 1 November after they are made. That three-year cycle aligns with the postal vote renewal measures elsewhere in the Bill, to make it easier for overseas electors to reapply or renew their absent vote arrangements at the same time as renewing their registration. Changes to the registration period and the registration renewal process will benefit not only citizens but electoral administrators by reducing their workload during busy electoral periods.

Finally, the transitional provisions in schedule 6 include a discretionary power that will enable the Government to use the data they hold to promote awareness of the franchise changes around the time when they come into effect.

I feel that the Committee has already heard my views on this clause, so I have nothing further to add.

I do not have much to add, because I think the matter has been dealt with pretty well in debates, and in the evidence sessions. I reiterate that UK voters do pay tax if they live here, because they buy things and pay VAT, so there is a point about taxation and representation. I appreciated the Minister’s earlier comments, and I hope for a little more analysis of exactly how people who have lived away from this country for a long time and can now vote will do so.

Engagement with overseas electors is valuable. I have a small number registered in Glasgow North, and they will sometimes offer quite valuable perspectives. Perhaps one of the takeaways from this is that we can all organise Zoom surgeries for our overseas electors. SNP Members will continue to do our best to increase the number of overseas electors in the UK Parliament, largely by making Scotland an independent country, and then people who live in Scotland who want to register as overseas electors for elections to the UK Parliament will be able to do so.

On that basis, will Scottish residents living in England be able to vote in any possible future referendum?

I think that may be outwith the scope of the Bill, although I will speak later about encroachment into devolved matters. There was some call for what the right hon. Gentleman suggests, but it would be difficult for the Scottish Parliament to legislate for it. We have a legislative framework here that defines an overseas elector, and that would not apply to people who live elsewhere in the United Kingdom, but I can see from the Chair that this is definitely outwith the scope of the Bill, so I will leave it at that.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 10 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 6 agreed to.

Clause 11

Voting and candidacy rights of EU citizens

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

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Government amendments 8 to 20.

That schedule 7 be the Seventh schedule to the Bill.

Government amendment 7.

Clause 11 and schedule 7, which is associated with it, amend the voting and candidacy rights of European Union citizens. The law as it stands reflects our old obligations under EU law. It grants local voting and candidacy rights automatically to all EU citizens resident in England and Northern Ireland. That extends to Wales for police and crime commissioner elections. Since those rights were granted under freedom of movement rules, no immigration-based eligibility requirements are attached to them. Now that the UK has left the EU, it is no longer appropriate for there to be a continued automatic right to vote in, and to stand in, local elections solely by virtue of being an EU citizen. The concept of the UK participating in joint EU citizenship has ended.

The clause and the associated schedule will remove the automatic granting of rights to EU citizens to vote, to register to vote, and to stand in all levels of council election and referendums in England, Greater London Assembly and mayoral elections, elections for local authority and combined authority mayors in England, council elections in Northern Ireland, and Northern Ireland Assembly elections.

The Government believe that the voting and candidacy rights of EU citizens living here must be considered alongside those of citizens of the UK living in EU member states. The Government’s approach is a sensible one of recognising established rights, while moving to new bilateral agreements with individual nation states in the EU. That ensures we are protecting the rights of British citizens living in EU countries.

To give effect to that intention, the clause and the associated schedule will grant local voting and candidacy rights only to those EU citizens legally resident in the UK who are from countries with which the UK has a voting and candidacy rights treaty. Such treaties will ensure the preservation of voting and candidacy rights for citizens of the UK living in EU member states with which such a treaty has been agreed. We have four such treaties, and we remain open to negotiating with other EU countries.

Over and above that, provisions are included to honour our commitment to respect the rights of those EU citizens who chose to make their home in the UK before our departure from the EU. The relevant provisions preserve the rights of all EU citizens who were resident in the UK at the end of the implementation period and have lawful immigration status to vote and stand in local elections. In line with Home Office policy, specific and limited exceptions are included in the provisions, which relate to the operation of the grace period regulations and the EU settlement scheme.

I draw Members’ attention to part 4 of the schedule, which gives effect to the Government’s public commitment that persons elected to office before the measures come into effect will be enabled to serve their full term in office. Additionally, the Government have tabled minor and technical amendments that do not change the intended scope or effect of the provisions but ensure that they will operate as intended. The Government therefore urge hon. Members to accept the amendments, and to agree that clause 11 stand part and that schedule 7 be the Seventh schedule to the Bill.

The Labour party strongly believes that all those who are subject to local laws and politics have a claim to political representation. Essentially, anyone who lives in a local area and uses public services should have a say in how they are run. That fits with our arguments on overseas electors. Anyone who has lived outside a country for a substantial amount of time can no longer claim to have such a close connection.

Although the Labour party welcomes efforts to ensure that some UK residents from the EU will retain their voting rights, we do not think that the provisions go far enough. At present, citizens of European Union member states resident in England and Northern Ireland are automatically granted voting and candidacy rights in local elections, Northern Ireland Assembly elections and police and crime commissioner elections by virtue of being EU citizens. The rights granted to EU citizens in the United Kingdom were reciprocated, so that UK citizens living in EU member states were also granted local voting and candidacy rights in their respective countries.

Now that the UK has left the European Union, and with the ending of free movement, the basis for an automatic grant of voting and candidacy rights to a European citizen of course no longer exists. Correspondingly, individual EU member states are now able to set their own rules for local voting rights with reference to resident UK citizens. I put on record that the Labour party would like to see measures to ensure that citizens from countries that already unilaterally grant local electoral rights to British citizens resident there are granted local electoral rights in England and Northern Ireland, regardless of whether the UK has negotiated a bilateral treaty with that country.

Luxembourg citizens resident in the UK can vote in England and Northern Ireland local elections, whereas Dutch citizens cannot, even though British citizens resident in both Luxembourg and the Netherlands have local electoral rights in those countries. Since the Secretary of State already has the power to remove from the list a country that ceases to be party to the relevant bilateral treaty, they should similarly have the power to remove countries from the list when the local electoral rights of British citizens in that country are unilaterally removed.

Although the Labour party welcomes efforts to ensure that some UK residents from the EU retain their voting rights, we do not think that the provisions go far enough. We emphasise that people who live here, who contribute to society in a broader sense than just through paying taxes, and who stand to be affected by the outcomes of any electoral process, should have the right to vote. That principle is already active in UK electoral law as it relates to overseas voters.

It is regrettable that the Government have had to table such a substantial number of technical and drafting amendments. It goes back to the point that we made yesterday about what could have been achieved had there been a comprehensive programme of prelegislative scrutiny and a bit more preparation before we launched this parliamentary phase of scrutiny of the Bill, but there we go. I agree with the Labour Front-Bench spokesperson that the Government could have applied a far more generous approach to the franchise here—the approach being taken in Scotland to next year’s local elections. It is in line with the basic principle that was articulated: if someone lives in an area, is affected by the decisions made by the local authority, and is legally resident, by and large they will have a vote.

Some of that is reflected in the new clauses that we have tabled on UK parliamentary elections, but the Scottish National party has not tabled amendments to the provisions we are considering, because we recognise that they affect local elections in England and Northern Ireland. We respect the devolution settlement. Just as we would not expect the UK Parliament to legislate on matters that are devolved to the Scottish Parliament, though it increasingly does, we do not seek to amend this part of the Bill, because it affects local elections. We are, however, disappointed that the more generous and wider application of the principle of franchise has not been applied. It will be a loss to democracy in this part of the world, and to residents who will be affected by decisions over which they will have no say.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 11 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 7

Voting and candidacy rights of EU citizens

Amendments made: 8, in schedule 7, page 122, line 8, leave out sub-paragraphs (1) to (7) and insert—

‘(1) In section 2 of RPA 1983 (local government electors), in subsection (1)(c), for the words from “Ireland” to the end substitute “Ireland or—

(i) in relation to a local government election in England, a qualifying EU citizen or an EU citizen with retained rights, or

(ii) in relation to a local government election in Wales, a relevant citizen of the Union or a qualifying foreign citizen; and”.

(2) In section 4 of that Act (entitlement to be registered as local government elector), in subsection (3)(c), for the words from “Ireland” to the end substitute “Ireland or—

(i) in relation to a local government election in England, a qualifying EU citizen or an EU citizen with retained rights, or

(ii) in relation to a local government election in Wales, a relevant citizen of the Union or a qualifying foreign citizen; and”.

(3) In section 7B of that Act (notional residence: declarations of local connection)—

(a) in subsection (3)(e), for the words from “Ireland” to the end substitute “Ireland or—

(i) if the declaration is made for the purposes only of the registration of local government electors in England, a qualifying EU citizen or an EU citizen with retained rights, or

(ii) if the declaration is made for the purposes only of the registration of local government electors in Wales, a relevant citizen of the Union or a qualifying foreign citizen;”;

(b) in subsection (7)(a), for “by a relevant citizen of the Union; and” substitute “—

(i) in relation to local government elections in England, by a qualifying EU citizen or an EU citizen with retained rights, or

(ii) in relation to local government elections in Wales, by a relevant citizen of the Union; and”.

(4) In section 15 of that Act (service declaration), in subsection (5)(a), for “, or by a relevant citizen of the Union; and” substitute “or—

(i) in relation to local government elections in England, by a qualifying EU citizen or an EU citizen with retained rights, or

(ii) in relation to local government elections in Wales, by a relevant citizen of the Union; and”.

(5) In section 16 of that Act (contents of service declaration), as it extends to England and Wales, in subsection (1)(e) for the words from “a relevant” to the end substitute “—

(i) if the declaration is made for the purposes only of the registration of local government electors in England, a qualifying EU citizen or an EU citizen with retained rights, or

(ii) if the declaration is made for the purposes only of the registration of local government electors in Wales, a relevant citizen of the Union or a qualifying foreign citizen,”.

(6) In section 16 of that Act (contents of service declaration), as it extends to Northern Ireland, in paragraph (e) for “or a relevant citizen of the Union” substitute “or a qualifying EU citizen or an EU citizen with retained rights”.

(7) In section 17 of that Act (effect of service declaration), in subsection (1)(c), for the words from “a relevant” to the end substitute “—

(i) if the declaration is made for the purposes only of the registration of local government electors in England, a qualifying EU citizen or an EU citizen with retained rights, or

(ii) if the declaration is made for the purposes only of the registration of local government electors in Wales, a relevant citizen of the Union or a qualifying foreign citizen,

of the age appearing from the declaration and as not being subject to any legal incapacity except as so appearing.”’

This amendment makes technical amendments to provisions of the Representation of the People Act 1983, to clarify that changes affecting the rights of EU citizens to vote in local government elections in England do not affect the position in relation to local government elections in Wales.

Amendment 9, in schedule 7, page 123, line 6, after “elector” insert “in England”.

This amendment clarifies that section 49(5)(b)(iiia) of the Representation of the People Act 1983 (inserted by paragraph 1(8)(a) of Schedule 7) will apply to England only.

Amendment 10, in schedule 7, page 123, line 11, leave out paragraph (b) and insert—

‘(b) in sub-paragraph (iv), after “elector” insert “in Wales”.’

This amendment clarifies that section 49(5)(b)(iv) of the Representation of the People Act 1983 will continue to apply, but to Wales only.

Amendment 11, in schedule 7, page 124, line 38, leave out “(5)” and insert “(4)”.

This amendment is consequential on Amendment 14.

Amendment 12, in schedule 7, page 125, line 1, leave out from “has” to “granted” in line 2 and insert “UK or Islands leave”.

This amendment and Amendment 16 introduce the term “UK or Islands leave” to mean leave under the Immigration Act 1971 to enter or remain in the United Kingdom, the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man.

Amendment 13, in schedule 7, page 125, line 4, leave out from “with” to end of line 7 and insert

“provision in residence scheme immigration rules for joining family members”.

This amendment expands subsection (2)(b) of inserted section 203B of the Representation of the People Act 1983 to cover provision in residence scheme immigration rules for the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man in relation to joining family members.

Amendment 14, in schedule 7, page 125, line 8, leave out from beginning to end of line 2 on page 126 and insert—

‘(3) A person falls within this subsection if—

(a) the person has UK or Islands leave but does not fall within subsection (2), and

(b) the requirements of subsection (5) are met in relation to the person.

(4) A person falls within this subsection if—

(a) the person does not require UK or Islands leave,

(b) the person is resident in the United Kingdom or any of the Islands, and

(c) the requirements of subsection (5) are met in relation to the person.

(5) The requirements referred to in subsections (3)(b) and (4)(c) are that—

(a) at all times since the relevant date, the person has either had UK or Islands leave or not required UK or Islands leave, and

(b) the person was resident in the United Kingdom or any of the Islands at all times after the relevant date when the person did not require UK or Islands leave.

(6) In determining whether the requirement in subsection (5)(a) is met in relation to a person, any period to which subsection (6A) applies is to be disregarded if the person was resident in the United Kingdom or any of the Islands during the period.

(6A) This subsection applies to any period after the relevant date during which the person required UK or Islands leave but did not have it, if at the end of the period the person was granted UK or Islands leave—

(a) in pursuance of an application made before the end of the relevant date, or

(b) in pursuance of an application made after the relevant date, where the leave was granted—

(i) by virtue of residence scheme immigration rules, and

(ii) otherwise than in accordance with provision in such rules for joining family members.’

This amendment replaces subsections (3) to (6) of inserted section 203B of the Representation of the People Act 1983 with two categories of “EU citizens with retained rights”: those with immigration leave who are not caught by subsection (2), and those who do not require immigration leave but are resident in the United Kingdom, the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man.

Amendment 15, in schedule 7, page 126, line 11, leave out from “having” to “includes” in line 13 and insert “UK or Islands leave”.

See the explanatory statement for Amendment 12.

Amendment 16, in schedule 7, page 126, line 28, at end insert—

‘“UK or Islands leave” means leave under the 1971 Act to enter or remain in the United Kingdom or any of the Islands.’

See the explanatory statement for Amendment 12.

Amendment 17, in schedule 7, page 126, leave out lines 29 and 30 and insert “In this section—”.

See the explanatory statement for Amendment 13.

Amendment 18, in schedule 7, page 126, line 40, at end insert—

‘(11) References in this section to provision in residence scheme immigration rules for joining family members are references to—

(a) paragraph EU11A or EU14A of Appendix EU to the immigration rules or provision replacing either of those paragraphs, or

(b) provision corresponding to provision within paragraph (a) in the Guernsey immigration rules, the Isle of Man immigration rules or the Jersey immigration rules.’

See the explanatory statement for Amendment 13.

Amendment 19, in schedule 7, page 130, line 1, leave out sub-paragraph (5) and insert—

‘(5) In Part 2 of Schedule 1 (modifications of provisions of RPA 1983 applied to local elections)—

(a) in paragraph 7, before sub-paragraph (2) insert—

“(1A) In section 4(3)(c)—

(a) in sub-paragraph (i), omit ‘in relation to a local government election in England,’, and

(b) omit sub-paragraph (ii) (and the ‘or’ preceding it).”;

(b) for paragraph 7A substitute—

“7A In section 7B—

(a) references to the United Kingdom are to be read as references to Northern Ireland;

(b) in subsection (3)(e)—

(i) in sub-paragraph (i), omit ‘in England,’, and

(ii) omit sub-paragraph (ii) (and the ‘or’ preceding it);

(c) in subsection (7)(a)—

(i) in sub-paragraph (i), omit ‘in England,’, and

(ii) omit sub-paragraph (ii) (and the ‘or’ preceding it).”;

(c) before paragraph 12 insert—

“11A In section 15(5)(a)—

(a) in sub-paragraph (i), omit ‘in England,’, and

(b) omit sub-paragraph (ii) (and the ‘or’ preceding it).

11B In section 17(1)(c)—

(a) in sub-paragraph (i), omit ‘in England,’, and

(b) omit sub-paragraph (ii) (and the ‘or’ preceding it).”;

(d) in paragraph 12, for paragraph (b) substitute—

“(b) in subsection (5)—

(i) in the first sentence, omit ‘, or entered in the list of proxies,’,

(ii) in paragraph (b)(iiia), omit ‘in England or entered in the list of proxies’, and

(iii) omit paragraph (b)(iv).”’

This amendment ensures that the amendments made by Part 1 of Schedule 7 to the Bill apply correctly for the purposes of local elections in Northern Ireland.

Amendment 20, in schedule 7, page 130, line 22, at end insert—

‘Northern Ireland Assembly (Elections) Order 2001

9A (1) In Schedule 1 to the Northern Ireland Assembly (Elections) Order 2001 (S.I. 2001/2599) (application with modifications of RPA 1983 etc), the table is amended as follows.

(2) In the right-hand column of the entry for section 49 of RPA 1983 (effect of registers), for the existing text substitute “In subsection (5)(b)(iiia), for ‘a local government elector in England’ substitute ‘an elector’”.

(3) After the entry for section 202 of RPA 1983 insert—

“Section 203A (meaning of ‘qualifying EU citizen’)

Section 203B (meaning of ‘EU citizen with retained rights’)”.

(4) After the entry for Schedule 4A to RPA 1983 insert—

“Schedule 6A (list of countries for purposes of section 203A)”.’—(Kemi Badenoch.)

This amendment makes changes, in consequence of Schedule 7 to the Bill, to the Northern Ireland Assembly (Elections) Order 2001 (Schedule 1 of which applies provisions of RPA 1983 in relation to elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly).

Schedule 7, as amended, agreed to.

The decision on Government amendment 7 will be taken when we consider clause 60.

Ordered, That further consideration be now adjourned. —(Rebecca Harris.)

Adjourned till this day at Two o’clock.

Building Safety Bill (Thirteenth sitting)

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairs: Philip Davies, †Peter Dowd, Clive Efford, Mrs Maria Miller

† Amesbury, Mike (Weaver Vale) (Lab)

† Bailey, Shaun (West Bromwich West) (Con)

Baillie, Siobhan (Stroud) (Con)

† Byrne, Ian (Liverpool, West Derby) (Lab)

† Cadbury, Ruth (Brentford and Isleworth) (Lab)

† Clarke, Theo (Stafford) (Con)

† Clarke-Smith, Brendan (Bassetlaw) (Con)

† Cooper, Daisy (St Albans) (LD)

† Hopkins, Rachel (Luton South) (Lab)

† Hughes, Eddie (Walsall North) (Con)

† Logan, Mark (Bolton North East) (Con)

† Mann, Scott (Lord Commissioner of Her Majestys Treasury)

Osborne, Kate (Jarrow) (Lab)

† Pincher, Christopher (Tamworth) (Con)

† Rimmer, Ms Marie (St Helens South and Whiston) (Lab)

† Saxby, Selaine (North Devon) (Con)

† Young, Jacob (Redcar) (Con)

Yohanna Sallberg, Adam Mellows-Facer, Abi Samuels, Committee Clerks

† attended the Committee

Public Bill Committee

Thursday 21 October 2021

(Morning)

[Peter Dowd in the Chair]

Building Safety Bill

Clause 120

Implied terms in leases and recovery of safety related costs

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

With this it will be convenient to discuss that schedule 7 be the Seventh schedule to the Bill.

It is a pleasure to have you back in the Chair and to serve under you, Mr Dowd.

The Government are committed to ensuring that leases reflect the duties and obligations placed on landlords and tenants to keep buildings safe, and that the costs associated with the regime are fair and transparent. Clause 120 implies terms relating to building safety into leases, so that both landlord and tenant have obligations associated with the new regime clearly set out in their leases. This cements the duties set out in other parts of the Bill.

Clause 120 also ensures that the landlord passes costs associated with the new regulatory regime, via the building safety charge, to leaseholders with long leases of seven years or more. The overriding principle behind the building safety charge is to give leaseholders further information about what they are paying for to keep the building safe and assurance that the manager of the building is charging reasonably. Without the building safety charge, many of these costs would be charged via a service charge. We are introducing this separate mechanism to deliver greater protection to leaseholders, ensuring that costs are transparent and reasonable. By introducing the building safety charge, the Government are ensuring that costs are clearly set out to leaseholders and that certain costs, such as the cost of enforcement against an accountable person, can never be recovered from leaseholders. In well-run buildings, leaseholders will likely see costs partially offset by a corresponding reduction in service charge costs.

Schedule 7 will enable the Government to set out certain obligations for the landlord to fulfil, including providing details of the building safety charge together with a summary of their rights and obligations to leaseholders. Schedule 7 will also give leaseholders the right to request further information about the charge, and they will be able make a written request for a summary of the relevant building safety costs. Once a summary has been obtained, the leaseholder can request more detailed accounts.

We expect that the protections included around the building safety charge will provide the necessary transparency to drive competition to reduce costs for leaseholders. Leaseholders will be able to challenge the costs associated with keeping a building safe in the same way as they can challenge the costs of unreasonable service charges—that is, through the first-tier tribunal.

Clause 120 is key to ensuring the smooth implementation of the new regulatory regime. Setting out further requirements in respect of the building safety charge in secondary legislation—for example, on the obligations of landlords, consultation requirements and excluded costs—ensures that the provisions remain relevant and responsive to changes in the duties of the accountable person or broader leasehold reform. Leasehold law is a highly technical policy area, and it would be inappropriate and counterproductive to include it in the Bill.

We wish to make it clear that remedial costs are not included in the building safety charge. This clause does not make leaseholders liable for the costs of remedial works. Whether or not leaseholders are liable for works is governed by the terms of their existing leases. Clause 120 is vital to ensure transparency on the costs of the new regime, empowering leaseholders to interrogate bills and hold their building owner to account.

It is a pleasure to serve once again under your chairmanship, Mr Dowd.

I have a number of questions. The building safety charge has proved to be somewhat controversial among leaseholders, residents, tenants and cladding campaigners—the UK Cladding Action Group, the Leasehold Knowledge Partnership, the National Leasehold Campaign and so on. The Minister has mentioned that charges will be fair and transparent. What is the definition of fair and transparent? What is the Department’s assessment of what will be fair and transparent? Given that on 17, if not 18, occasions a promise was made not to put charges for historical remediation costs, which we will get on to in a moment, on to the shoulders of leaseholders, there is a real fear that there could be considerable interplay between the building safety charge, historical remediation costs, service charges and so forth. I would like the Minister to expand on that. Of course, many leaseholders over the past two weeks have had massive invoices arrive through the door for remedial costs relating to historical building safety defects. Some are going bankrupt, as I know he and Department officials will know.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the existing service charge system for too many leaseholders is opaque and inconsistent? They never know what they will be charged for and, more important, how much they will be charged in future quarters. Leaseholders need not only an improvement to the current service charge system but to be confident that any new charging system will be far better than the current one.

My hon. Friend makes a powerful and pertinent point, which I am sure the Minister will respond to. I know that it has been a particular issue in shared ownership properties, particularly in London and the south-east. I look forward to the Minister’s response to the points that I and other Members have raised.

The point about fairness and transparency is incredibly important, not least given the comments that the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth made about the opaqueness or otherwise of the existing service charge system. The reason why we will have two clearly defined separate charging systems is to ensure that everybody—leaseholders, landlords and tenants—understands completely what is being covered within the charging system. We will set out further details in secondary legislation, but it is critical that we know—I am sure the hon. Member for Weaver Vale was not confusing the two—that the charges that will be covered by the system are those that result from the introduction of the Bill, and safety aspects that will be applied going forward. It is not about retrospective remediation. There is a clear delineation between the two, and we will make very clear what is covered.

With regard to what might be considered fair, I genuinely feel that, as the system develops people will be able to see within one building what amount is being charged for a particular service or constituent elements of it, and to make a direct comparison with other buildings, how they are being managed and what charges are being applied. They will then be able to use that as evidence to challenge their own bill in the future. Ensuring that people can challenge their bill and ask for further details will be pivotal to the success of the process.

With respect, although it is good to know that there may be yet another, possibly complex, mechanism by which leaseholders can challenge, would it not be better if they did not need to challenge, except in exceptional circumstances? If the system were clear, transparent and honest at the outset there would be less need for challenges.

If there was any ambiguity in what I said, I apologise. The expectation is that this will be clear and transparent from the start. We are not setting out in any way to obfuscate; however, it will be reassuring to know that the safety net of challenge exists should it need to be deployed, which I hope will be a rarity.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 120 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 7 agreed to.

Clause 121

Provision of building safety information

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

We recognise the need to ensure that the building safety regime is compatible with existing legislation, especially when it comes to ensuring that tenants of higher-risk buildings receive important building safety information from their landlords. Clause 121 aligns the Landlord and Tenant Act 1987 with the Bill by ensuring that dedicated provisions are in place for tenants of higher-risk buildings, including those who may be subletting from a long leaseholder, to receive relevant building safety information from their landlords. The clause makes it mandatory for the landlord of a dwelling in a higher-risk building to give the tenant a notice containing the relevant building safety information. The clause states that, where a landlord fails to give such notice to a tenant, any rent, service charge, administration charge or building safety charge that is due from the tenant to the landlord is not due before the landlord gives the notice to the tenant.

The clause amends the Landlord and Tenant Act 1987 by placing a requirement on landlords to include relevant building safety information when giving a tenant a written demand for payment. If the relevant building safety information is not provided with the written demand, any amount demanded, other than in respect of rent, will not be treated as due until such time as the information is provided. The clause specifies that the relevant building safety information will include information about the higher-risk status of the building, and the name and contact details of each person responsible for building safety in their buildings, including details of the Building Safety Regulator. It also makes an exception to those requirements where a court or tribunal-appointed receiver or manager is in place.

Finally, clause 121 allows the Secretary of State to prescribe additional information that must be included in the notice or the written demand. These are key provisions to ensure that tenants have access to vital building safety information about their building—an important principle of our new reforms, which give residents a more transparent understanding of their building’s safety information.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 121 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 122

Amendments to the Commonhold and Leasehold Reform Act 2002

In July 2020 the Law Commission published a report on reinvigorating commonhold, and it has made recommendations to make the tenure a workable alternative to leasehold tenure. In partnership with industry and leaseholders, the Government have also established a new commonhold council, which will prepare homeowners and the market for the widespread take-up of commonhold. Although there are no existing commonhold tenure buildings that fall into the scope of the new building safety regime, it is necessary that we ensure that our new building safety regime applies to new, higher-risk commonhold buildings, as they may be developed in the future.

Clause 122 amends the Commonhold and Leasehold Reform Act 2002 to ensure that building safety management is adequately considered in higher-risk commonhold buildings. As per clause 69, the commonhold association will be the accountable person and will be subject to the fire and structural safety building regime. Clause 122 makes it mandatory for a commonhold association to include in its commonhold community statement provision to ensure compliance with its duties under part 4 of the Bill. It also makes amendments to the Commonhold and Leasehold Reform Act 2002 to ensure that the directors of the commonhold association make an annual estimate of the income required to meet the building safety expenses. That must be detailed in the commonhold community statement of a higher-risk commonhold building.

The clause also ensures that each commonhold unit holder makes payments in relation to building safety expenses to meet the building safety expenses income requirement. The amendments made by the clause are necessary to ensure that the commonhold legislation aligns with the Bill’s requirements.

I want to address a couple of points, for clarity. I thank the Minister for the explanation. Her Majesty’s official Opposition support commonholds and have argued for them for a long time. I am pleased to see the emerging consensus as we listen to stakeholders, whether the Leasehold Knowledge Partnership, the national leaseholder campaign or others in the housing sector. I have one question in relation to the Minister’s opening narrative. In commonhold, are building safety expenses on top of the building safety service charge?

I completely understand. No, that is not separate; it is one of the items that would typically be covered by the building safety charge in other buildings. Exactly the same principle applies.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 122 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 123

Interpretation of part 4

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

The clause contains key definitions used in part 4 of the Bill. It also clarifies the fact that the requirements in part 4 do not apply to the Palace of Westminster. For example, the clause refers to clause 59, citing that we have defined a “building safety risk” as

“a risk to the safety of people in or about a building”

due to “the spread of fire” or “structural failure”. We see those definitions as appropriate and considered, and they are an important addition to aid the understanding of the various clauses that refer to those terms. The clause provides for a specific place in part 4 that can act as a helpful index of the defined terms used in said part.

I am intrigued to know why the Palace of Westminster is included. I do not believe it comes under a definition of a residential building, because I thought only one household lives here. We also know that it is a historic building that is a fire risk and has lots of risks, but it cannot be unique in that, either. Why is it in particular drawn out in the Bill?

On the question of one person officially residing here, it may be that two people end up officially residing here at some point due to historical reasons, so it was worth taking it out, just in case that situation could fluctuate. With regard to other elements of the building’s safety, other legislation applies and ensures safety.

I realise that the other person who once resided here was Emily Davison, who resided one night in the broom cupboard downstairs. I wonder whether that is the second resident to whom the Minister refers.

Order. I would appreciate it if Members intervened while the Minister is on his feet. Otherwise, if we are not careful, we will end up with some sort of badminton.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 123 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 58 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 124

Service charges in respect of remediation works

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

I welcome you back to the Chair, Mr Dowd. On the point raised by the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth about the late Emily Davison, if she is still resident here, she has rather a lot of back council tax to pay because she has been here for 108 years.

The Government are committed to ensuring that landlords exhaust all other avenues of cost recovery before billing leaseholders, and this clause puts that commitment in statute. It places a new legislative requirement on landlords to take reasonable steps to pursue other cost recovery avenues before passing on the cost of remediation works to leaseholders. We know that some building owners are not fully exploring all the cost recovery avenues and are passing costs on to leaseholders as a default. Many are, but too many are not. The clause will help to bring those unfair practices to an end.

The clause will enable the Secretary of State to prescribe the reasonable steps that the landlord must take, and how that landlord can demonstrate to leaseholders that they have taken them. Landlords will need to comply with guidance issued by the Secretary of State, which will provide clarity on the reasonable steps that the landlord must take. The guidance should act as an important resource for all leaseholders and landlords alike, providing clarity and transparency for landlords, and assurances for leaseholders that the requirements have been met.

The clause also requires landlords to provide leaseholders with details of the steps that they are taking and their reasons for their course of action. The Government will be able to prescribe in regulations the information that must be provided to leaseholders. That will mean that leaseholders have sufficient understanding of decisions taken about their building and why any remediation costs have been passed on to them. Landlords will be required to have regard to observations made by leaseholders or a recognised tenants association.

Could the Minister clarify whether the provisions on special measures will apply solely to leasehold blocks, or whether they will apply to rented commonhold blocks as well?

They will apply to all appropriate buildings—my hon. Friend can take it as read that it is a wide definition.

The clause contains a power to define the scope of works that can be classified as remediation works for the purposes of this clause. That will ensure that the Government have sufficient flexibility to make sure that works defined as remediation works are those that are essential for ensuring that buildings are safe. We will define remediation works and relevant buildings in secondary legislation, and that will create scope to amend the regulations at pace, so that they remain relevant and respond to changes in our analysis of risk over time.

The clause is vital to ensuring that all possible avenues for funding remedial works are explored by the landlord and evidenced to the leaseholder before any remediation costs are sought from them. Leaseholders should not have to pay for works when there are other routes for funding. I commend the clause to the Committee.

The Minister raises a pertinent point for many leaseholders in my constituency relating to cases in which builders, companies or developers have folded since they built a building. Those companies may have been originally responsible for remediation costs. I seek reassurance from the Minister that the need in the guidance and any regulations to explore every avenue will cover subsequent builders who took on folded companies or the relevant buildings. Just because the landlord cannot find the original company, or the company no longer exists and so that avenue does not exist, that is not an excuse for bundling the costs on to leaseholders. Those concerns have been raised with me and we need reassurance. I hope we will get that in any regulations and guidance.

I thank the Minister, and my hon. Friend the Member for Luton South for her contribution.

In principle, the clause seems to be a step forward, but in reality, it will hardwire into the Bill the injustice that thousands—indeed, millions—of people are familiar with: they are trapped in their properties, and the Bill will ensure that historical remediation falls on the shoulders of leaseholders. The Ministers and the Department have been in a difficult position because it looks as though the Treasury’s door has been closed to any further financial progress.

Let me read out something to put in context what my hon. Friend says about hardwiring and what the clause does. Darren Matthews says:

“I am ruined. Shared owner (50% for £63,000) and in May was billed £101,500 for remedial works. Block 13.5m tall so doesn’t qualify for BSF but possibly new loan scheme that’ll take 161 years to repay. Madness!”

That is a perfect example of what we are talking about. The clause hardwires unfairness into the Bill. As my hon. Friend the Member for Luton South has just mentioned, many leaseholders will be in the same position as Mr Matthews. How can that be fair?

I thank my hon. Friend for his powerful and insightful intervention. He mentions the case study of somebody who is trapped in this nightmare, which the Ministers and the Department are very familiar with. I will give the Minister another example from social media; it is 47 minutes old. Lucy Brown is a leaseholder trapped in this nightmare that we are, hopefully, collectively trying to resolve. She wrote:

“15 months in the BSF”—

that is, the building safety fund—

“application process. Our managing agent/FH”—

that is, the freeholder—

“won’t agree to the BSF terms (likely those requiring the FH guarantee the works be done to an acceptable standard). The joys of the leasehold system—you own nothing, you control nothing + you pay everything.”

How will the clause solve the problem when that particular landlord—the freeholder in this case—has already decided that they have exhausted the process? The levy is thousands and thousands of pounds, and people are going bankrupt in the current climate. How will this move things forward?

I am grateful for the questions that the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Luton South asked. I will try to address them in toto.

The Government have already committed a significant amount of public money to the remediation of unsafe tall buildings—£5.1 billion—and I am sure we will discuss these matters further when we come to the new clauses tabled by various members of the Committee, so there will be several opportunities to come back to this point.

In the clause, we are attempting to change the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 to allow leaseholders, under regulations, to ask their landlord to demonstrate that they have taken all reasonable steps to find means of paying for mediation before asking the leaseholders for the money. “Reasonable steps” could be: going back to the original builder; checking warranties; or—in the instance that the hon. Member for Weaver Vale raised—asking for grant funding through the various mechanisms that have been made available. If the landlord cannot reasonably show that they have done those things, the leaseholders can seek redress. It will be for the first-tier tribunal to determine whether those reasonable steps have been taken. There is plenty of case law to that effect. As we develop the regulations through secondary legislation, we will have a mind to exactly how those terms are defined.

Will statutory guidance be issued to landlords on what constitutes “reasonable steps”? If not, what engagement work will the Department do to ensure that landlords properly understand their regulatory duties under the clause?

Yes, we will produce statutory guidance, and will consult on it. We will certainly make sure that we consult not only landlords but leaseholders on the guidance, so that leaseholders have input on what constitutes “reasonable steps”. I appreciate that not all leaseholders are legally savvy, so we will make that guidance as plain as possible, to allow them as much power as possible to seek redress when they need to.

Does the Minister recognise that throughout the Bill, leaseholders are not only being left to pick up the tab for these enormous costs, but are having to become lawyers to navigate complex statutory instruments that have not even been published, so that they can get their head around what “reasonable steps” might be? Once that guidance is published—it has not been published yet—there will be reams and reams of litigation, which can drag and drag, because there may well be a disagreement about what constitutes reasonable steps. Does he honestly think it is fair that leaseholders, who are entirely innocent and have done everything absolutely right, are being left to pick up the tab, and are having to become lawyers in order to understand the guidance and the clause?

I am obliged to the hon. Lady for that point; I understand it, and the passion that she brings to the issue. We need to get this right, and to make the process as transparent and digestible as possible. She refers to reams and reams of litigation; if we get the guidance right by consulting the right people, including leaseholders and their groups, we can make it as simple, clear and effective as possible. As for applying to the first-tier tribunal, there is plenty of case law already, and the tribunal has experience of working expeditiously; we will try to make sure that that continues.

I am grateful to Committee members for their questions. Clause 124 is key to making certain that the landlord explores and evidences to the leaseholder—that is very important—all possible avenues for funding remedial works before any remediation costs are sought from the leaseholder. I commend the clause to the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 124 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Before we come to clause 125, for the smooth running of the sitting, may I exhort Members to intervene when the Minister, shadow spokesperson or whoever is speaking is still on their feet? Secondly, may I also exhort Members to be clear if they want to intervene, especially if they are sitting behind the person they want to intervene on? It is the person speaking who decides whether to allow the intervention, not me. Thirdly, when Members intervene, can they keep it as short and sharp as possible? Otherwise, they should make a more substantive intervention in due course. I hope that is clear. Thank you.

Clause 125

Duties relating to work to dwellings etc

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

To aid Committee members in making interventions, I will try to sit down slowly, so that I am standing for as long as possible. In conjunction with clause 126, which is to come shortly, clause 125 makes changes to the operation of the Defective Premises Act 1972. That Act creates a right to bring a claim for compensation where a dwelling is not “fit for habituation” on completion of that dwelling. The Act currently applies only in relation to the provision of a dwelling, mainly when a property was built defectively in the first place. It does not apply to work done to a dwelling beyond its initial completion—not even to major or complex refurbishment works, such as the cladding of a block, which is what Grenfell Tower underwent. The clause seeks to remedy that.

The clause expands the Defective Premises Act by inserting proposed new section 2A into it. The new section will create a duty to ensure that any work done to a dwelling does not render that dwelling unfit for habitation. It will cover subsequent works done to the building after construction. The clause applies where a person takes on work in relation to any part of a relevant building in the course of a business. That means that it does not apply, for example, to homeowners doing work on their own properties. As in the case of the 1972 Act, the person to whom the duty is owed—the person who has the right to bring a claim—is the person for whom the work is done and any person who holds or subsequently acquires a legal or equitable interest in a dwelling in the building. That includes the freeholder of a block of flats as well as leaseholders.

The “fit for habitation” test is the same test used in the 1972 Act. Subcontractors also owe the same duty for the work that they take on. The clause applies to any relevant building defined as a building consisting of or containing one or more dwellings. The new provision will apply to work completed after the clause comes into force. Clause 126 will provide for a 15-year limitation period in relation to this clause.

On the ability of a leaseholder to bring a civil claim against a contractor, there is a real fear about the ability of David to challenge Goliath. In our discussions on the Bill, we have talked a lot about cultural change and historical problems and what is required. I am listening to what the Minister says, but once again my great fear is that unless the provisions can be outlined in terms, how can David challenge Goliath? Will leaseholders get legal aid to challenge contractors? Will there be a level playing field for people who want to bring civil cases against contractors? Historically, as Opposition Members have outlined, many people have been dragged into the realms of the law, and have basically had to devote their life to challenging unfair decisions.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his question. Legal aid is not available in these cases, but there are various remedies people can take, either individually or collectively. It is not necessarily the case that the leaseholder would be bringing the claim. It could be the landlord or freeholder. With clause 125, we want to define a very strict provision. That means that the appellant does not have to demonstrate that fault or negligence has taken place. All they have to demonstrate is that the building is not fit for habitation under the terms of the 1972 Act, and the case law already develops that. Adding new section 2A into the Act strengthens the provision. We consider clause 125 to be an important additional safeguard for homeowners against shoddy work done to their dwellings.

Will the Minister clarify the term “fit for habitation”? Does it mean fit for habitation only with a waking watch? I am trying to get to the bottom of the difference between “fit for habitation” and a building at risk in the more general sense. I have mentioned the example of the Paragon many times. Two years after the flammable cladding was removed, all residents—students and shared owners—had to leave with a week’s notice. Clearly, the risk assessment is that it is not fit for habitation. We all have examples of blocks where waking watch is put in or cladding works are planned. Where is the cut-off?

I am obliged to the hon. Lady. It gives me the opportunity to remind the Committee that, by altering the 1972 Act, we are not simply specifying these changes to taller buildings. It applies to all premises. That is one of the reasons why a whole range of people might use this legislation. To be clear, it is for a court to decide the facts of a specific case—whether a dwelling is fit for habitation. The existing case law, which may be built up and amplified in future, suggests that, in order for a dwelling to be fit for habitation, it must be capable of occupation for a reasonable time without risk to the health or safety of the occupants and without undue inconvenience or discomfort to the occupants. That is the case law definition that the court would understand. Should an appellant bring action against a developer or provider of a building that is defective, that is the definition the court will look at to see whether they have a case. With that, I commend the clause to the Committee.

I thank the Minister and all those who have intervened. Clause 125 is welcome on this side, but it does not go far enough. We welcome the extension to refurbished properties, which we have debated at considerable length with regard to permitted development and additional floors. I know that the Minister will clarify whether the clause captures that scenario in the new building safety regime.

The Minister referred to case law. Others have referred to the nightmare of litigation and the costs in a David and Goliath process. How many claims have been made under the existing regime? The Minister referred to the existing case law, so I am assuming that the Department has made an assessment.

We heard evidence from Justin Bates and Giles Peaker. They suggested that the chances of litigation were minimal. They have considerable expertise in this field on a national and probably an international level. There are learned lawyers on the Government side of the Committee. I am sure that, with their learned experience, they will have something to say on taking litigation forward under this clause.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his support for the clause. He asks two questions. The first is on the volume of case law that has been built up. I will have to write to him or inform him at a later point about the specific number of cases. I remind him that the Defective Premises Act 1972 was passed some 49 years ago—many members of the Committee were not born when that Act was passed. The case law is presumably quite voluminous and therefore the courts will be well able to assess any new cases in the light of that established case law of 49 years.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the evidence given eloquently by Justin Bates—I think that was his name; I apologise if I have got that wrong.

Yes. He gave us some eloquent testimony in one of the Committee’s witness sessions. The reason why our court processes work so very well and why there are court actions—sometimes rather voluminous actions such as there may have been under the 1972 Act—is that there is always more than one view. There will be another lawyer countering the arguments made by someone such as Mr Bates, who will say that there are in fact very good chances for an individual to seek redress using this mechanism. I invite those who wish to use the new powers we are giving them to so do, to test the courts and test Mr Bates. I commend the clause to the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 125 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 126

Limitation periods

I beg to move amendment 14, in clause 126, page 133, line 1, leave out “15 years” and insert “30 years”.

This amendment changes the period for claims under the Defective Premises Act 1972 and the Building Act 1984 to 30 years.

The former Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Newark (Robert Jenrick), admitted that most cladded buildings were built in the period between 2000 and 2017. Given that the Bill is likely to become law only in July 2022 or later, the limitation period is likely to capture only buildings completed up to and around July 2007, assuming that the Bill keeps making pace as quickly as it has. By the Government’s own admittance, then, extending the period for claims under the Defective Premises Act by only 15 years would miss a significant number of buildings, which is why our amendment proposes a change to 30 years. That is based on evidence, which I know other Members will bring to the debate today.

It is important that we do not mistake this change to the Defective Premises Act as giving more than some relief to a small number of leaseholders and residents in the current building safety crisis. Many of their building owners have become insolvent, as Ministers know. As has been mentioned, many leaseholders will simply not be able to tie themselves up in lengthy legal battles with wealthy developers. The Government must fund remediation up front. That does not require a Bill—it is a political decision. The polluter pays principle should be used to recoup the costs. That is the only way to address this.

Our time is certainly not wasted in this Committee Room. Over the last few weeks we have discussed some really good, solid, life-changing proposals and clauses, but the Bill does not address the fundamental principle of polluter pays. The amendment would certainly strengthen the clause. We might not believe it, but sometimes people listen to our debates, read Hansard and go through it line by line, so it is important that collectively we show this place at its best, give life to people’s voices and pass the amendment.

It is a pleasure to serve under you again, Mr Dowd. I reinforce what my hon. Friend the Member for Weaver Vale has said about the number of dwellings that will fall outside the 15-year catch. Obviously, we welcome its being extended from six to 15 years, but a case from my constituency illustrates why 30 years would be more appropriate.

I have had the honour and pleasure to represent Brentford for over 30 years, and a lot of new homes have been developed during that time. My office is keeping tabs on construction issues with blocks of flats, including those in Brentford ward. I can tell which blocks have required no casework during all my years of representation—it is those that were built more than 30 years ago under a regime of good quality construction and in a culture of safety. Those constructed after that were built at a time when standards were starting to fall. The culture of competition and the privatisation of building control meant that there was price competition and a reduction in inspections. There was the demise of the role of the clerk of works, corners were cut, and there was a skills shortage in the construction industry. Taken together, as we have said many times, that created this crisis. My casework shows that well over 25 separate estates in my constituency that were built in the last 20 years—since around 2000—have issues with cladding, lack of compartmentalisation, and shoddy workmanship.

I also picked up casework on damp and safety as a councillor. I will give two examples Even before Grenfell, leaseholders at Holland Gardens, which was built by Barratt, had forced Barratt to replace all the window fixings because they had not been done properly. It was subsequently found that the building had flammable cladding, so scaffolding was put up again. I have already mentioned the Paragon, which was built in about 2003. We do not know what its future is, but it is empty because it is too dangerous to occupy. I absolutely endorse the amendment’s aim of extending the timescale from 15 to 30 years. There is so much evidence. I can see it on my own patch, but we all have evidence.

It is a pleasure to speak under your chairship again, Mr Dowd. I want to add my voice in support of the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Weaver Vale and of the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth. I have similarly seen many developments go up in my home town of Luton, where I live. I am speaking for the leaseholders of Point Red, who have been in touch with me. Point Red was redeveloped in the mid-2000s, and it is touch and go whether the leaseholders would have any recourse under the current 15-year rule, so it is absolutely right that I stand up and support this amendment.

The metaphor of David and Goliath comes to mind. If the Government are committed to supporting leaseholders who, through no fault of their own, have found themselves in very difficult situations with regard to their homes, the period of time that we are talking about should be longer. That could have a life-changing effect on people working in our communities—we are talking about social workers and teachers—who may be made bankrupt, and who may therefore lose their professional accreditation and no longer be able to work. As one small step among many that we are trying to take, the Government’s acceptance of this amendment would be life-affirming for so many of our leaseholders. I urge the Government to consider it carefully and adopt the 30-year period.

I am grateful to the hon. Members for Weaver Vale, for Brentford and Isleworth and for Luton South for the points that they have raised, and I appreciate that this is an important matter. We are mindful of the challenges faced by leaseholders who are specifically affected by the consequences of the Grenfell tragedy, and I hope that when I have spoken, the hon. Member for Weaver Vale will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

The Defective Premises Act 1972 applies not simply to the tall buildings that we are addressing primarily through the Building Safety Bill, but to all buildings. This clause extends the limitation period of the 1972 Act, and under section 38 of the Building Act 1984, from six to 15 years. That is a highly unusual retrospective change, which we believe will provide a legal route to redress that previously would not have been possible for hundreds of buildings, benefiting thousands of leaseholders.

Limitation periods serve several important purposes. They give legal and financial security and certainty; they protect defendants from stale claims, which may be difficult to counter—that is important, too, and we must remember that we are talking about all buildings covered by the Defective Premises Act—and they prevent injustice that may arise from the courts being required to decide on past events on the basis of evidence that may have become unreliable because of the passage of time.

Various limitation periods are set in the Limitation Act 1980 for different types of civil claim, of which this would be one. They range from 12 months for defamation or late payment of insurance claims, to six years for claims relating to some types of contracts, and to 15 years for cases involving negligence. That is where this type of case sits.

My right hon. Friend will also be aware that it is possible, in the course of litigation, to make an application for those periods to be disregarded in the event that it can be proven to the tribunal that there are circumstances that make it possible to do so. Notwithstanding the conversations that we have had in Committee on the cost of litigation, does he agree that there are avenues by which that limitation period can, in extreme circumstances, be extended?

I believe that my hon. Friend is correct in terms of the Limitation Act 1980, rather than the Building Safety Bill.

We cannot go back indefinitely, and a proportionate longstop needs to be arrived at. It is clear, I think, to the Committee and the House that the present six-year limitation period is too short. The 15-year limitation period that we are proposing brings the Defective Premises Act in line with other types of serious civil claim. Of course, were we to choose to go further, we would have to consider what the effect might be on actions brought in relation to the 1980 Act. Any choice of limitation period could be viewed to some extent as arbitrary. There will always be somebody who falls either side of the line. And when we consider a retrospective change, that is even more the case. However, we are clear that hundreds of buildings will be able to benefit from the extension to 15 years. Therefore, and having listened carefully to the hon. Member for Weaver Vale and other members of the Committee, I consider that a 15-year limitation period is appropriate.

To speak specifically to clause 126, it means that claims will be able to be brought for buildings completed up to 15 years prior to commencement of this clause. There has been some criticism—or some other criticism—of the clause, on the basis that individual leaseholders would have neither the expertise nor the funds to bring actions against large developers. We have said that building owners are responsible for ensuring that their buildings are safe, and as we have set out in clause 124, which we have discussed and agreed, they must meet the costs of remediation without passing them on to leaseholders, wherever possible—for example, by recovering costs from applicable warranty schemes, or from the developers or contractors who were responsible for the building and the defects in the first place. Making a claim under the Defective Premises Act will be one of the measures that we would expect building owners to explore. This clause and the previous one expand their opportunity for taking such action, and thereby amplify the culture that we are trying to inculcate across the sector.

Clause 126(1) makes the substantive change to the limitation periods by inserting new section 4B into the Limitation Act 1980. As a result, where a claim is brought under either section 1 or new section 2A of the Defective Premises Act, which we discussed under clause 125, the time limit to bring proceedings is extended from six to 15 years. The same extended limitation period will also apply to actions brought under section 38 of the Building Act 1984.

It might assist the Committee if I explain briefly how the various types of action differ. Section 1 of the Defective Premises Act allows an action for damages to be brought where a dwelling is unfit for habitation as a result of the way it was constructed or converted into a dwelling in the first place. Section 2A, which we have just discussed, allows action to be brought where a dwelling is unfit as a result of other work done to it. That is an addition to the existing Act. Finally, section 38 of the Building Act, which we will bring into force alongside the Defective Premises Act changes, allows an action to be brought for damages where a breach of building regulations in respect of any building, not just domestic premises, has caused damage. That “damage” is a human term rather than damage to a building, so, for example, poor ventilation or a crack in the wall that caused damage to a lung would be a reason for utilising that particular provision in the Act.

Clause 126(2) is technical and reflects changes to limitation provisions since the 1972 Act was passed. Subsections(5) and (6) provide protection for the legal rights of those against whom legal action may be brought under the retrospectively extended limitation period. In very limited circumstances—this is another reason why the hon. Member for Weaver Vale might consider withdrawing his amendment—there is the potential for the defendant’s convention rights, human rights, to be breached by the retrospective extension of a limitation period. I suggest that the longer that period is, the more appetite there might be for a defendant in a case to bring forward action under human rights legislation. We have therefore included subsections (5) and (6), which are important safeguards to ensure that our changes to the Defective Premises Act do not conflict with human rights legislation. That does not mean to say that people may or may not choose to bring court action under human rights legislation.

On counter-litigation under the Human Rights Act, will the Minister elaborate on that scenario and the right to private property?

I am not a lawyer and I cannot second-guess why an individual might choose to go to court using one particular Act of Parliament to defend themselves against another. However, we know that the Human Rights Act is cross-cutting. In any legislation that we scrutinise, we see reference to the Human Rights Act in its annexes. All I suggest to the Committee is that the longer the retrospective limitation period, the greater the chance that individuals may choose to go to court and test the legislation under the Human Rights Act.

Finally, I draw the Committee’s attention to subsection (3), which provides that the clause will be commenced automatically two months after Royal Assent. That will be the date from which the extended limitation period is calculated, including the retrospective period for action under section 1 of the Defective Premises Act. With that, I commend the clause to the Committee.

I apologise, Minister, for my inappropriate limitation on your intervention. As a pre-’69 person, my levels of concentration are not what they should be, I suspect.

I suspect that we will probably come back to this subject on Report, perhaps in a different form of amendment. I thank the Minister for his detailed and considered response. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 126 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 127

Establishment of the new homes ombudsman scheme

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

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Clause 128 stand part.

That schedule 8 be the Eighth schedule to the Bill.

Clause 129 stand part.

This is an exciting day for me. I hope that the Committee will indulge me briefly while I refer back to my time as the chair of the all-party parliamentary group on excellence in the built environment. Our report seeking better redress for homebuyers came just a year after I became an MP, working with the Government and hoping to enjoin them to create a new homes ombudsman—so, an exciting day.

The Government are committed to improving redress for new build homebuyers and improving the quality of new build homes. The clause places a duty on the Secretary of State to ensure that a new homes ombudsman is—finally, I might say—established in England. The clause should be read alongside clause 128, which sets out the conditions that must be met for the new homes ombudsman scheme.

There is no existing provision in legislation for purchasers of new build homes to complain to an ombudsman or redress scheme. The new homes ombudsman is intended to provide clearer and more comprehensive means of redress when problems arise. It will provide a place for new build homebuyers to go with complaints, and it will be able to undertake objective determinations based on its investigations. By creating a trusted independent redress system that is easily accessible, we can drive up performance and create a better housing market.

I thank the Minister for giving way, and may I say what a pleasure it is to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Dowd? Have the Government considered extending the new homes ombudsman provisions to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland?

Regardless of where in the UK people live, it is important that they have access to the redress that we have set out in the Bill. Discussions are ongoing with the devolved nations, because housing is a devolved matter and so it is for them to determine. Those negotiations seem to be going well, and the feeling seems to be warm, so we may have to return to the matter at a later stage of proceedings on the Bill.

The arrangements are flexible to ensure that the best provider can establish and maintain the service. The scheme will be free for homebuyers and is intended to be funded by fees that are paid by the scheme’s members. However, should it be necessary, the clause provides the power to give financial assistance to a person for the establishment and maintenance of the scheme.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that the provisions will allow the new ombudsman scheme to work effectively with other ombudsmen and redress schemes to maximise its impact for affected residents?

Schedule 8 allows the scheme to include provision about a person exercising functions under the new homes ombudsman scheme, and it allows them to do so jointly with persons exercising functions from other redress schemes. It is important that we make it possible to work collaboratively. That may include the making of joint determinations by the new homes ombudsman and an independent person making determinations under another redress scheme. We are considering whether amendments may be required further to facilitate joint determinations and other forms of co-operation between the new homes ombudsman and other ombudsmen or redress schemes. I thank my hon. Friend for that helpful intervention, and it is something we are considering.

Clause 128 relates to the conditions that the new homes ombudsman scheme must meet under clause 127, and it sets out who can make a complaint to the scheme. The clause requires the scheme to be open to all developers to join as members so that qualifying complainants can escalate complaints about the scheme’s members. A qualifying complainant is a person who, at the time of the complaint, is a relevant owner of a new build home in England. The scheme is given the flexibility to set out other persons who can complain about the scheme’s members.

Schedule 8 details the other provisions that the scheme must or may include. This includes provision on which matters may be complained about; how complaints are to be made, investigated, determined and enforced; and complaints about the scheme itself. The scheme must also contain certain provisions required by schedule 8, such as the procedure for developers to become and remain members of the scheme.

To avoid duplication, the scheme may provide that the ombudsman will not be required to investigate and determine complaints that are dealt with under another redress scheme, or complaints that are subject to legal proceedings. The scheme may make provision about working with another redress scheme.

The scheme will require developers to provide complainants with redress if a complaint is well founded. This includes the ombudsman requiring the scheme members to provide compensation, make an apology, provide an explanation or take such other action in the interests of the complainant as the new homes ombudsman may specify. The scheme may also include provision about how the ombudsman’s determination will be enforced. This may include provision for the ombudsman to request a member to take action and, where a developer does not meet its requirements, the scheme may as a last resort include the expulsion of a member from the scheme. In such cases, provision must be made for how they can then rejoin the scheme.

I thank the Minister for giving way, and it is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Dowd. The independence of the scheme is critical and the Minister has not really outlined the make-up of the ombudsman, and how people will be able to have confidence in it. I will keep going back to the culture change point because if the ombudsman is seen as reputable and upstanding, people will have confidence in it. Culture change can then derive from the ombudsman. I welcome the scheme, but I would like a bit more clarity on who will sit on the ombudsman. The explanatory notes say that the scheme could also select a third party to be established to run it, so may we have some clarity on that point, too?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I completely agree with the premise of his point, which is that that independence needs to be present in such a way that those making complaints can have confidence in it. The scheme could be set up in a number of ways. For example, it would be possible for it to be done in-house so that the Government have tighter control of it, or it could be done by another party. With the New Homes Quality Board, a shadow version is being constituted at the moment. We will be able to see further details on that, but there is no presumption that the shadow board would become the final board once the Bill is passed into law. We will be able to get some indication of how the scheme will work by looking at the workings of the shadow board, and details are available for that, but as I say it will be for the Secretary of State to determine in what form it continues to ensure that there is the confidence that the hon. Gentleman so rightly says is important.

May I ask the Minister a question on another aspect of the scheme? It is a voluntary scheme, so I believe that for the developers it is voluntary whether they join or not. Can he clarify that point, and if that is correct, what is the redress for leaseholders and other affected parties in blocks developed by developers that are not voluntary members of the scheme?

I apologise if there was any ambiguity in the point that I was making. Housebuilders will have to be a member of the scheme, so if they do not comply with the scheme requirements and are therefore rejected from it, that will effectively prevent them from developing in the future, and that is why we are making provision for them to rejoin subsequently.

May I get absolute clarification? Is the default that all developers of defined blocks are members of the ombudsman scheme, unless they are excluded? Is that correct?

The purpose of the ombudsman is not only to resolve complaints but to drive up standards of quality. Therefore, the scheme must include provision for the making of recommendations by the ombudsman to improve widespread or regular unacceptable standards of conduct or quality of work by the scheme’s members. Additionally, the scheme must include provision about the provision of information to the Secretary of State and reports on the operation of the scheme. The clause sets out a comprehensive framework for an effective ombudsman scheme that will afford homebuyers substantially more protection and redress than they currently receive.

The new homes ombudsman scheme will allow new build homebuyers to complain to the new homes ombudsman about a developer for up to two years following the purchase of a home from a developer. Clause 129 provides definitions which determine who may complain to the new homes ombudsman, and a definition of a developer, who the Government can require to belong to the ombudsman scheme. The definition of developer includes those constructing new homes and converting existing buildings into new homes, so that complaints about developers of converted homes under permitted development rights, or those creating additional homes from larger buildings with the intention to dispose, sell or grant them to someone else, can be required to become scheme members and subject to the scheme’s rules under clause 130. I hope that offers the hon. Lady some reassurance. Clause 129 also includes a power to include an additional description of a developer, which could include organisations connected to developers.

I thank the Minister for the explanation, and his enthusiasm for the creation of the new homes ombudsman scheme, which by his admittance he has rightly argued for in principle since before coming to this place as a Member of Parliament. In principle, the new homes ombudsman is a good thing, though some Committee members have raised concerns and advocated for ensuring that it will be truly independent. I think new build homes have an average of 157 snags at the moment. We will all be familiar from our casework, regardless of where we represent in Britain, that this is a big and very live issue. I would hope that the ombudsman will change the landscape.

On the New Homes Quality Board, which is operating as a shadow board at the moment, sits Jennie Daly, a group director of Taylor Wimpey. The board has representatives of housebuilders and the finance sector, and the hon. Member for Dover (Mrs Elphicke) is the independent chair. I can think of examples in my constituency of Taylor Wimpey homes that have considerable snags and are what we call leaky homes. The 19 million leaky homes that are not properly insulated have been constructed with gas boilers, fossil fuels and the rest of it. All of them will need to be retrofitted and a number have snags. In fact, there is one such development that will probably go forward in the Sandymoor and Daresbury part of my constituency, on former farmers’ fields, despite all the rhetoric that we hear in this place. I would hope that they will not be leaky homes, full of snags. It is very important that those on the shadow board take things forward in future.

On the reassurance about independence, if someone is part of the club, whether they be Taylor Wimpey or another housebuilder, they are paying for that service. Then the complaint goes from our constituents—our residents—to the ombudsman. I have real concerns about the checks and balances, and the independence. The Minister mentioned that there are various models to take it forward. It could be done in-house or at arm’s length as a Government agency. That would certainly by the Opposition’s preference, via a principle, to ensure that checks and balances are hardwired into the process. In principle, we welcome the new homes ombudsman, which is very much needed, but we already have concerns about the evolution of the process, if we look at the shadow board.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for bringing some of his casework for us to consider. The hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth mentioned the demise of the role of the clerk of works. I started life as a civil engineer but then moved into building site management for housing projects. At that time, we would have had a clerk of works whose job it was solely to monitor the progress of the work and ensure that it complied with the relevant standards. With cost-cutting and other things, we no longer have that, but thanks to the clause and the prospect of the new homes ombudsman, the industry has bought into the concept that quality has to rise and that people will be held more accountable in future.

On the point that the hon. Member for Weaver Vale made regarding the number of snags in a property, we will all have seen that. A comparison that has been made previously is that someone has more rights if they buy a faulty kettle than if they buy a faulty home that has minor problems that do not qualify under the National House Building Council regulation. They do not have something such as subsidence; they just have niggly problems. The developer has taken the money and perhaps trades are no longer on site, and the buyer wants to see those things addressed.

I genuinely think that we will see the industry taking quality much more seriously than they might have previously, particularly with that line of accountability coming back to Parliament. I understand that the hon. Gentleman may have reservations about members of the shadow board. We need to draw the sector into the programme and get them bought into the idea that we will raise quality. I do not think that this Secretary of State or any future one would want to be associated with a product that was not delivering for the public, so they will ensure that that confidence remains.

One of the roles that the ombudsman will be charged with will be dealing with rogue builders. What would happen if one of the members of the board seemed to be classed as a rogue builder? How would the checks and balances be assured going forward?

Such a complex question may be outwith the coverage of the Bill; however, it would be beholden on the Secretary of State to ensure that the process was managed appropriately. Given that the scheme allows for builders who are not complying with the code to be ejected from the ability to develop, I am sure that the opportunity would be there for us to deal with members of the board appropriately. If we can chuck a builder out of the scheme, I am sure that we can deal with a member of the board.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 127 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Ordered, That further consideration be now adjourned. —(Scott Mann.)

Adjourned till this day at Two o’clock.

Nationality and Borders Bill (Seventh sitting)

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairs: Sir Roger Gale, †Siobhain McDonagh

Anderson, Stuart (Wolverhampton South West) (Con)

† Baker, Duncan (North Norfolk) (Con)

† Blomfield, Paul (Sheffield Central) (Lab)

† Charalambous, Bambos (Enfield, Southgate) (Lab)

† Coyle, Neil (Bermondsey and Old Southwark) (Lab)

† Goodwill, Mr Robert (Scarborough and Whitby) (Con)

Gullis, Jonathan (Stoke-on-Trent North) (Con)

† Holmes, Paul (Eastleigh) (Con)

† Howell, Paul (Sedgefield) (Con)

† Lynch, Holly (Halifax) (Lab)

† McLaughlin, Anne (Glasgow North East) (SNP)

† McDonald, Stuart C. (Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East) (SNP)

† Owatemi, Taiwo (Coventry North West) (Lab)

† Pursglove, Tom (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department)

† Richards, Nicola (West Bromwich East) (Con)

† Whittaker, Craig (Lord Commissioner of Her Majestys Treasury)

† Wood, Mike (Dudley South) (Con)

Rob Page, Sarah Thatcher, Committee Clerks

† attended the Committee

Public Bill Committee

Thursday 21 October 2021

(Morning)

[Siobhain McDonagh in the Chair]

Nationality and Borders Bill

Clause 10

Differential treatment of refugees

I beg to move amendment 88, in clause 10, page 13, line 13, leave out paragraph (a).

This amendment would remove a provision allowing the Government to treat refugees differently depending on whether they are Group 1 refugees or Group 2 refugees.

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 89, in clause 10, page 13, line 15, leave out paragraph (b).

This amendment would remove a provision allowing the Government to treat refugees differently depending on whether they are Group 1 refugees or Group 2 refugees.

Amendment 90, in clause 10, page 13, line 17, leave out paragraph (c).

This amendment would remove a provision allowing the Government to treat refugees differently depending on whether they are Group 1 refugees or Group 2 refugees.

Amendment 91, in clause 10, page 13, line 19, leave out paragraph (d).

This amendment would remove a provision allowing the Government to treat refugees differently depending on whether they are Group 1 refugees or Group 2 refugees.

Amendment 92, in clause 10, page 13, line 25, leave out paragraph (a).

This amendment would remove a provision allowing the Government to treat refugees’ family members differently depending on whether the refugee is a Group 1 refugee or a Group 2 refugee.

Amendment 93, in clause 10, page 13, line 26, leave out paragraph (b).

This amendment would remove a provision allowing the Government to treat refugees’ family members differently depending on whether the refugee is a Group 1 refugee or a Group 2 refugee.

Amendment 94, in clause 10, page 13, line 28, leave out paragraph (c).

This amendment would remove a provision allowing the Government to treat refugees’ family members differently depending on whether the refugee is a Group 1 refugee or a Group 2 refugee.

Amendment 95, in clause 10, page 13, line 30, leave out paragraph (d).

This amendment would remove a provision allowing the Government to treat refugees’ family members differently depending on whether the refugee is a Group 1 refugee or a Group 2 refugee.

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair again, Ms McDonagh. I will also speak to the other amendments in the group.

We have now come to one of the most fundamental clauses of one of the most fundamental parts of the Bill. As my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North East and I set out on Second Reading, we regard both as totally outrageous. In essence, the avowed policy aim is to give the Secretary of State powers to treat certain refugees dreadfully in order to deter others from coming to this country. I find it extraordinary just to be saying that.

Over the course of this debate and the three to follow, we will ask lots of questions in the hope that the Minister will explain a little more what the Government intend to do with these extraordinary powers. We will also challenge the legal policy and, indeed, the ethical basis. We will make the case that in fact the clause will make the asylum system worse, not better. To all intents and purposes, the measure is an attempt to close the asylum system down to a large degree.

There are all sorts of problems with the asylum system: 70,000 asylum applicants were waiting for a decision as of June 2021, more than three quarters of them outstanding for longer than six months. Work has to be done to fix the system, but this measure is not what is required. In fact, as I said, the clause will make it worse.

Most of the broad discussion will take place in the stand part debate; the amendments are designed more to get the Government to flesh out exactly what they want to do with the powers. In doing so, as on Second Reading, I will speak about the implications for a Uyghur asylum seeker, a Syrian asylum seeker and a persecuted Christian seeking asylum, because I want to ensure that the Home Office is tested on its assertion now, and later on Windrush, that it is looking at the face behind the case—it is important to keep in mind who we are talking about. The clause will be particularly disastrous, allowing the Secretary of State almost to punish the individual, to make an example of them, as a form of deterrence.

Of the amendments in the group, amendments 88 and 93 would remove the power to grant so-called group 2 refugees and their families shorter periods of leave to enter or remain. Currently, refugees receive five years’ leave before becoming eligible for settlement. Nothing in the Bill or the explanatory notes tells us what the Government intend to do with the powers. The new plan talks vaguely of no longer than 30 months, with continual assessments thereafter of potential return to a country of origin or of removal to another safe country. My first question is, what is the Government’s proposal? Is it 30 months or, as dreadful as that prospect is, is it worse? Will it be a shorter period?

That is my first question, but the key point is that reducing leave to 30 months or less will have dreadful consequences for our three refugees. Having fled serious persecution, having endured a dreadful journey and having survived six months or more of going through the tortuous inadmissibility procedure—perhaps even an asylum claim—within an accommodation centre, our refugees require stability, a sense of home and the possibility of putting down roots, finding work and rebuilding their lives. All that is being taken away if the powers in the Bill are used as proposed in the new plan.

Would the hon. Gentleman describe a person who has come directly to the UK from France as a person escaping persecution? If so, will he describe the sort of persecution that that person might have experienced in France?

That point was made repeatedly on Second Reading, but the big problem with the right hon. Gentleman’s question is that the language of the Bill itself recognises that such people are refugees. The Uyghur is clearly fleeing persecution, the Syrian is fleeing persecution by the Assad regime and the persecuted Christian is fleeing persecution. A refugee does not cease to be a refugee because he has gone on to a different country. We will come to a different debate under clause 14 on the circumstances in which it might sometimes be legitimate for a state to say, “Actually, you are in France and it would be appropriate for France to assess your asylum claim.” I am not saying that is never permissible—far from it—but we will have that debate on clause 14.

The people we are talking about here, however, have been through all that. The Home Office has attempted to move them to France or another country, it has not had any success in doing so and they have been recognised as refugees, so the question is how we treat those three people.

Does the hon. Gentleman share my concern that those who purport to demand that France take more asylum seekers need to be mindful of the fact that France already takes three times as many asylum seekers as the UK, and that we need to meet our international obligations rather than seeking to demand that others take more of a share than we are taking?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. That is exactly why the Government are embarking on a dangerous slippery slope. If the case is that the UK cannot cope with the number of asylum claims that have been made here, which I do not think can remotely be the case, because it is not a remarkable number in the grand scheme of things over the past 25 or 30 years, and therefore we need to take all these steps, then clearly France and Germany and Italy will all be perfectly entitled by that same logic to do the same thing. When that chain of dominoes finishes up and we get to Lebanon and Pakistan, the countries neighbouring the countries where these people have been persecuted, the whole system of international protection falls apart.

Returning to the point I was making about how reducing the period of leave will be fundamentally detrimental to people’s ability to put down roots, to integrate and to feel part of UK society, I wanted to finish by saying that the VOICES Network, people who know the asylum system first-hand, in their response to the new plan consultation remarked that the proposal would

“perpetuate the insecurity and uncertainty of the lives of these people with damaging implications for their mental health.”

I think they are absolutely right.

I have a number of questions for the Minister. How many people does the Home Office anticipate will fall into this group in the first years of the policy? What impact does he believe the policy will have on the mental health, employment prospects and levels of integration for refugees such as a Uyghur, Syrian or persecuted Christian? It seems apparent to me that the measures will undermine all that. What will happen to children? What will the cost implications be for the local authorities and health services that are supporting them?

Similar moves in Australia have had exactly the impact I am talking about. As the Australian Human Rights Commission reported in 2019:

“Uncertainty about their future, the inability to make long-term plans and the stress associated with having to reapply for protection (including the anticipatory distress of potentially being returned to the country from which they had fled) caused significant distress and anxiety amongst TPV holders, hampered their capacity to recover from past trauma and resulted in poorer settlement outcomes.”

The Australian Red Cross said that

“temporary protection institutionalises uncertainty, and often poverty, amplifying pre-existing trauma and suspending the process of settling into a new country.”

I have no reason to think that that will not be the fate of the Uyghur, the Syrian or the persecuted Christian if these provisions are enforced for them. That, unfortunately, appears to be exactly what the Government want to achieve, and that is the shame of the whole policy.

On the other side of the coin, given the record delays and problems in processing asylum claims that the Home Office already faces, why on earth do we want to require the Home Office to process the same cases and applicants over and over again over a 10-year period, adding exponentially to caseworker workloads? Can the Minister confirm what exactly the review process will entail? What will be the targeting for these decisions? What happens to refugees whose 30 months or less have expired while they were waiting? How many additional decisions does the Home Office anticipate it will have to make from the third year onwards, and how many extra staff will that require? This is not only disastrous for asylum seekers, but pretty bad news for Home Office caseworkers.

Amendments 89 and 94 would remove the Secretary of State’s right to punish a Uyghur, Syrian or persecuted Christian by denying them indefinite leave to remain on the same basis as other refugees. That settlement provides the ultimate safety and security and is currently available after five years. Again, the Bill does not say what the Government’s intentions are with this power, but it is understood that they propose 10 years of short-term visas before settlement would become available. Can the Minister confirm precisely how the Secretary of State intends to use these powers? What else will be required of a refugee at the 10-year stage? Will there be a fee? What tests will we require to be met? These arguments are similar to those I made for amendments 88 and 93, so I will not repeat them. The key point is the same: instead of offering security, integration and the opportunity to rebuild their lives, the Syrian, the Uyghur and the persecuted Christian have been faced with uncertainty, re-traumatisation, stress and anxiety.

Amendments 90 and 95 are designed to remove the Secretary of State’s power to impoverish these three asylum seeker groups. The power would see universal credit, child benefit and local authority homelessness assistance among the crucial safety nets torn away from them. The explanatory notes say that the power will not be applied in cases of destitution. Minister, if the power must be kept, why not put that in the Bill? Fundamentally, how will it work, and how will it be assessed? Especially after months and years of being excluded from work, refugees will be destitute from the point that they are recognised. Will it happen automatically? How will the Secretary of State review that? How much more work will that entail for Home Office staff?

Does the hon. Gentleman not agree that these amendments play into the business model of the people smugglers in that they would discourage people from claiming asylum in the first safe country they reach, tempting them to make the hazardous journey in a non-seaworthy craft across the channel, feeding into the organised criminals who prey on those poor vulnerable people?

I have absolutely no problem with measures that go after the people smugglers. We all share the goal of disrupting their model. We draw the line at punishing the victims and going after them in an attempt to disrupt and undermine people smuggling. First, I find that morally indefensible. Secondly, as I will come to later, there is no evidence that it will work.

Does the hon. Gentleman share my concern, which is twofold? First, the best way to tackle the people smugglers is to provide safe routes, because then they are denied the chance to smuggle people to begin with. Secondly, a Xinjiang Muslim who faces forced sterilisation and forced labour is not going to be aware of UK law and what status they enter under. It is complete nonsense to think that refugees and asylum seekers fleeing persecution and torture are going to be aware of UK law, whatever goes into the Bill.

I absolutely agree. The hon. Gentleman makes two points. Yes, safe legal routes can and will make an impact. If people have safe legal routes, they do not need to turn to people smugglers. The Government acknowledge this when they speak about the safe legal routes they support.

There are various other measures we have to take. Our intelligence and police and security forces need to do everything they can to interrupt these networks. It is about international co-operation, including with France, as the Minister alluded to at Home Office questions on Monday. We support those measures, but we do not support deliberately impoverishing the Syrian, the Uyghur and the persecuted Christian and denying them universal credit, homelessness assistance or the child benefit that other citizens in this country get if they need it. I will come back to that in the clause stand part debate.

The Home Office knows this. It did research 20 years ago. If it has done any more since, it is not published. There is no evidence to show that people sit down with a nice table comparing family reunion rights and asylum procedures in all the different countries and then say, “Let’s go for that one.” They come here for a whole host of reasons. Many go to other countries for a whole host of reasons—language, family links, the influence of people smugglers, or they may have a friend or colleague here. Perhaps they just identify with the culture. There are myriad reasons why people end up in France or the United Kingdom, but it is not for these reasons. That is why these provisions will not work.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that one of the other reasons people come to the UK is that the payment to the people smugglers is only the deposit and the main payment is through modern slavery, forced labour or other ways in which those people are being exploited when they get here? Often, for example, Vietnamese people coming here are put into prostitution or nail bars and that type of work. That is why they want to get here, because that is the business deal. They come here to work in the black economy.

The right hon. Gentleman fairly describes the circumstances that many find themselves in and it is another policy route that I would be fully behind. In this country, we are way behind where we need to be. We have statutes on the book and we will come to modern slavery later, but some of the measures in part 4 of the Bill will undermine the Home Office’s good work on modern slavery from just a few years ago, which the right hon. Gentleman was part of. Even with those statutes on the book, the system for inspection and finding where this is happening is just not up to scratch. The national referral mechanism takes forever to make decisions. The way it has been implemented is not effective at all; in fact, it is a boon to people traffickers and people who undertake exploitation. So yes, I am happy to support any work that addresses those concerns.

Amendments 91 and 92 would remove the Secretary of State’s power to strip the Syrian, Uyghur or persecuted Christian of their right to family reunion—the right of the Secretary of State to keep their families split apart. Under current law, having been recognised as a refugee, they could apply for reunion with their spouse or partner and with children under 18. For years, parliamentarians across the House have been pushing for broader family reunion rights and it is only a few years since Parliament voted in favour of the private Member’s Bill that my hon. Friend the Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Angus Brendan MacNeil) promoted on the subject. It is another crucial building block in allowing refugees to rebuild their lives, as that Bill recognised.

The Government say it is all about safe legal routes, but this is pretty much the only place where the Bill says anything about them, and now it seems the Government intend to reduce family reunion rights. The crucial question for the Government is simply: is that correct? How will they use the power? Will they prevent spouses and partners from being reunited? Are they going to prevent children from reuniting with a parent? Family reunion is probably the most pivotal safe legal route there is to safety in the UK and it is all the more imperative because without the safe legal route, it seems obvious that the most likely people to try to come here via unsafe routes are those who have family members here.

With around 6,000 family reunion visas issued every year over the past five years, let us also be clear that around 90% are issued to women and children. The real danger is that any restrictions will ultimately mean that many more women and children end up on the boats in the channel or taking other unsafe routes. The danger here is that the Government do the opposite of what they say they intend, and drive people into the arms of the smugglers the Bill is designed to foil.

Again, that is what the Australian experience tends to show us. The Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law notes that after temporary protection visas were introduced,

“there was an increase in the number of women and children who arrived in Australia by boat. According to personal accounts, this was because the TPV regime precluded family reunion. The ineffectiveness of TPVs is the very reason that they were abolished by the Rudd Government.”

Instead, we should do what my hon. Friend’s Bill would have done: expand rules to allow adult children and siblings up to 25 and make other changes. That would reduce the numbers in boats.

In conclusion, all the examples of discrimination in the Bill are just that: examples. The Bill is drafted so as to leave the Secretary of State’s power to discriminate completely and utterly unconstrained. That is pretty shocking. While the amendments test the Government on their intentions in relation to those particular subjects, it is also important to know that the Secretary of State could plan all sorts of other forms of discrimination. Can the Minister clarify what other methods of discrimination the Secretary of State is contemplating?

Thank you, Chair, and good morning, everybody. The Government say they are introducing this Bill because they want people who need our protection to use safe and legal routes, but where are those routes? Where in the world and where in the Bill are they? On several occasions, the Minister has made it sound as if this Bill is all about those safe and legal routes, but it is not, because there is no provision for them and they are barely even mentioned.

I have heard those of us who oppose what the Bill does characterised as wanting people to make those dangerous journeys. Of course we do not want that. Our solution is the safe and legal routes that we keep hearing about but not have. They need to be set up and promoted, and people need to be able to use them. One of the safer legal routes that does exist, and is the most likely to be used, is the family reunion route, but this Bill takes that away from people who do not arrive by the mode of transport or in the way that the Government want them to.

Turning to amendment 91, I want to use the example of somebody from Afghanistan, which will also speak to amendment 15. I am using the examples of people, or their family members or friends, who I represent—I know that we were all inundated with requests from people in our constituencies who needed help for people in Afghanistan.

Mr L worked for a British charity in a programme funded by the UK Government around preventing violence against women. He has made an application for relocation, but he has heard absolutely nothing and I cannot get him any information. He and his wife had to go into hiding because his family was being targeted. The Taliban have already made threats against his wife, who, like him, is just 22 years old. The Taliban got messages to her that she will be raped multiple times if they can find her. His father has already been kidnapped by the Taliban and has been tortured by them. Who knows what will become of him?

Mr L’s wife has had such a severe mental breakdown that he had to make the decision to send her to what he hopes is a safe house in Afghanistan, as he thinks he has more chance of securing relocation for him and his wife if at least one of them can get out of Afghanistan. He is now paying illegal traffickers to get him out because he is so desperate to get this situation resolved and is hearing nothing, and weeks and months have gone by. Of course the traffickers are wrong, but is he wrong? Is he wrong to pay them? If he is wrong, what should he do instead? What options have we given him? I do not want him to do this. As an MP, I am not in a position to give him any kind of legal advice, and I know this is not safe for him to do. Does the Minister want me to go back to him and say that, despite all the promises we made to the people of Afghanistan, I do not have options to offer him?

I want to quote a couple of things that were said by Conservative MPs in August, when everything escalated in Afghanistan. The right hon. Member for South West Surrey (Jeremy Hunt) said:

“There is something we can do right now: cut through bureaucracy and ensure that we look after every single Afghani who took risks for themselves and their families because they believed in a better future and trusted us to deliver it.”—[Official Report, 18 August 2021; Vol. 699, c. 1307.]

I am sure we all agreed with that at the time. The right hon. Member for Esher and Walton (Dominic Raab) said:

“Like the Home Secretary, let me just say that, as the son of a refugee, I am deeply proud that this Government are continuing the big-hearted tradition of the British people in offering safe haven to those fleeing persecution.”—[Official Report, 18 August 2021; Vol. 699, c. 1370.]

The right hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby gave a welcome from the Scarborough community and talked about

“refugees who had left, in many cases with nothing more than the shirts on their backs. They will have gone through a very traumatic process to even get to the airport and now they have arrived in Scarborough. For many people, the consequences of not getting out of the country would be certain death.”

So, I know he completely understands the trauma that people are going through and their desperation.

That was in August and we are now in October. The people I am talking about are no less desperate—they are more desperate—and I do not know what to say to them. I will have to tell Mr L that if he somehow manages to have his wife looked after, while she tries to recover her mental health, and he manages to get here, he could be offshored, sent away or jailed. He may never see his wife again because we will take away the right to family reunion. That cannot be right.

The people of Afghanistan are desperate—I have read out only a few of the quotes, but I know that all members of the Committee understand that. Time is just not on their side, so we must remove the provision—I would remove all of it. I ask the Committee to support amendment 15, at least to remove those consequences for the people coming from Afghanistan, to whom we absolutely owe safe refuge.

Does the hon. Lady accept that the 242 Afghan refugees who are temporarily in Scarborough before being relocated around the country came here by safe and legal routes? I am sure that when the Minister responds, he will explain how we can set up different, and better, legal routes to get some of those vulnerable people here. That must not be done by feeding into the people-smuggling industry.

I absolutely endorse the ambition for everyone to be able to get here by safe and legal routes, but nothing in the Bill will set up any safe and legal routes. In fact, they will be taken away from some people.

We should be doing that, but we will never be in a position where everybody is able to access safe and legal routes. We will never be in a position where everybody who is entitled to claim asylum can access it, and we should not be punishing them if they cannot. Right now, there are 242 people in Scarborough, but how many thousands more are there in Afghanistan? They need to get out. If they feel that their lives are at risk and they cannot stay any longer, but they can only get here by their own means—I would rather they came by the Government’s means, but nothing is happening there—I could not say to them, hand on heart, that they should just stay where they are.

To respond to the earlier intervention, does the hon. Lady recognise that people from Afghanistan are currently one of the four largest national groups risking their lives on channel crossings?

Absolutely, and I thank the hon. Gentleman for reminding me of that. For me, it is wider than that: Afghanistan just showed us what is happening throughout the world. It may have been escalated and was very intense at the time, but things like that happen throughout the world. Right now, people from Afghanistan are coming over by boat, and honestly—I am looking at the right hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby, but I should really be looking at the Minister—I do not think that anyone can morally justify telling those people that they face jail or offshoring, and that they may never see their families again because of new rules that we are introducing.

Nobody doubts anyone in this Parliament on their compassion or their feeling for people who are in very vulnerable situations. We should not agree, however, on the route that the hon. Lady is almost advocating—using people smugglers—which is, in effect, means-testing the refugee process so that only those who have the money to pay the people smugglers can come, not the people who are perhaps most vulnerable and most likely to be suffering persecution. Indeed, the gender balance favours men, who seem to be the ones who get here by illegal routes, and not women, who are the most vulnerable people in Afghanistan.

I do not know where to start with that. I take real exception to what the right hon. Gentleman said about my endorsement of people smugglers and those routes. I have been very clear that we do not want anyone to use people smugglers. I have given the Committee an example of somebody’s experience, and perhaps the right hon. Gentleman can tell me what that man should do. His wife is seriously ill and is being looked after following a mental breakdown, because the Taliban told her that many of them will rape her multiple times if they catch her. How desperate would any of us be in that situation? I am not endorsing people smugglers in any way, and I wish he would take back that remark, because it is very unfair.

Another thing I want to mention, as I have a number of times in this place, is the gender balance. To say that men are not vulnerable is just not true. Often, men seek asylum because they would otherwise be conscripted into the army or tortured. I know many male asylum seekers who faced torture or conscription and had to flee. The other reason that more men come over is that they are coming to safety so they can then send for their family. As my hon. Friend the Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East said, all the measure will achieve is that women and children will come with the men and make that dangerous journey as well. He said something else that, if I remember, I will come back to later

I was not suggesting that the hon. Lady was advocating people smuggling, but unfortunately the law of unintended consequences comes into play. Taking Syrian families under our vulnerable persons resettlement scheme was the right way to proceed. None of the people I visited in refugee camps in Jordan had the means to pay people smugglers. In many ways, it is a means-tested operation if the route used by people smugglers is perceived to be of equal standing to legal and lawful routes, like those by which we took people from Afghanistan and took the people chosen by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in refugee camps in Syria.

I remind the hon. Lady of the right hon. Gentleman’s earlier point. Unfortunately, the abhorrent models of people smuggling result in people coming to this country who are locked into debt relating to their journey. It is not as simple as saying it is means tested. There are lots of unfortunate arrangements in that model, which we all want to end, but safe and legal routes will be how we achieve that.

Exactly. I thank the hon. Member for saying that. The right hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby argues that those who have money are not vulnerable or in danger of persecution. In the case of the 22-year-old I was talking about, I have no idea how much money the couple have. They may be wealthy beyond our wildest dreams, but that does not stop her being under threat of multiple rapes by the Taliban. The money is a bit of a red herring.

Often, a vulnerable young man will pay the people smugglers with money gathered by the wider family selling property, because they need somebody to get out and get help for the whole family. We cannot assume that they have the money in the first place, or that they are not clocking up a debt that they will have to pay back, or that the fact of having money will make any difference to their safety.

The right hon. Gentleman says that the effect of my opposition to the proposal leads to people not using safe and legal routes. He says that he is not saying that I am endorsing the people smugglers, but equally, I could say that his refusal to push his Government to set up safe and legal routes before bringing in any other legislation is a case of him endorsing people smugglers. What other option do people have? Now, I am not saying that, but I hope he takes my point.

The hon. Lady is misrepresenting the point my right hon. Friend made. He was not in any way suggesting that those with wealth cannot be vulnerable, but it cannot possibly sit comfortably with people who describe themselves as socialist to suggest that there should be channels that are, in effect, available only to those with substantial wealth, on a scale different from much of the rest of the vulnerable population.

Order. I am sorry to intervene, but I think we have to stop reinterpreting what the last person to speak said. We are all quite clear that no one in this room supports people traffickers. We should move on.

Thank you, Ms McDonagh. That was a rather ridiculous intervention, so I was unsure whether to reply to it.

As UK law stands, an Afghan who had dared to work for and with the UK, protect the UK, in the past 20 years or so—perhaps as a guard at the embassy in Kabul—and who feared the threat to their family of the Taliban takeover so much that they gave their child to the US to evacuate from the country, cannot come into the UK under the family reunion visa. Perhaps one thing that we can agree on, and that the Minister could include in the Bill, is an extension of the family reunion visa beyond spouses and dependants.

I would absolutely support that. I had no intention of speaking for any more than five minutes, but Members keep on interrupting and goading me. I want to make two more little points, if I may. The Bill is being brought in because there is a mistaken belief that asylum seekers across the world are desperate to get to the UK. I am not sure why they would be if they ever watch parliamentlive.tv, but the fact is that most people coming to Europe as a whole think that Europe is one homogenous place. They do not think in terms of countries. This is not anecdotal; studies have been done on people who come to live here. Similarly, people often think that Africa is a country, when it is more than 50 countries.

Asylum seekers are not looking to go to a particular country. If they choose to come to the UK, it is perhaps because they have family or friends here, which is hugely important, or because they speak the language. They do not speak French or German, but they do speak English and do have family here. Imagine the turmoil when people’s city is bombed. They do not recognise the streets any more, and they do not know where their family are. They know that they could be raped, tortured or murdered at any moment. Imagine the trauma from that. People know that they have to get away. Of course they do not want to leave, but they have to do so. We should all think about that happening to us. We are so lucky that it will probably never happen to us. If it did, we would want to be with people who made us feel safe. If someone has family or friends in the UK, they should be able to join them. Yes, that is a pull factor, as is the language. There is also a mistaken belief that the great British empire was all-welcoming, all-democratic and all-supportive of human rights, which is another reason why people come to the UK.

The truth is that most people who arrive by boat have not decided that they are coming here; the smugglers have decided it. As my Friend the Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East said, we should be targeting the smugglers, not their victims. We should take away their market, and the only way to do that is to provide the safe and legal routes on which we apparently all agree. But where are they?

I will make one more point, which is about France. We have established that, under the international legislation that the UK played a major role in developing, there is no requirement to claim asylum in the first so-called safe country that somebody arrives in. However, it is important to understand why someone fleeing persecution, and probably suffering from mental health impacts such as post-traumatic stress disorder, might not want to claim asylum in France—I am using France as an example. Why would an asylum seeker choose to make a dangerous crossing? As I said, most people are not choosing; the people smugglers are choosing. Why might they choose to make a dangerous channel crossing, when they could claim asylum in France? I have spoken about the fact that people do not choose their route, but it is well established that the asylum system in France has a reputation for being harsh. I know there are Members present who like the idea of harshness, but we do not.

A 2020 ruling by the European Court of Human Rights condemned France for inhumane living conditions for asylum seekers. Having spent a few days with my hon. Friend the Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East in the jungle in Calais a few years ago, I saw exactly what the court meant. France might take in many more people than we do in the UK—I believe that we do not treat asylum seekers as well as we should do when they arrive here, and we certainly will not do so if the Bill passes—but France is not where I would want to be if I needed international protection, especially if I had to recover from trauma.

Even during the pandemic last year, when we all agreed that there should be a break in evictions and that everyone should have a roof over their head, asylum seekers sleeping in tents in France where thrown out of their tents and tear-gassed, no doubt triggering terrible memories for many of them. When I was in the jungle, parents there told me that their children no longer played in the little playpark nearby because far-right activists set off fireworks to terrify them, and terrify them it did, as these kids fled, thinking that they were being bombed again.

In addition, the housing situation for asylum seekers in France has only got worse, with asylum seekers such as Hussain, interviewed by the New Humanitarian in April, being forced to sleep rough on the streets of Paris over a year after he submitted his application. The French National Consultative Commission on Human Rights went so far as to say:

“It is true that the conditions in France make people want to leave”.

Nicolas De Sa-Pallix, a French asylum lawyer, condemned the French Government’s approach, and his words should act as a warning for Government Members:

“They talk about being both humane and tough in migration policies, but these don’t go together…You can’t have both.”

I agree, so why not just respond to the plight of these people, facing things that none of us will ever have to face, with humanity?

I thank the hon. Members for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East and for Glasgow North East for all their hard work in this area, and for their engaging speeches. I do not doubt for a moment the sincerity of their contributions. Nobody should be in any doubt about the sincerity of the deeply felt views expressed by all Members of this House, who I genuinely believe want to see appropriate action to tackle dangerous channel crossings. I wanted to make that point at the outset, because it is important to remember that in the context of today’s debate.

As hon. Members will know, the clauses that they seek to amend are crucial to the Government’s intention to uphold the first safe country of asylum principle. In that respect, the clauses are designed to deter dangerous journeys across Europe by no longer treating migrants who come directly to the UK and claim without delay in the same way as those who do not. I am sure that hon. Members will agree that we must do everything in our power to stop people putting their lives in the hands of smugglers and making extremely perilous journeys across the channel.

I echo what the Minister says: everybody present wants to see an end to such crossings. He used the word “migrants” a couple of times, but as the Bill reflects we are talking about people who have gone through the refugee process. They are refugees, and it is very important that in this debate we speak about the fact that this is happening to refugees—hence the term “group 2 refugee”.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention.

I will take amendments 88 to 95 in one go, as they individually seek to remove key constituent parts of clause 10 in order to prevent the exercise of the powers to differentiate. That is not the effect of the amendments as drafted, but I shall none the less assume that the intent is as I just set out. Hon. Members are no doubt familiar by now with the way in which the policy is proposed to operate. For the avoidance of doubt, though, clause 10 provides a non-exhaustive list of examples of where differential treatment may be applied to group 2 refugees—in other words, those who do not meet the requirements set out in clause 10, which are based on criteria set out in article 31 of the refugee convention. That includes in relation to the length of leave issued, requirements to achieve settlement, recourse to public funds and family reunion rights.

As mentioned, the clause is extremely important because it acts on our commitment to do everything that we can to deter people from making dangerous journeys to the UK at the hands of smugglers, when they could claim asylum in a safe third country. I will pick up on a number of important points that were made, as it is right to provide clarification on them.

First, the question was raised of how the Secretary of State intends to use these powers. As we talked about in relation to the earlier provisions in the Bill, this will be set out in the normal way in the immigration rules and guidance in due course.

With regard to differentiation, a question was rightly asked about the assessment of mental health needs. The process in the Bill contains enough flexibility for decision makers to take vulnerabilities, such as mental health conditions, into account when determining group 2 status. Details will, again, be set out in guidance, and I would expect that to be properly taken into account when decisions are made on individual cases.

The Minister is seeking to reintroduce a system that the UK has used before. In the 1930s, German Jews who had reached these shores were, in some cases, sent back if they had been through other countries. Famously, in one case, Jewish brothers who were deported back to Belgium went on to be murdered by the Nazis. Why are the Government seeking to turn back the clock with such potentially disastrous consequences? Why is the Minister not more proud of the British tradition and of the British contribution to creating the refugee convention?

I thank the hon. Member for that intervention. What I am proud of is this country’s long-standing tradition of doing right by those fleeing persecution from around the world. That is a proud tradition in this country, and something that I think Members on both sides of this House can agree on. It is something that this Government remain absolutely committed to. We are very clear that people should come here utilising safe and legal routes. That is the right way to come into this country.

Let me just make this point, because I am conscious of the comparisons that the hon. Member sought to draw to the 1930s. We are, again, very clear—I say this for the record—that we do not return people to countries where they would be in danger.