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General Committees

Debated on Wednesday 16 November 2022

Delegated Legislation Committee

Draft Cessation of EU Law Relating to Prohibitions on Grounds of Nationality and Free Movement of Persons Regulations 2022

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chair: Mr Peter Bone

† Bacon, Gareth (Orpington) (Con)

† Buck, Ms Karen (Westminster North) (Lab)

† Burgon, Richard (Leeds East) (Lab)

† Grant, Mrs Helen (Maidstone and The Weald) (Con)

Johnson, Dame Diana (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab)

† McCartney, Karl (Lincoln) (Con)

† McDonald, Andy (Middlesbrough) (Lab)

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

† Mishra, Navendu (Stockport) (Lab)

† Morris, Anne Marie (Newton Abbot) (Con)

† Pursglove, Tom (Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work)

† Russell-Moyle, Lloyd (Brighton, Kemptown) (Lab/Co-op)

† Shelbrooke, Alec (Minister for Defence Procurement)

† Smith, Chloe (Norwich North) (Con)

† Vickers, Matt (Stockton South) (Con)

† Wild, James (North West Norfolk) (Con)

† Wood, Mike (Dudley South) (Con)

Stella-Maria Gabriel, Committee Clerk

† attended the Committee

Seventh Delegated Legislation Committee

Wednesday 16 November 2022

[Mr Peter Bone in the Chair]

Draft Cessation of EU Law Relating to Prohibitions on Grounds of Nationality and Free Movement of Persons Regulations 2022

I beg to move,

That the Committee has considered the draft Cessation of EU Law Relating to Prohibitions on Grounds of Nationality and Free Movement of Persons Regulations 2022.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bone. The draft regulations will further the Government’s aim of ensuring that all UK law is right for the UK by disapplying certain retained EU provisions that have been redundant since the end of the transition period. Before the UK’s exit from the European Union, the retained provisions granted European Economic Area and Swiss citizens the right to access benefits, services and educational entitlements on the same basis as UK nationals if their presence in the UK was in the exercise of specific freedom of movement rights.

The UK voted to leave the EU and, as a result, freedom of movement between the UK and European countries came to an end on 31 December 2020. As the provisions the draft regulations disapply were based in EU freedom of movement arrangements, they became redundant on that date. The withdrawal agreement provides the necessary protections for EEA citizens and their family members who were resident in the UK before the end of the transition period. This statutory instrument disapplies the retained EU equal treatment provisions, so that they cease to be recognised and available in domestic law in relation to access to social security, statutory payments, social assistance, housing assistance, education and training, apprenticeships and childcare-related matters.

In line with our manifesto commitments, EEA nationals coming into the country via the points-based immigration system are treated equally to those coming from elsewhere in the world. They are protected from individual discrimination by equal treatment and non-discrimination provisions enshrined in UK law.

The regulations clarify the situation already in effect, which is that there is no longer distinct treatment of EEA nationals, compared with non-EEA nationals, with regards to immigration and access to benefits, services and entitlements. The exception to that is those EEA and Swiss nationals residing in the UK under the EU settlement scheme. They continue to be able to access benefits, services and entitlements on the same basis as they could before the UK left the EU, in accordance with the terms of the UK-EU withdrawal agreement and equivalent agreements with the EEA and Switzerland. Their ability to do so is protected by the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020, and will not be altered by the regulations.

In summary, the draft regulations do not introduce a change in policy for any group of EEA or Swiss nationals in the UK. They simply tidy up the UK statute book to ensure that it functions effectively and with legal clarity. I am satisfied that the regulations are compatible with the European convention on human rights. I commend them to the Committee.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bone. I am grateful to the Minister for setting out an explanation of the regulations. I do not intend to detain the Committee long, but I have a few questions. Regulation 3, “Cessation of free movement of persons”, refers to rights and powers that

“continue by virtue of section 4(1) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018; and…are derived (directly or indirectly) from”

the relevant articles of the treaties and agreements. The phrase “directly or indirectly” does not occur in regulation 2, “Cessation of prohibitions on grounds of nationality”, which states merely that prohibitions “are derived from” the relevant provisions of the treaties and agreements. Can the Minister clarify why there is that difference in wording? Does it have any meaning, and what is the scope of “indirectly” derived rights, powers and so on?

The schedule goes into some detail on most of the matters relevant to the regulations, but for housing it offers little detail, other than mobile homes being included, but not railway carriages or tents. Can the Minister tell us why the schedule does not detail the relevant matters for housing, and what sorts of rights and powers are envisaged under that heading? What effect will the regulations have on housing rights, and on protections for EEA citizens who arrived after the transition period ended?

I understand—the Minister can correct me if I am wrong—that the intention of the regulations is to end the grounding of entitlements and rights in the treaty, and in the agreement’s provisions on freedom of movement and equal treatment. That makes sense, but a number of the “relevant matters” refer to rights and entitlements that we might expect to apply to all people, without any nationality conditions, once they have a right to live or work here, such as the right to statutory sick pay or the entitlement to child care vouchers. I assume that in many cases, the grounding may have changed, but the rights remain the same. For the avoidance of doubt, can the Minister confirm that it is not the intention that all the rights listed under “relevant matters” will cease to apply to EEA citizens who arrive after the transition period?

I understand why the Government are bringing in these regulations: they want to tidy up the statute book and put the final nail in the coffin of any rights that EU and EEA citizens might have had in this country. The problem with their policy approach is that it is a race to the bottom. Rather than raising the standards and rights of other nationals who are here, they are treating EEA nationals in the appalling way that non-EEA nationals have continued to be treated in this country.

Let me give an example of how non-EEA nationals are treated. One in my constituency is here on a spousal visa. He has fallen on hard times—he has lost his job—and his spouse is a care worker on minimum wage. Neither can apply for housing assistance, because if either of them did, they would immediately have their visa removed. He is a spouse, and so is likely to be here for the indefinite future, but as he has not yet been here for five years, he cannot apply for indefinite leave to remain. They have four months of rent arrears, and are facing eviction, but the council cannot help them.

It is now proposed that we give that same treatment to EEA nationals. That is abhorrent. We should be raising, not lowering, standards. I am dreadfully disappointed that the Government are taking this approach of a race to the bottom—a race to a nasty, brutish Britain. But that of course is what the Conservatives want, and what they are doing.

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Bone. As the Minister knows from his previous roles, my party fully regrets the end of free movement for a variety of reasons, but we have had that debate—and will probably have it again another day. If we do, regrettably, bring it to an end, we should be careful in how we go about it.

The measure is framed as being technical, but it has significant implications for those impacted by it. Even the title of the regulations is slightly misleading. What the regulations will cease is not prohibitions on grounds of nationality, but the prohibition of discrimination on grounds of nationality. The regulations will entitle the Government to discriminate against EU nationals.

Furthermore, the Minister’s statement that equalities legislation is untouched by the regulations is questionable. Discrimination on the grounds of nationality is, of course, prohibited under the Equality Act 2010, section 9(1)(b) of which makes it clear that race includes nationality. Of course, there are exceptions relating to immigration status, but paragraph 17 of schedule 3 of that Act was amended by the Equality (Amendment and Revocation) (EU Exit) Regulations 2018, so that it now refers to

“anything which forms part of retained EU law by virtue of”

sections 2 to 4

“of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018”.

Basically, all I am saying is that despite ministerial assertions to the contrary, equalities legislation is impacted by the regulations, so Ministers should be a little more careful about their assertions on that subject.

My second and probably slightly more important point is on what the regulations say nothing about: the position of people who are within scope of the withdrawal agreement. The Minister touched on that in his description of the regulations. Currently, people who are protected by that agreement are left to rely on it, and on international law. The question is, why do we not have an equivalent set of domestic protections for them, along the lines of the 2019 regulations to which I have just referred? Currently, those people are left to rely directly on just the international treaty. Imagine how difficult it is to walk into a social security office or anywhere else and say, “Never mind these regulations that your Government are producing at an incredible rate; here is an international treaty, and I have rights under it.” We need an equivalent domestic protection for those people, so they can say, “Here the Government set out that I have those rights, as someone protected by the withdrawal treaty.” That is what I would like to see in the draft regulations, but they are silent on that point. By endlessly passing such regulations, we make life more difficult for people who should be protected.

Finally, I will mention another set of regulations to illustrate my conclusion. A lot of exceptions were set out in a piece of legislation called the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Act 2020 (Consequential, Saving, Transitional and Transitory Provisions) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020. In schedule 4 of those regulations, all sorts of exceptions are set out—rights that continue, notwithstanding other measures that brought free movement to an end. Again, the draft regulations are silent about that, and it is not absolutely clear to me how the sets of regulations relate to each other.

That brings me to my concluding point. It is becoming incredibly and hellishly difficult to work out where we are at. The Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Act 2020 was introduced a couple of years back; a lot of the provisions we are debating should have been in primary legislation, so that we could debate and scrutinise them properly, but instead we are trying to follow five, six, seven or eight pieces of delegated legislation at a time. It is becoming really hard to understand what is going on. On that note, I will listen carefully to what the Minister will say, but I am not attracted by the draft regulations.

I am grateful to Members for their contributions to the debate. I repeat that the draft regulations are a technical rectification to ensure that UK law functions with legal clarity by disapplying retained EU law that is now redundant.

On the point made about discrimination, it is important to recognise that we have our own domestic equalities protection framework in place. We do not need to look to the European Union for that. On the philosophical argument made by the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown, I think it is fair to say that he was covering old ground; the decision to leave the European Union was made by the British people back in 2016, and this Government got on with delivering on the mandate that we were given by the British people. Ending freedom of movement, and having a points-based system that treats people equally regardless of where they come from in the world, is the right thing to do. That is reflected in the system we have in place. If Opposition Members take a different view of the form that the immigration system should take, I wonder whether those views will be put forward in their manifestos at the next general election.

I reiterate that the draft instrument will not change the policy in place regarding the rights enjoyed by EEA nationals in the UK. It will, however, correct a deficiency arising from retained EU law and bring greater clarity to the UK statute book. That goes directly to the heart of the point made by the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Westminster North. This SI delivers absolutely no substantive policy change; it simply clarifies the situation that is already in effect.

First, will we ever see something in domestic law that is designed to protect the rights of those who are protected by treaty? Secondly, on the list of exceptions in schedule 4 to the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Act 2020 (Consequential, Saving, Transitional and Transitory Provisions) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020—quite a mouthful—a huge list of rights are retained under that SI. Are they affected by the draft regulations? Will the Minister answer that, now or later?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. It reminds me of times gone by, when we regularly debated immigration-related matters in the House, and probably at times in this Committee Room. My clear understanding is that, given the protections in the withdrawal agreement, no rights are being taken away. However, I am happy to take away his substantive question, and to come back to him on it in writing. With that, I commend the regulations to the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Committee rose.

Draft Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 (Offensive Weapons Homicide Reviews) Regulations 2022

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chair: Mr Laurence Robertson

† Afriyie, Adam (Windsor) (Con)

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

Benn, Hilary (Leeds Central) (Lab)

† Bradley, Ben (Mansfield) (Con)

† Djanogly, Mr Jonathan (Huntingdon) (Con)

† Elmore, Chris (Ogmore) (Lab)

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

Hillier, Dame Meg (Hackney South and Shoreditch) (Lab/Co-op)

† Jones, Sarah (Croydon Central) (Lab)

† Maclean, Rachel (Redditch) (Con)

† Mann, Scott (Lord Commissioner of His Majesty's Treasury)

† Nici, Lia (Great Grimsby) (Con)

† Philp, Chris (Minister for Crime, Policing and Fire)

Ribeiro-Addy, Bell (Streatham) (Lab)

† Trickett, Jon (Hemsworth) (Lab)

† Watling, Giles (Clacton) (Con)

† Winter, Beth (Cynon Valley) (Lab)

Guy Mathers, Committee Clerk

† attended the Committee

Eighth Delegated Legislation Committee

Wednesday 16 November 2022

[Mr Laurence Robertson in the Chair]

Draft Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 (Offensive Weapons Homicide Reviews) Regulations 2022

I beg to move,

That the Committee has considered the draft Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 (Offensive Weapons Homicide Reviews) Regulations 2022.

It is, as always, a huge pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Robertson. Reducing homicide and tackling serious violence is a top Government priority. We must use every tool at our disposal to stop lives being lost to serious violence.

Offensive weapons homicide reviews were introduced by the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 to support local agencies to work together to identify lessons, thereby preventing future deaths. The Act places a duty on the relevant review partners, including the police, to conduct an offensive weapons homicide review in certain circumstances where a person aged over 18 has died and an offensive weapon was used in their murder.

We intend to pilot the new reviews for a period of 18 months, beginning early next year, in specified areas in London, the west midlands and Wales, to ensure that they have been properly designed before any national roll-out. In essence, the draft regulations set up the pilots and provide that the relevant review partners will be the local authority, the police and, in England, the integrated care board, or, in Wales, the local health board, from the area where the death occurs or, where the location of the death is not known, where the body is found. The regulations will provide them with the detail they need to establish when a review must be carried out.

The draft regulations clarify that not every homicide involving an offensive weapon will require a review. It will be necessary for one or more of the review partner agencies to have, or to be reasonably expected to have, relevant information about the circumstances or background to inform the review. It will be necessary for the body, or part of the body of the person who died, to have been located, and for the identity of the victim or a suspected perpetrator to be known. That will ensure that resources are directed at cases where lessons can genuinely be learned to help prevent future homicides.

The regulations will allow the Secretary of State to direct which partners are the relevant ones to conduct a review should there be any uncertainty. We do not expect the power to be used often, but it is important to ensure that there are no instances where no one is responsible for leading the review.

The draft regulations also make it clear that a review is not required where the death is a

“death or serious injury matter”

within the meaning of section 12(2A) of the Police Reform Act 2002, thereby excluding deaths caused by a police officer in the course of their duties, which are investigated by the Independent Office for Police Conduct as a matter of routine.

It is worth saying that a number of homicides are already subject to a review, including where a person under 18 dies, a vulnerable adult dies, a person dies due to domestic violence, or someone in receipt of mental health care commits homicide. Those homicides are already subject to review proceedings such as those we are establishing in the draft regulations, which also allow the review partners to delegate, where appropriate.

As I am sure the Committee will agree, homicide and serious violence cause terrible suffering. We are determined to do all we can to drive down such crimes. The draft regulations, in supporting the introduction and piloting of new offensive weapons homicide reviews, will deepen our understanding of what lies behind such homicides and, we hope, better inform measures to prevent them in future.

Finally, I assure the Committee that we are concerned not to impose an excessive administrative, regulatory or financial burden on the police and the other review partners. In designing the statutory guidance setting out how the reviews are to be conducted, we will therefore ensure that they are light-touch and impose the minimum of regulatory burden and that the reports do not turn into massive encyclopaedias, but are concise and brief, so that we do not create additional burdens on already quite heavily stretched public and emergency services. However, the reviews will add to our understanding of offensive weapon-related homicides, and I commend the draft regulations to the Committee.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Robertson. Knife crime obviously rose significantly in recent years, peaking in 2017-18. We are now seeing a reduction in knife crime overall, but there is still a real problem with very serious knife crime and serious violence. Today’s proposals, which we supported during the passage of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, are one part of the picture of how we understand what is happening and what lessons we can learn. We welcomed the provisions in the Bill, and we welcome the pilots being rolled out.

It is incredibly important that the pathways that lead people to a homicide, whether as a victim or perpetrator, are understood. In my patch in Croydon a review of 60 cases of serious violence was incredibly insightful about the situations people found themselves in. Huge themes emerged around exclusion from school, domestic violence in the home, the addictions of parents and the absence of parents, from which we can learn lessons about prevention. I am grateful that the Government have set out the pilot scheme. In the Bill Committee, I asked for more information, and that is contained in the draft regulations, but we have some questions.

The Minister said that he wants things to be done in a way that is light-touch, concise and brief. I understand the constraints on funding, but I stress the importance of doing things properly; we cannot cut corners. I push back on the language that he used; we have to do this properly, which will cost money, and we have some questions about the funding.

The explanatory memorandum says that an estimated 72 homicide reviews will take place across the pilot areas throughout the 18-month pilot. I am interested to know how that figure has been arrived at. The Home Office estimates that the cost per review will be

“£1,222 to each of the three relevant review partners (totalling £3,666) and £8,688 for an independent chair.”

Again, I am interested in how those figures have been calculated, and how this will be funded. Is the assumption that the review partners will cover the costs, including the staffing costs, or will extra funding be forthcoming? Do the Government plan on looking to local government or policing to increase the funding?

I am also interested to know how we will collectively learn lessons once the review has happened and the various recommendations that might come from it have been made. Will there be a unit in the Home Office that looks at the reviews and learns the lessons from a national perspective? I am interested to know what the membership of the oversight board is likely to be. The Minister said that there are already homicide reviews for a range of other situations—under-18-year-olds, domestic violence and the like. Do we know how we will decide which homicide review will be picked if there is a crossover? What is the order of priority in terms of whether it would be an offensive weapons review or a domestic homicide review? How will we decide?

Finally, I stress the budget issue. The local safeguarding partners that will have to fund this—whether it is local government or local police—will have to find the funding somewhere, and we know that there is great pressure on budgets. Anything the Minister can say about that, bearing in mind the need to protect the integrity of the reviews, would be helpful. We are, however, happy to support the draft regulations.

I thank the Minister for his remarks, and the Home Office for providing leadership in this area. It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Croydon Central (Sarah Jones) who spoke from the Opposition Front Bench, and I will pick up on some of her points as I make some brief remarks about domestic homicide.

The Minister will know that a large proportion of homicides committed with an offensive weapon take place in the context of a domestic incident—they are domestic homicides. His Department is leading a review, working through evidence about the factors surrounding domestic homicide and looking to learn lessons. It is important that all of us in this place remember that homicides are not just a fact of life. We can, as a Government, and as agencies and local authorities, take steps to prevent some of these tragic incidents from occurring and spare some families the pain and grief of facing the horrific loss of a loved one in the most appalling circumstances. That is why that work is so important and welcome. Will the Minister therefore look at the work that is going on and see what progress has been made on the review of domestic homicides, particularly picking up the issue of victim suicides? He will be aware that the patterns of such crimes can sometimes be disguised as some kind of suicide pact, and the victims and their families do not get the justice they should get.

On a related issue, will the Minister please update us on the progress made by the Ministry of Justice on the domestic homicide sentencing review? I am sure he will be aware of that review, because he worked in the Ministry of Justice previously. That review is looking at the factors flowing out of the tragic case of Sally Challen and cases where coercive control is a factor. The Ministry of Justice is undertaking that review, but I am sure he will be sighted on it, because it relates directly to the work he is doing with his agencies and partners in policing.

Thank you for allowing me to make my comments, Mr Robertson. I look forward to the Minister’s response.

I thank the Minister for introducing the statutory instrument. I welcome the fact that these are pilot regulations, because new regulations over the last 20 or 30 years have often made changes across the board that have had poor consequences. The pilot approach is therefore to be welcomed in terms of both monitoring outcomes and checking that we have plugged the gap appropriately.

I have three observations. First, the Minister said that local partners may choose to delegate further, or to sub-delegate their responsibilities, for the homicide review. To whom does he imagine they may delegate those responsibilities?

Secondly, we all want to learn lessons, particularly around domestic violence cases, but also around any homicide. We will all have among our constituents surviving family members who are desperate to work out what happened to their loved one, even—it sounds rather grotesque—in the absence of the entire body at the time of discovery. Will the Minister give us an idea about what lessons have been learned from past reviews and what he is hoping will come from these pilots that the other reviews have not necessarily uncovered?

Thirdly, the statutory instrument is clearly designed to plug a gap in terms of where reviews may be required but are not necessarily called for at the moment. Will the Minister reassure us that it will mean there are no longer gaps in homicide reviews in other areas of the criminal justice system?

There are a few points to respond to there. I start with those raised by the hon. Member for Croydon Central, who is the shadow Minister and my constituency neighbour. She made some observations about violent crime in general. As she said, knife crime has been on a declining trajectory for the past few years, which is welcome. We are focused on the most serious forms of violent crime, and there have been reductions there as well, compared with 2019—the last pre-pandemic year. We are investing heavily in the policing response through the Grip investment, which aims to heavily police hotspot areas. We are also trying to address the causes of violent crime, particularly knife crime, via violence reduction units and violence reduction partnerships, which have been successful in many parts of the country. The Metropolitan police have been well funded in that area.

I take the shadow Minister’s point about needing to make sure the reviews are done properly. I was not suggesting that we would sacrifice quality; my point was that sometimes reports and reviews conducted by public bodies turn into sprawling, bureaucratic monsters. They go way beyond the point of adding actual value and impose a lot of costs, time and everything else on those organisations. We will make the reviews as concise as they can be, while drawing proper conclusions. I do not want them to turn into a bureaucratic Hydra that consumes money and resources beyond the point where it adds value. My observation as a Minister for the last few years is that, when we launch reviews or investigations, they sometimes grow to the point where they consume huge amounts of money and time without adding value. I do not want that to happen here, given how constrained budgets are in local authorities, the police and local health organisations. That is a really important point.

Speaking of money, the shadow Minister asked whether the funding for the pilot is additional or whether we will ask the review partners to absorb it from an existing budget. I can confirm that the £2.1 million is additional; it is extra money that is being provided specifically for this purpose. It will not detract from existing operational budgets. The extra money is still taxpayer funded; it is still money that our constituents are having to fund.

The shadow Minister asked where the estimate of 72 reviews comes from. It derives from taking the limited geographic areas in which the pilots are being conducted and applying them to the expected national numbers—we will scale those numbers down to give us the numbers for just those areas. Nationally, there are around 700 homicides per year. In 2021, there were 692. Some 235 of those met the criteria for the existing homicide reviews that we discussed earlier—for example, domestic homicide or the homicide of someone under the age of 18. There are 457 homicides nationally that do not meet the existing criteria. Of those, 222 involve an offensive weapon and will therefore be in the scope of these reviews. Looking at that over an 18-month period and scaling it down for the pilot areas, we get to the numbers that the shadow Minister outlined.

That point also answers a question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Windsor. These reviews will not cover every single homicide. However, between them and the existing reviews, based on the numbers I just gave, reviews will apply to 457 or so homicides—around two thirds. There will still be some homicides for which reviews do not apply.

The shadow Minister also asked which review takes priority if, for example, a homicide is both domestic and involves an offensive weapon. The answer is that the existing homicide review mechanisms will take priority. If there is a domestic homicide involving an offensive weapon, a domestic homicide review will take place. I hope that that answers the shadow Minister’s questions.

My hon. Friend the Member for Redditch asked some further questions. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the fantastic work she did on many issues—particularly violence against women and girls and domestic violence—during her time as the Minister for Safeguarding at the Home Office. She has left a strong legacy for her successor. She asked about a review into domestic homicide reviews to see whether they can be further improved. That work is ongoing internally. A consultation will open in the early part of 2023 and will be completed by the end of 2023. I hope that that gives her the clarity she was asking for. On the domestic homicide sentencing review, that is, as my hon. Friend said, with our colleagues in the Ministry of Justice, so I am afraid I cannot provide an answer to the questions that she raised, but MOJ Ministers will be able to do so.

Turning finally to my hon. Friend the Member for Windsor (Adam Afriyie), I think I have addressed one of his questions. He rightly drew attention to the fact that we are adopting a pilot approach rather than just going for a national roll-out. He made the good point that, all too often, Government and local authorities do things on a blanket basis without having tested them first. Where there are significant cost, public policy and resource implications, it is worth making sure that whatever measure is proposed—whether this or something else—actually works, is proportionate and has been carefully set up before pressing the button and making it national. That approach works here and in other contexts.

My hon. Friend asked about delegation. There is an ability to delegate to appropriate third parties. For example, if the relevant review body, such as the local police, wants, for resource reasons, to get somebody else to conduct the review, such as an expert of some kind, they have the ability to do that, but they are responsible for ensuring that that is a suitable person with the relevant expertise and capability.

It is also worth saying that the whole thing is overseen by an oversight board, as the shadow Minister referenced in her remarks. We are in the process of appointing a chair and possibly one additional member for the pilot—we do not need to appoint an entire board if it is just a pilot. We will appoint just those two people initially, and they will make sure that these reports are publicly published and are available to the Home Office and that lessons get learned, as appropriate.

I thank my right hon. Friend the Minister very much for responding in such detail to my comments, but I am a little concerned about the timeline he set out for the review of how the domestic homicide review process works—after all, the proportion of homicides that are domestic homicides is pretty large. I can see his officials in the box, and I distinctly remember having detailed discussions about this work when I had the privilege of serving in the Home Office. I am concerned to see how long this process will now take, and I am sure that my right hon. Friend, like me, whenever he is presented with a timeline by his officials, will say, “Why can’t this be done quicker? What is the delay? Can we speed this up so that we can get justice for these victims?” I would be grateful if he agreed to meet me, so that we can discuss this in a bit more detail.

Either I or the Minister for Safeguarding, as appropriate, would be delighted to meet my hon. Friend to discuss the issue, particularly given her long-standing expertise and interest in it as both a Member of Parliament and a Minister.

I hope have covered the points that were raised in this short but insightful debate. I once again commend the regulations to the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Committee rose.

Draft Immigration Skills Charge (Amendment) Regulations 2022

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chair: Yvonne Fovargue

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

† Benton, Scott (Blackpool South) (Con)

† Colburn, Elliot (Carshalton and Wallington) (Con)

† Dines, Miss Sarah (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department)

† Elmore, Chris (Ogmore) (Lab)

† Evennett, Sir David (Lord Commissioner of His Majesty's Treasury)

† Kinnock, Stephen (Aberavon) (Lab)

Leadbeater, Kim (Batley and Spen) (Lab)

Lewis, Clive (Norwich South) (Lab)

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

† Mann, Scott (Lord Commissioner of His Majesty's Treasury)

Osamor, Kate (Edmonton) (Lab/Co-op)

† Randall, Tom (Gedling) (Con)

† Stevenson, John (Carlisle) (Con)

† Vara, Shailesh (North West Cambridgeshire) (Con)

† Wheeler, Mrs Heather (South Derbyshire) (Con)

† Whittome, Nadia (Nottingham East) (Lab)

Rebecca Lees, Committee Clerk

† attended the Committee

Ninth Delegated Legislation Committee

Wednesday 16 November 2022

[Yvonne Fovargue in the Chair]

Draft Immigration Skills Charge (Amendment) Regulations 2022

I beg to move,

That the Committee has considered the draft Immigration Skills Charge (Amendment) Regulations 2022. 

The immigration skills charge was introduced in April 2017. Its aim is to incentivise businesses in the UK to take a long-term view of investment and training in the domestic workforce. It is designed to address historical under-investment in the training of domestic workers by UK employers, and to deter some from turning to immigration as a cheaper alternative.

The charge is paid by employers seeking to sponsor migrants on a skilled worker visa or a global business mobility visa as a senior or specialist worker. The charge is paid up front when the employer sponsors a worker’s visa, and is automatically calculated based on the dates provided by the employer. It applies at a rate of £1,000 per migrant per year for large businesses, with a reduced rate of £364 for small businesses and charities.

In the last fiscal year, the charge raised approximately £349 million. Although the income raised is not additional funding for skills, it helps to maintain the existing skills budgets across the United Kingdom, and is consistent with the Government’s view that immigration must not be seen as a silver bullet to deal with skills needs in our economy. As education and skills are devolved matters, the income raised also helps to maintain funding levels for each of the devolved nations. It is distributed between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland using the formula devised by Lord Barnett.

Let us turn to the purpose of these technical regulations. Although it remains important that the charge be applied to most employers who use labour from outside the UK to fill their skills needs, there are good reasons to make specific exceptions. For example, workers are exempt if they are entering the UK for under six months, because they are then unlikely to be filling a job arising from a skills shortage.

These regulations will make two new cohorts exempt from the charge. The first of these is scale-up workers. In August this year, we launched the new scale-up visa. This enables UK businesses experiencing sustained high growth to attract top international talent and enhance the wider skills ecosystem. That visa was never intended to be subject to the immigration skills charge, as it focused on facilitating rapid recruitment and reducing the burden for UK businesses undergoing sustained high growth. This route provides workers with highly flexible conditions, including access to the wider labour market without sponsorship after six months. Consequently, the initial sponsoring employer should not be subject to the charge. As things stand, however, the route falls within the scope of the charge due to the wording of the current legislation. Sponsors of scale-up workers currently benefit from a waiver of the charge, but these regulations will codify the position by formally exempting them.

Secondly, I shall deal with the EU intra-company worker exemption. The second cohort to be exempt from the charge is EU workers who are undertaking intra-company assignments under the terms of the UK-EU trade and co-operation agreement. That agreement was ratified by Parliament on 30 December 2020. It secured preferential trading arrangements between the UK and the EU. One such accord was that neither party would apply taxes or charges, of a type such as the immigration skills charge, to workers undertaking intra-company assignments within the terms of the agreement. Both parties committed to dropping such taxes and charges no later than 1 January 2023. This is a legal requirement that is enforceable under international law. Accordingly, these regulations make the appropriate exemption for EU businesses sponsoring such workers.

I understand that there is regular discussion on the issue and we are being afforded the same treatment. It is quite right to look at that, because we must make sure that this agreement is enforced equally, and that the UK and the EU are in equal partnership.

In conclusion, the immigration skills charge plays a valuable role in our immigration system. It encourages UK businesses to use domestic labour where they can, and to invest in skills when they are in short supply, but it is important that we make exemptions to the charge when there are sufficiently good reasons to do so. The regulations will support UK scale-up businesses in competing in the global market for the skills needed to continue their rapid growth. They will ensure that we deliver on an important trade commitment to our partners in the EU, and thereby secure reciprocal treatment for British workers undertaking business assignments throughout Europe. I commend the regulations to the Committee.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Ms Fovargue.

We are somewhat surprised that the Government are introducing this statutory instrument, because it appears to utterly contradict the Home Secretary’s stated objective of reducing immigration. She seems to recognise that the public have been expecting net migration to decrease post Brexit, but as the latest migration figures indicate, this year’s net migration is set to pass 300,000, matching the highs seen in the year of the EU referendum. Today, however, we see attempts by the Government to increase migration even further by creating a further exemption from the immigration skills for sponsored workers on the scale-up route, as well as for EU national intra-corporate transferees who take the route of getting a global business mobility visa for senior or specialist workers.

We are not opposed, in principle, to recognising that in specific areas of our economy, removing the red tape involved in bringing in overseas workers can benefit Britain, but we are opposed to the Government lurching from one extreme to the other, using dog-whistle, anti-immigration rhetoric one day and throwing the doors wide open the next. The Labour party is taking a more balanced, nuanced approach by ensuring that immigration works for our economy and communities. We support the principle of a points-based system for migrant workers. It was, of course, the Labour Government of 2008 that introduced the points-based system for immigration from outside the European Union.

We are clear that there will be no return to the freedom of movement that there was when we were in the EU, but we will build on and make much-needed improvements to the points-based system that is in place. Our long-term ambition is to ensure that all businesses in every sector, and indeed our public services, recruit and train more home-grown talent to fill vacancies before looking overseas. For instance, we need to train up more home-grown doctors; hence our shadow Health Secretary’s commitment to doubling the number of clinical placements, and to setting out a five-to-10-year workforce plan for the NHS in due course.

We recognise that if we simply turn off the tap of migrant labour without putting in place appropriate workforce structures, training and recruitment strategies, our public services will deteriorate and our businesses will struggle to meet our wider economic ambition to make, buy and sell more in Britain. As a result, more jobs could well disappear overseas. There would be other consequences; we cannot continue with the situation in the farming sector. In the past year, 30,000 pigs have been slaughtered and £60 million of crops have been burned. We recognise that we need to attract talent to help us to drive growth, but we are clear that when businesses are supported in recruiting from abroad, that should come with a commitment to increasing UK-based recruitment and training, so that we reduce long-term dependency on overseas labour.

Five years ago, when the first set of regulations on the immigration skills charge were made, the Government were clear about its intended purposes. Introducing the charge would, we were told, incentivise employers to invest in training and upskilling the resident workforce, thus reducing reliance on migrant workers. The skills charge would essentially be a tax on the recruitment of foreign workers, and the proceeds would be reinvested in skills training via the Department for Education. There was a related change: the resident labour market test would make it necessary for employers recruiting from overseas to demonstrate that they had first tried to recruit from within the UK. That test was scrapped by the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) when he was Prime Minister, and the skills charge, while still in place, does not appear to be delivering its intended results, as is illustrated by this statutory instrument.

The regulations would exempt some sponsoring employers from having to pay the skills charge for migrant workers under the scale-up route, as well as some intra-corporate transferees. That implies that the Government are aiming to make it easier to recruit overseas workers, which is the exact opposite of what Ministers claimed was the purpose of introducing the skills charge. Does the Minister recognise this contradiction? Perhaps she could say whether this is a deliberate policy U-turn or just the result of incompetence.

It would have been helpful if an impact assessment had been published alongside the regulations. The scale-up route exemption could have far-reaching consequences. To qualify for the scale-up licence, a business simply has to show that it has increased either its profits or staff headcount by 20% on average each year for the past three years, and that it had more than 10 staff working for it at the beginning of that first year. How many businesses is that expected to draw in? It could be a really large number, could it not?

Since no such impact assessment has been provided, will the Minister answer the following questions? What exactly is the purpose of providing those exemptions, and what are the Government hoping to achieve in their overall immigration policy and strategy? What was the rationale for providing exemptions under the scale-up and global mobility schemes, but not for other skills-based routes? The explanatory note states that the reason no impact assessment was made is that

“no, or no significant, impact on the private, voluntary or public sector is foreseen.”

How can that possibly be, given how low the threshold is that I mentioned earlier?

Given the Government’s previous commitment to using revenue from the skills charge to invest in skills training for the UK workforce, and their previous estimate that the charge would raise £100 million in its first year, what on earth leads the Minister to believe that reducing the number of employers who have to pay the charge will have no significant impact? Has the Department done any work at all to assess what losses in Government revenue might result from those changes? Can the Minister guarantee that any reductions in funding for skills training will be made up from elsewhere in the budget?

Finally, if the Government are trying to support the growth of UK businesses, that is certainly welcome, but what has happened to the commitment to invest in skills training, so that growing businesses do not have to recruit from overseas? Have the Government just given up on those objectives? I look forward to the Minister’s response.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his submission. I remind him and the Committee that the UK economy is vibrant, and attracts lots of investment and, necessarily, business from abroad. There needs to be a careful balance. This is a very well thought-out change in regulations. On the money that has been raised, as I mentioned earlier, the skills charge has raised £349 million. That goes directly to supporting domestic training across the country, throughout the four nations.

It is welcome that the Opposition will not oppose these measures. The changes should not really come as a surprise, because one of the waivers granted is already being informally implemented. This is just carrying on with the status quo; there is no huge change. I am surprised that the Opposition might have wanted to oppose the regulations— and am grateful that they will not—because the second cohort is exempted to allow us to fulfil an international legal obligation; it must be right that the House does that.

We are asked, “What is the purpose of this?”. It is to stimulate Britain as a global magnet for international trade—that is quite a straightforward purpose. It is also to raise revenue, as I have said, and to support the United Kingdom in its international efforts to secure a strong growth economy. For all those reasons, I suggest that this is a relatively straightforward and technical change, and I ask the Committee to support it. There will continue to be a need for employers to recruit skilled workers from overseas where there are no such workers in the UK.

I will be brief. It would be remiss of me not to point out that we would not have labour and skills shortages, and would not have to be constantly tinkering with immigration rules, if we were still in the single market. I often hear Members on the Government Benches say, “Stop going on about it; you are living in the past.” Of course, that is not the case for Scotland: we plan to be back in the single market. [Interruption.] Is that a “Hear, hear”? I welcome the support.

I will try to be courteous. I will support the regulations, but I do not support the skills charge. As we discussed last week in Westminster Hall, there are massive shortages in heavy goods vehicle drivers, food processing workers, nurses and doctors. The health services of all four nations have significant problems, including bed-blocking: people who could go home are unable to, because of the shortage of social care workers. We have a shortage of workers in hospitals. I cannot support any barrier to getting people over here to fill those shortages, but I support a reduction in those barriers, as with the exemptions in the regulations. I would just like those exemptions to go a bit further.

There is one last thing, to which I would appreciate a positive response from the Minister. In this House, we constantly hear negatives about migrants in general and migrant workers: “There are too many of them; we need fewer of them.” Of course, I completely support putting more into training and upskilling people who are already here, but our health service would collapse without migrant workers. We cannot just dispense with them once we have trained everybody up. I invite the Minister to say something positive about migrant workers and the contribution that they make to the United Kingdom’s economy. I invite her to acknowledge—as I think she is doing by saying that we need to train people here—how necessary they are to our economy.

I note the hon. Lady’s comments about migrants coming to this country. However, does she agree that we must deplore the way that thousands of them come to this country—by using people smugglers, who risk lives?

I did not know that we were allowed to go off on a tangent. This is getting into an argument about how people come to this country. We are talking about migrant workers; asylum seekers are not allowed to work.

On a point of order, Ms Fovargue. I was simply taking up an issue that the hon. Member for Glasgow North East raised. If I am out of order, presumably she is as well.

Order. We are moving slightly beyond the scope of the regulations. Perhaps you could both get back to the regulations.

If the hon. Lady is afraid of answering the question, she should say so, rather than avoiding the issue.

I am in the governing party’s bad books today, somehow; I do not know what I have done. Would I say that vile people smugglers should be stopped from treating people in the way that they do? Absolutely. Will the Government’s plan to stop them work? Absolutely not. They are victimising people who are already victims of people smugglers. There is more to do on that, but we are talking about migrant workers. Asylum seekers, for some unknown reason, are not allowed to work. We need workers and they need work, but we do not let them work. I again invite the Minister to say something positive about migrant workers.

I am grateful for the hon. Lady’s speech, although it may not be on the point of this technical change. I try my best not to be negative. This country is a magnet for businesses from across the world, and those who come under the skills schemes have very high-level skills. It is only right that the company sponsoring them pays into the kitty to promote our home development and training, which is exactly what the schemes will do. It is positives all round.

I know that the hon. Member for Glasgow North East would not want to be seen to be playing party politics on this matter. On Scotland moving away from the United Kingdom and becoming independent, she knows that the Government are committed to the Union. Although I am impressed by her fortitude in trying to make independence relevant to almost any issue, this is a technical regulation change. None the less, I thank her for her support, in that she is not opposing the regulations.

Of course, although we really must conclude, rather than having a wide-ranging debate on everything to do with immigration. The regulations are about two exemptions that allow us to fulfil our legal obligations under our treaty with the EU.

I thank the Minister for giving way. My intervention is absolutely related to the regulations. I asked why there was no impact assessment. For the record, will she confirm that she does not think that there should be one, because she does not believe that the regulations could have a significant impact on the labour market? On cost, we are clearly reducing the number of employers that will pay the surcharge, so the changes will not increase revenue to the Exchequer as she says they will; they will do precisely the opposite. What will the cost to the Exchequer be? If there is to be no impact assessment, may I urge her to agree to keep the impact of this legislation under review, and will the Government make a statement on it within 12 months, so we can assess its impact on opportunities for our home-grown talent?

I admire the hon. Gentleman’s ingenuity in asking for impact assessments; he has asked for one on almost everything that I have heard him speak about. However, the immigration skills charge is a tax, so an impact assessment is not required. If we had all the impact assessments that he has asked for, there would not be time in government to do much else.

I will conclude; the hon. Gentleman is always at liberty to write to me. The immigration skills charge is a financial tax through which the Government provide employers with vital funding that supports them in recruiting and training domestically. The regulations will not fundamentally change the operation of the charge; they simply create additional limited exemptions for highly skilled international workers recruited by UK scale-ups, and allow us to fulfil our legal obligations under our trade agreement with the EU relating to EU workers undertaking intra-company assignments in the UK. The exemptions will support our country’s economic recovery by supporting high-growth business in the UK and strengthening trade and investment to and from Europe. I commend the regulations to the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Committee rose.