House of Lords
Monday, 10 March 2014.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Coventry.
Railways: Line Resilience
My Lords, the Government have commissioned Network Rail to undertake a study to identify options for providing a resilient rail route west of Exeter and rail access to the coastal communities in the Torbay area. We have also asked Network Rail to implement schemes already identified to resolve weather-related problems in the Thames valley and west of England. However, the immediate priority is to restore rail services on this route as soon as possible.
I am grateful to the Minister for that Answer but, as we have had a lovely weekend and spring is clearly in the air, it is very easy for Ministers to forget about the disasters of the winter and to hope that they go away and that they will not have to spend the money. Will the Minister agree to come back to the House in a year’s time, just before the election, and say, “We have implemented all these long-term resilience measures that I mentioned, and a few more, and they are either finished or well on their way, and funded”?
I always hesitate to say anything other than yes to the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley. As he will be well aware, we have a timetable for the long-term resilience project. We have completed the projects that were timetabled for 2013-14, such as the Whiteball tunnel, and others are timetabled for future years. However, the essence of what the noble Lord is talking about in terms of having a programme to make sure that we achieve resilience will be done over the next few months. The study that Network Rail is doing will lead to an interim report being published in July, which will result in a very important discussion in this House.
Will my noble friend also take into account in her consideration the fact that, in finding an alternative route, the opportunity probably exists to cut 20 or 25 minutes off the journey time from Cornwall, which would be a massive improvement, akin to that achieved by HS2 between London and Birmingham? Perhaps she would have a look at that.
I hope that very shortly we will have the terms of reference for the Network Rail study, which it intends to carry out in close co-operation with local authorities and LEPs. Network Rail has made a request to me that people pass ideas on particular routes back to it directly. However, if any Peer wishes to do so through my office, I will make sure that that information is communicated so that the study is as thorough as it needs to be.
My Lords, the Minister’s initial Answer was very welcome and we look forward to seeing the outcome of those studies. Will she take this opportunity to congratulate Network Rail on bringing the line through Dawlish back into use significantly earlier than appeared to be likely? I understand that Network Rail had something like 100 people working seven days a week on the restoration of the line, and it is to come back into use on 4 April or even earlier. I declare an interest as a member of the First Great Western stakeholder board.
I say to the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, that that is probably the most delightful question I have ever received because it indeed gives me the opportunity to congratulate and thank Network Rail for its incredibly hard work both during the days of crisis and since. We expect the Dawlish line to be back in use no later than 4 April—well in time for Easter—and that took a very strenuous effort. While I am at the Dispatch Box, perhaps I may also thank: the travelling public, who handled this situation so well; the bus and coach companies, which provided an alternative to rail; the train operators themselves, which provided, for example, special ticketing arrangements whereby people did not lose out because they could not make advance bookings; Flybe, which doubled the number of its flights to Newquay; and probably others whom I have missed. There are many to thank and I appreciate this opportunity to do so.
My Lords, among those for whom there is a residual problem are the poor, beleaguered commuters travelling from Hastings to London, who for weeks now have had disruption due to flooding and have been trying to secure refunds from the rail operative. What are the Government doing to bring those rail companies into line, ensure that people are given a full refund for the tremendous inconvenience that they are suffering, which goes on and on, and bring this to an end quickly?
This is the Tonbridge to Hastings route, which was closed because of a landslip. My understanding is that the reopening is delayed due to ground movement. We very much hope that the line will open again shortly but if there are issues—and I understand from the noble Lord that there are—will he pass them to my department and we will make sure that that they are passed on to the appropriate institutions for proper answer?
I draw my noble friend’s attention to the excellent report produced by the Department of Energy and Climate Change on the severe weather over Christmas 2013. This indicates that a great deal can and has been done but one needs to know about it and find out what it all is. Would not a report of that kind, produced by my noble friend’s department, be extremely valuable?
I assure your Lordships that there is constant monitoring, and a cross-departmental ministerial recovery group now meets weekly to discuss flooding issues. We take it in turns within my department to attend that meeting and make sure that the process is ongoing. It is also accurate to say that responsibilities have been divided up among a number of us to make sure that monitoring is effective; my responsibility will be as the ministerial representative for flood recovery for Gloucestershire and Worcestershire. Similarly, others have regional responsibilities and I will make sure that we report back as we get information through that process.
My Lords, the Minister knows that the floods have already cost something like £170 million. We are aware that the Prime Minister says that money is no object, and we will bear that in mind when the costings come through. However, how will Network Rail cope with the additional funding that will be necessary, either for the alternative line to which my noble friend Lord Bradshaw referred or for making the Dawlish line absolutely secure? Is the Minister being somewhat premature in praising Network Rail without convincing everyone that its funding will be adequate?
Perhaps I can give the noble Lord some reassurance. Network Rail has estimated the cost of resilience projects—not recovery, which is handled separately—at £31 million. It is putting £5 million of its existing funding into the pot, and new money of £26 million is going towards that. If, when we get the interim report, we are starting to look at something much bigger—effectively, new construction—we will need to sit down and plan that properly.
Women: Board Membership
My Lords, women now account for 20.4% of board members in FTSE 100 companies. That is the figure from January 2014, which is up from 12.5% in February 2011. Although the figures are going in the right direction, we need to keep up progress to reach the 25% target. We need 50 new female directors to be appointed to FTSE 100 companies in order to reach the 2015 target.
My Lords, that is most encouraging news, but there is still a way to go to reach that 25%. Does my noble friend agree that independent and individual mentoring has helped to achieve this success? I am sure that we all know women who should have been appointed in the past but were always passed over.
My Lords, would the Minister care to tell the House how the Government are doing in increasing the number of women on public bodies? Those figures seem to be slightly more woeful than the ones for corporate bodies. Secondly, I am sure that the noble Baroness is aware that twice as many women as men leave the corporate sector once they reach mid-level management. Given that, does she agree that, alongside measures to increase the number of women at board level, we need to fix the leaks, as it were, in the talent pipeline and ensure that women are properly represented at every level of an organisation? How does she think this might be brought about?
We are aiming for women to account for 50% of new public appointments by 2015. They are currently averaging 45%, so we are moving in the right direction. The noble Baroness is quite right that we need to address this at every level. One of the beneficial things about the Davies approach to company boards is that it is also having an effect on the response of companies at other levels. This issue has to be addressed at every level.
Is my noble friend aware that the Institute of Directors and many other professional bodies could also contribute in this regard by mentoring some of their women members? They may not be as numerous even as 25%, but there are some excellent engineers, accountants and lawyers and so on who could, with assistance, be very good members of boards and, indeed, members of those professional organisations.
My noble friend is absolutely right. I do not think that there is a dearth of talent; it is a matter of making sure that those people end up on boards. There is a lot that we ourselves can do. As I did in the debate on International Women’s Day last Thursday, I should like to mention the two companies in the FTSE 100 that have not yet appointed women. Last year, there were five; significantly, two dropped out of the FTSE 100 and one of them—the one that I mentioned—has now appointed a woman. There are two left: Glencore Xstrata and Antofagasta. Perhaps I may point out that Glencore was speedy enough to seek help from the United Kingdom Government when it was trying to finalise a deal overseas. I quote from it:
“We seek to apply best practice, ensuring that our approach is up-to-date and relevant”.
Hmm. I come to Antofagasta, which is Chilean based. Tomorrow, Chile swears in as its new president Michelle Bachelet, the formidable former head of UN Women, so I think that we have a pincer movement here.
My Lords, can the Minister tell us to what extent she and the Government believe that it is the yearly reports that are required on progress from each of the companies involved in this scheme that have had a major effect in getting the continuous stream of improvements, although I thoroughly agree with her that there is still a long way to go?
The noble Baroness is right that transparency and reporting are absolutely key. She will know that Charlotte Sweeney has just reported on the voluntary code among those who are recruiting for those positions. She notes that only 25% of those headhunting firms even mentioned this on their websites, so they themselves have a long way to go.
Houses of Parliament: Education Centre
My Lords, the House Committee has informed the commission that the House of Lords will not contribute to the capital costs of the demountable education centre, estimated to be more than £6 million, on grounds of value for money. The House Committee has serious concerns about health and safety and has requested a risk assessment of the proposed access routes, which is expected to be conducted before the Easter Recess. We remain committed to the provision of an education service, as opposed to the specific building.
My Lords, as well as the objections of the House Committee, the Royal Parks Board, which owns Victoria Tower Gardens, made strong objections to the House of Commons Commission but was overruled by the Secretary of State of the DCLG. The City of Westminster planning committee was divided 3:3 with very strong objections being made, but the chairman gave his casting vote in favour, contrary to convention. Local residents are objecting strongly as no notices of the planning proposal were posted in adjacent residential areas. Above all, Victoria Tower Gardens was created as an open space more than 100 years ago to give a setting to the House of Lords building. Surely it would be a grave mistake to build on nearly a quarter of it in a style that is not sympathetic to that of the Palace of Westminster. Has the House Committee any powers to enable this project to be reconsidered, or at least delayed?
My Lords, in this instance the House of Lords has no powers to ask the House of Commons to think again. However, we are concerned about the health and safety issues and access routes, and we requested a full study to be undertaken. Ultimately it is the Clerk of the Parliaments, as corporate officer, who is responsible for health and safety on the Lords part of the Parliamentary Estate and he will need to decide whether he feels that the proposed routes are safe.
Does not the Chairman of Committees agree that the work done by the education and outreach department is extremely important and deserves our support? Will he confirm to the House that the Information Committee has been actively advocating a facility of this kind for at least seven years? Is not the real risk that this institution will become increasingly irrelevant in future? Why? Because so little is understood about the excellent work that is done here.
I thank the noble Lord for his question because it enables me to underline the complete commitment of this House and the House Committee to the work of the Education Service. Many Peers take that upon themselves as active participants in the outreach programme going to schools. It is true that the original, if you like, en principe or in principle decision—there is a subtle difference between the two—was made in 2007. However, that was a different world.
My Lords, will the Chairman of Committees indicate to those carrying out the risk assessment that we do not want a fudge? We want a proper risk assessment which takes into account the fact that it is proposed that tens of thousands of children will be required to pass through to Black Rod’s Garden from Victoria Tower Gardens through what is effectively now a builder’s yard, and which will remain a builder’s yard throughout the restoration and renewal programme.
The noble Lord makes a very strong point of which the House Committee is well aware. That is the reason why it has asked for a risk assessment to be carried out. I have utter confidence that it will be a thorough and robust risk assessment.
My Lords, it is fair to say that in planning issues, under which I include the aesthetic dimension, the key player is Westminster City Council. Having dealt with the internal decision-making of your Lordships’ House for some time, which is on occasion somewhat Byzantine, I do not wish to speculate on the internal decision-making of Westminster City Council.
So, my Lords, it would appear that there is something to be said for health and safety. Will the Chairman of Committees convey to the Clerk of the Parliaments that this House will be right behind him when he comes to make that decision?
That is absolutely true. The position of the House Committee was that in the relatively short term—and this demountable building will be in operation for, at the most, 10 years—it would be better for the permanent solution to be part of the restoration and renewal plans and that, in the mean time, it seemed to us that provision was capable of being made within the existing Parliamentary Estate, and particularly 1 Parliament Street, but that was not acceptable to the House of Commons.
My Lords, following up on the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, none of us is against people having access to this building and appreciating its aesthetic status, but is it not rather perverse to seek to damage that status in pursuit of the education which people are coming for?
London Underground: Industrial Action
My Lords, the Government have not made such an assessment. Responsibility for London Underground, including industrial disputes, is a matter for the Mayor of London and Transport for London. The industrial action last month was regrettable and will undoubtedly have had a significant economic impact, but there is no straightforward or standard way of quantifying this.
I am grateful to my noble friend for that response. Does she agree that the major damage caused by the strike was not monetary, but in terms of the aggravation, frustration and inconvenience caused to the poor benighted citizens of London? This raises the question of whether it is not time to reconsider whether strikes in public sector monopolies should be made illegal, or at the very least whether trade unions should be required to get a vote of two-thirds of the workforce in favour of action before calling a strike.
My Lords, I join in celebrating the heroism of Londoners in coping with such situations, which are very stressful and inconvenient. Last autumn, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills announced a review of industrial disputes, and we hope to hear more detail on that shortly. At this moment in time the two sides in the London Underground issue are in negotiation and are due back at ACAS on 4 April. I think that this is a good time not to pour petrol on flames.
Will my noble friend take account of the fact that at many London terminus stations connecting with the Underground, there are huge queues of people and a lot of machines that work only slowly? For London Transport to say at this time, “We are going to close all the ticket offices”, sends out the wrong signal. London Transport needs to overhaul what is going on, at which point it will have a much better case to take to the trade unions.
I am afraid that essentially I cannot agree with the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, on this one. Only 3% of journeys actually include going to a ticket office. The number of visits has fallen extremely sharply as people turn to buying online, using machines, taking advantage of systems like the Oyster card and, increasingly, using their bank cards. As he will know, the goal of London Underground is to change the role of those working with these ticketing issues by bringing them out from behind the glass of the ticket office and on to the platforms. They will be given a much wider range of responsibilities to help people, building on the kind of experience we had with the Games makers in the Olympics. They should be able to teach and train people to use the machines and provide support in a much more effective and flexible way. I would think that that has to be the future and a reasonable path to tread.
Does my noble friend agree that we should think very carefully before we impose further restrictions on the freedom of trade union action? If one looks at the strike, one can see that it was not very successful at all. There are also fundamental matters of human rights involved in legislating in this area.
Your Lordships are right to say that Transport for London, or London Underground, was able to run about 40% of its trains during the strike and that Londoners, although under stress, found different ways to get to work—as Londoners do. As I say, at this point in time the two parties are talking, and I hope very much that they are talking constructively. BIS is planning a review of the whole area of industrial disputes, and I think it is best if I do not add yet another set of views.
Does the Minister accept that the consequences of strikes in public transport are invariably that people are deeply inconvenienced, demoralised and absolutely furious—with justification? However, would she advise those who are asking for bans on strikes in public transport to acknowledge the fact that in a free society, if workers in crucial services are denied by law the right to strike, their resentments and difficulties will then find expression in even more inconvenient ways? That is the reality of democracy.
I do not have a breakdown of how the 3% is divided up although I assume that tourists are a significant part of that number. If tourists can turn to someone on the platform—someone who is clearly in a uniform, who is able to help them and who possibly has access to another language, where necessary, if that might make it easier—and ask that person about their journey and be directed, that could make London Underground very attractive to them. It is similar to what the Games makers did during the Olympics.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that it is incredibly impolitic to raise the issue of trade union rights at this time, when in fact the second potential industrial action of this dispute was called off? The dispute is now before ACAS; both sides are talking constructively and we hope for a successful outcome. If there is going to be political point-scoring, all of us can do that. After all, in 2010 the Mayor of London said:
“This Mayor takes his promises to Londoners extremely seriously. Every station that has a ticket office will continue to have one”.
My Lords, I invite the Minister to attend Paddington station in the early hours—say between 8 am and 10 am every morning—to see the long queues forming for the ticket office. She might revise her views if she did so. I hope that Transport for London might do the same and recognise that there is validity in the trade union case, at least in that respect.
I have often been to Paddington station, and obviously there are additional issues for stations linked to the overground rail. Once again, this is a different way of providing a service, not a case of eliminating the service. It is important to consider how those systems can work effectively. It will ultimately be a decision for TfL.
Supply and Appropriation (Anticipation and Adjustments) Bill
Second Reading (and remaining stages)
Bill read a second time. Committee negatived. Standing Order 46 having been dispensed with, the Bill was read a third time and passed.
Committee (3rd Day)
Relevant documents: 22nd Report from the Delegated Powers Committee, 8th and 12th Report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights, and 6th Report from the Constitution Committee.
48: Before Clause 15, insert the following new Clause—
Any—(a) restriction on eligibility for services, or(b) charge,in this Part shall not apply to any person who is pregnant.”
In moving Amendment 48, I will speak to Amendments 55, 63 and 65 and support my noble friend Lord Patel’s Amendment 60. I apologise for not having been able to take part at Second Reading. Perhaps it would be helpful to the Committee if I paused for a moment.
My Lords, the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, is trying to introduce his amendment and I would ask that noble Lords leave quietly. That was quite a din. I also remind noble Lords that, when they leave, they should not walk in front of the speaker. It not only drowns him out, it means we cannot even see him.
I am most grateful for that intervention. Amendment 48 would exempt pregnant women from all charges and penalties associated with Part 3, particularly with regard to health charges and concerns for landlords about having tenants who might not be legal migrants. I want to take pregnant women out of this picture.
I recognise the difficulties that the Government face in terms of immigration. I grew up in Hampstead but I have lived and worked near Bermondsey, and I know that for the people of Bermondsey and other similar areas there can be more challenges due to immigration than in places such as Hampstead, around schooling and access to the health service but particularly around housing. There are real concerns and the shortage of housing can be a cause of social tension.
This, too, is a knotty political question, but if the Government and Opposition could come to some consensus about how to provide enough social housing and affordable housing for our people, many of these tensions might be far less acute than they are today. I know that is a great challenge but it relates to this issue and the concerns of our people about migration.
Perhaps it is helpful to think about how maternity has a certain sacred association. If one wanders around the Sainsbury Wing and looks at the earliest paintings there, one sees paintings from the 13th century of the Madonna and child, and nativity scenes. Respect for the mother and child during that very important period at the beginning of a family is at the heart of our Christian faith. It is not too surprising that France, Spain and Portugal—some of the Catholic countries—exempt pregnant women from any charges for accessing their health services. It points to the wisdom of the great faiths, as we increasingly realise how vital the very earliest months of a child’s life, from conception through the first two years of life, are to the successful later development of children.
Indeed, the right honourable Iain Duncan Smith did very important work concerning early intervention with families. Graham Allen MP, who worked with him in that endeavour, has set up the Early Intervention Foundation, which aims to raise awareness of the crucial period between conception and two years of age, and perhaps a little bit beyond that. Frank Field MP and Andrea Leadsom MP have set up the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Conception to Age Two—The First 1,001 Days, to really focus our minds on this crucial time in a child’s development. It takes several years for a child to grow into the physical stature of an adult but the brain is developing extremely rapidly in the first months of life and achieves its main development by age four. It is crucial to think carefully about how we treat mothers and their very young children.
I should have said something about newborns in my amendment. I talked only about pregnant women, but I hope that the Government will also think about mothers with newborn children within the first two years of life.
On several occasions I have had the privilege to speak to mothers in temporary accommodation through the Barnardo’s Families in Temporary Accommodation project. What came through particularly from their stories was the sense of isolation that they experienced and how difficult it was because of their temporary accommodation—they may be placed a long way from family or anybody of their ethnic group.
My second amendment, Amendment 55, would exempt pregnant mothers so as to avoid a landlord fearing a penalty should they provide accommodation to a pregnant mother who is an illegal migrant. I spoke recently with a London landlord who has 180 tenants, 120 of whom are foreign. He is a spokesman for landlords and is well respected. He said to me, “Well, talking with my network, many of us will simply stop letting to people who speak with a foreign accent or who look foreign, just to be on the safe side”. My concern is that it will be harder for migrants to get access to accommodation. I think about the difficulties that mothers face when they are pushed into very poor accommodation. The more difficult one makes it to access accommodation, the more concern one might have that they will get the very poorest accommodation. I visited with a health visitor a few years back a mother in a house in multiple occupation in Walthamstow. This was a mother with a two to three month-old son. Her husband had abandoned her. She was from Africa. She had no neighbours or local community; she knew nobody. The only help to her was the local church. We visited for just 15 to 20 minutes. This woman was so vulnerable, so isolated. The health visitor did a tremendous job, but I am concerned that if we are not sensitive to the vulnerability of such women and their children we may isolate them further, make their lives even more difficult and undermine to some degree the very important relationship that they form with their young child.
Amendment 65 is just another way to stop charging from the NHS to pregnant mothers. It is so important that mothers engage early with the health service—I am sure that my noble friend Lord Patel will put this case eloquently. I visited the Albany Midwives service in south London some time ago. It works with mothers from the very earliest stages of their pregnancy. It was outstanding in that there was one midwife to one mother. They developed a relationship with a mother; they provided the antenatal care; and there was a beeper, so that when the mother came to give birth they were there for her and would support her after the birth. This gave rise to much improved breastfeeding rates in mothers and lower levels of surgical intervention. That example just illustrates how important is that ongoing relationship with the health service from an early stage. The concern is that the charges that might arise for them would perhaps undermine that contact with the health service. If there is a perception among mothers that if they approach the health service for help they might be drawn into issues around their nationality and their status of stay here, they may be less prone to do so. Assurances from the Minister on that point would be welcome. I look forward to his response.
My amendment is the second in this group and is the only one that deals with domestic violence. I thought that it would be helpful to include the amendment in this group rather than have a separate debate on domestic violence.
I want first to turn to the housing provisions, which require landlords to check the immigration status of those to whom they let. I said at Second Reading that we have serious concerns about these measures and we have tabled a number of amendments to the relevant part of the Bill. I shall not go into detail here because it is a separate debate for, one hopes, later today.
I want to put on record our concern about the workability and what I will refer to—I hope that this is accurate—as the unintended consequences of the provisions. The Government should be aware of the impact of the proposals on vulnerable persons, such as pregnant women and many others, as the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, highlighted. The amendments in this group highlight the concerns about those issues.
Not everybody in life is well organised, not everybody has all their documentation up to date and not all landlords will be able to fulfil—or, perhaps, even understand—all their obligations under the Bill. People can make mistakes. I think that I am a well organised person, but can I say that I have never forgotten to pay a bill or never missed my MoT date? Of course I cannot; we all make mistakes.
We learnt that when the former Immigration Minister, Mr Mark Harper, had to resign. Even with all his good intentions and integrity, wanting to obey the law and trying to do so, he still made a mistake. There are great concerns about those whose lifestyles may be a bit more chaotic, or those who are here legally but do not have the right kind of documentation. That could include pregnant women and victims of domestic violence. They might end up being refused accommodation as a result of these measures because landlords do not want to take the risk of making a mistake. The danger is that that could result in them falling into the hands of rogue landlords or becoming homeless.
I hope that the Minister can be clear on whether those issues were considered when discussions were held on including the provisions in the Bill. If they were considered and the Government are aware of all those consequences for vulnerable groups, how will they address them—in particular, under this group of amendments, pregnant women and victims of domestic violence?
Most of the amendments referred to the health charges. There is a lot of confusion about the measures in the Bill and other measures announced by the Government. They must recognise that they must take responsibility for any confusion. The Government’s rhetoric and the sweeping statements that we have heard about what they call health tourism add nothing to the seriousness and quality of the debate. Again, I do not want to go into the wider issues—we will have a wider debate on health charges later, and I will raise the bulk of the questions and concerns that we have then—but I want to ask a few questions on specific issues raised by this group of amendments.
I want to be clear from the outset that we agree with the principle of a one-off health surcharge. It is not unreasonable that those who use the NHS contribute to it. My understanding is that all those who have paid the charge would then have full access to the NHS, but the Government’s consultation document then excludes a few treatments. That is not in the Bill, but it starts to cause confusion. In particular, the consultation document states:
“It may be appropriate to build in a very limited set of excluded treatments for which specific charging should still apply. These might include any or all of the following”.
One of those in the list is services for pre-existing pregnancies. As I said, that is not in the Bill, and that is why I want some clarification. As I read it, that seems to mean that women who have paid the visa charge and come to the UK already pregnant—presumably at whatever stage of pregnancy, whether they know about it or not—will nevertheless have to pay for treatment related to their pregnancy. Is that all treatment or some treatment? We just do not know, and the Bill does not provide any clarity on that. I wonder whether when those women get their visas they get a pregnancy testing kit at the same time to check whether they are pregnant.
A number of groups are to be exempt from paying the health surcharge on humanitarian grounds. We totally support that; it is absolutely right. The Department of Health said that that would include refugees, asylum seekers and victims of human trafficking—presumably, whether or not they are pregnant. I know that victims of trafficking will now be debated in a separate group, but I want to press the Minister on how this will work in practice, as there will be cases when they will present to the authorities only when they are pregnant. Trafficked women will not, by definition, have paid the charge. The UK Human Trafficking Centre suggested in its 2012 baseline survey that more than half of all trafficked victims were not referred to the relevant authorities for assessment, so how will we know who they are?
Specifically on domestic violence, what will happen to women who are trying to escape a violent relationship and who, in fleeing the home, are left without any evidence of their entitlement and no information on their immigration status? They may be UK citizens or have indefinite leave to remain but do not have the documentation. They have fled their home because of violence and to protect themselves and their children. Women who flee a violent partner often do so at the time of the most extreme circumstances that they can face. They will not have time to pack up their belongings, hunt for their passport, pack it into their bag, fold up their documents and bring those out with them. They are going to flee the home to protect themselves and their children so when they present for housing they will, if they are fortunate, be placed in a hostel or refuge. If I am correct, the Government are quite rightly exempting that. However, others will just run and, having run, will try to find suitable accommodation.
With the financial difficulties being faced by women’s aid groups across the country—I declare an interest in that I am patron of Basildon Women’s Aid—supply cannot always meet demand. What do the Government expect these women to do? How will they find accommodation? Will a sympathetic landlord be forced to turn them away if they do not have their documents and, if they are pregnant, where are they going to give birth if they have been turned away by a landlord? Where will their home be? A number of questions are being asked today, and I think that there will be many more from other noble Lords who have amendments in this group, about the implications of Clauses 33 and 34 for pregnant women and victims of domestic violence.
I have spoken to the Minister about this already, so he is aware of my concerns. However, we need far greater clarity about what is in the scope of the Bill and what has been just government rhetoric or other issues which the Government pretend they will take later. What is going to happen and how will it work in practice? I would find it quite helpful if the Minister could help me understand the position of someone who is here legally but who has not paid the visa surcharge—because they are here at present and that surcharge has not come in—and does not have permanent or indefinite leave to remain. What is their position regarding healthcare? I am assuming that transitional arrangements will make provision for that but I am not clear on how that will work in practice. If the Minister can shed any light on that, it would be extremely helpful.
My Lords, I have two amendments in this group—Amendments 59 and 63. I declare my interests, which are in the Lords’ register.
We received a very interesting letter from my noble friend Lord Howe over the weekend. His letter explains that Clauses 33 and 34 are designed to break, or perhaps put a stop to, the activity of health tourism. It is absolutely right that we should do that. Having read his letter, I understand that estimates suggest that between £70 million and £300 million of costs—it seems to be rather a large gap—are attributed to people who deliberately travel to England to get free healthcare because their treatments are so expensive in their country of origin. In no way should we entertain health tourism; it should be detected and the individuals suitably charged. The NHS, as we know, is enormously generous and supported by us all through our taxes. The whole purpose is that we should contribute, through our taxes, to the well-being of our own country’s health.
I have had a long-time interest in maternity services. As the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, indicated in introducing his proposed new pregnancy and maternity clause, there really are few things more important to a woman than bringing a new life into the world. It is a journey of dramatic physical, psychological and social change; of becoming a mother, of redefining family relationships and in taking on the long-term responsibility of caring for and cherishing a newborn child. If the needs of child-bearing women and their babies are ignored, then not only are the physical, social and psychological long-term effects damaging to those concerned but the economic implications for the country are considerable.
As I understand it, the present rules charge women for maternity care if they are not “ordinarily resident”—that is, if they do not have permission to live here permanently. However, they can gain the status of being ordinarily resident immediately or shortly after they enter the country. Women whose status attracts a charge receive an invoice for their care, often early in their pregnancy. If they are unable to pay, though, they should not be refused care. The reason for that is that maternity care is classed as “immediately necessary treatment”, which means that it should not be refused or delayed for any reason. This is because we know that the consequences of delay in extreme circumstances can mean the loss of life or serious damage to the mother, the child or both.
If a woman does not pay, the Home Office may be notified and choose to deny subsequent immigration applications until the debt is paid. While the rules state that women should not be refused care if they are unable to pay, there is evidence of women who are wrongly refused care. There is evidence of women deterred from seeking care because of the charges and the impact of such a debt on subsequent immigration applications. These rules are very poorly understood by migrant women and are very poorly implemented by the NHS. The government research suggests that as many as 30% of the people assessed by NHS trusts are incorrectly classified, resulting in charges being imposed on people entitled to services free of charge.
The research that has been undertaken by both the BMA and Maternity Action highlights the confusion among staff not knowing who is to pay and who should receive care free at the point of use. Secondary legislation under Clause 33 of the Bill will not solve this problem, as I see it; instead, it could make the situation a lot worse. The clause enables the Secretary of State to introduce a migrant levy as part of applying for a visa, as the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, has said. It will significantly increase the number of migrants who are subject to charging, and it will expand the NHS services that attract a charge.
My concern is that, if charges are introduced, they will create a risk that women will not attend antenatal care or will be denied access to services because of their inability to pay. This could prevent midwives from identifying and treating health conditions early in pregnancy, leading in turn to significantly worse health outcomes for these vulnerable women.
As with every piece of legislation, we must try the “What if?” tests. What if a woman finds herself pregnant after her relationship has broken down? If she was dependent on her husband or partner for her immigration status, is she to be charged for maternity care, GP care, prescriptions and dental care? What if a woman whose asylum claim was refused, and is destitute and living on the streets, becomes pregnant as the result of a sexual assault? Is she to be charged for maternity care, GP care, prescriptions and dental care? What if a woman who is married to a British man and has submitted an immigration application to the Home Office becomes pregnant and gives birth while the application is being assessed? Is she to be charged for maternity care, GP care, prescriptions and dental care? Nationally, 20% of all maternal deaths are to women who started their care late in pregnancy, estimated as after 22 weeks, who have missed more than four antenatal visits or who have had no antenatal care at all.
My Amendment 63—I thank other noble Lords who have put their names to it—addresses the needs of migrant women, who have significantly worse maternal health than the rest of the population and have sicker babies. NICE recognises this. NICE guidance identifies migrants, refugees and asylum seekers as a distinct risk group. It recommends that additional measures to promote their early involvement in maternity care should be followed. Screening during antenatal care enables midwives to identify and treat diseases such as HIV and hepatitis. These diseases can be passed on to the baby. Rubella and syphilis can cause serious abnormalities in the baby. The risks associated with FGM can be averted when it comes to labour and the birth of the baby. Lastly, conditions that might lead to early labour can be assessed, for example, blood pressure, urine infections and multiple pregnancies.
Even under the present system, we have cases of women who have been deterred from seeking care. I want to mention just one. A woman who had experienced problems with her first baby was found to have high blood pressure during her second pregnancy. Her doctor wanted her to be admitted to hospital, but she refused because she was fearful of being charged for maternity services. This woman had been charged for NHS care for her first baby. She attended an appointment with a midwife during her second pregnancy, but refused to go to hospital despite strong recommendations from the midwife and the doctor. By the end of her pregnancy, she was very ill, and when she gave birth, her baby was very unwell. The woman’s kidneys failed. She was admitted to the intensive care unit and now requires long-term dialysis. The ongoing poor health of the woman and her baby could have been prevented had she received the care that she needed earlier in her pregnancy.
The final costs of deterring women from attending antenatal care can be considerable. The simple process of identifying and treating a common complaint in a pregnant woman, such as a urinary tract infection, can prevent a woman developing an inflection of the kidneys, which can result in a premature birth. The cost of delivering standard care, including treatment of a urinary tract infection is £2,600. The cost of providing care to a woman with kidney failure and her premature baby is £59,000. Diagnosis and treatment of HIV during pregnancy can reduce the risk of HIV transmission to the baby to a negligible level. The cost of providing maternity care and HIV treatment is between £15,000 and £24,000, depending on the treatment, but the lifetime cost of care for a baby born with HIV infection is at least £280,000.
I can understand the wish of the Government to simplify the present system, but they must ensure that the proposed changes will not deter some pregnant women from seeking and accessing maternity care. It is important that these clauses do not have a negative impact on the health of these women and their babies and perversely lead to a need for more medical care at greater cost.
My Amendment 63 is carefully drawn. It identifies women who should not pay charges but does not restrict the Secretary of State adding to the categories, should he wish. It also gives him flexibility through guidance, and it gives discretion to providers of services in identifying whether there are reasonable grounds about whether charges should apply in certain circumstances. My concern is that, in trying to deter pregnant women from health tourism, the ultimate result will be that we will be left with a higher bill to pay nationally and will cause considerable misery on the way. I look forward to my noble friend’s reply.
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 59, which stands in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Cumberlege, and to Amendment 60, which stands in my name. I have added my name to Amendment 59. I also strongly support Amendment 63, which stands in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Cumberlege, and other noble Lords. I would have added my name to it, but another Lord Patel—the noble Lord, Lord Patel of Bradford—beat me to it. I think the priorities were wrong there, but never mind. It just shows that Amendment 63 has wide, cross-party support in the House.
I declare my interests. I am on the specialist register of the General Medical Council as an obstetrician. I also hold the position of professor of obstetrics at the University of Dundee. The noble Baroness, Lady Cumberlege, gave a long list of reasons why pregnant women should be seen early in pregnancy, and I could add another 500 or more, but I do not want to recite a textbook of obstetrics and antenatal care. It is important that every pregnant woman is seen as early as possible during pregnancy if we are to prevent problems occurring later in pregnancy for her and her child’s well-being. It is important that she is seen early so that problems that are occurring are identified early and can be treated early to prevent serious complications developing later. As the noble Baroness, Lady Cumberlege, said, in maternal mortality reports, it is the women who are seen late in pregnancy who develop the most complications and even die. Hence anything we do that will prohibit or prevent women from being seen early in their pregnancy will be wrong.
As for health tourism, the visitors are not part of this levy or these charges. It is likely that the so-called childbirth tourism occurring here, often referred to by some hospitals as the “Lagos shuttle”, is about visitors and not those seeking to enter this country on different visas. I therefore hope that the Minister will look again at why pregnant women are included in the levy and charges.
My Amendment 60 includes not only persons who are pregnant but also children. To clarify, I included children under 18 because, currently, children under 18 in this country are exempt from NHS charges. Of course, I realise that, in terms of risk, children under five years old are different from children aged five to 12 or, for that matter, 12 to 18. As no other noble Lord is likely to speak about children, although the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, referred to them briefly, I intend to speak at length only to demonstrate how important children are and what harm the levy, or imposing charges on children, could possibly do.
My amendment would exempt children from the migrant health levy when they apply or are included as dependants in an application for leave to enter or remain. The levy is to apply generally to visa applicants who are students, workers or families, but not visitors. Currently, it is intended that payment of the levy will provide the applicant with free access to all NHS services for the duration of his or her visa. As the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, said, we need clarification about whether the levy means that they will get all NHS services free of charge. There is a lot of confusion about that. For instance, Clause 33(4) makes it clear that there is no guarantee that restrictions on access to particular services will not be introduced. Clause 33(3)(e) includes a power for the Secretary of State to make exemptions from the levy. However, it is not clear in the Bill what the consequence of such an exemption would be. Without more, it appears that a charge would be made where a child exempted from the levy needed to access NHS services, save for any services which regulations may exempt from charging.
As to which services charges will apply, the intention is that this will include primary and secondary care services, including accident and emergency services. GP consultations will be free, although it is unclear whether any treatment that may be delivered by or via the GP will be free. Treatment for specified communicable diseases and sexually transmitted infections will be available. It is yet to be decided whether any, or how many, mental health services will remain free. There is a great deal of doubt.
The Department of Health response to last year’s consultation on migrants’ access to NHS services recorded,
“widespread support for exempting all children, not just those in local authority care, from charging”.
However, the Government then concluded:
“We do not intend to establish an exemption for children as we believe this poses a significant risk of abuse by visitors seeking treatment for children … Vulnerable children, such as victims of trafficking, those seeking asylum, and migrant children in local authority care currently receive free healthcare and will continue to do so. We will listen to arguments about how best to cover other vulnerable children who might otherwise be denied treatment”.
Can we know what this group of “other vulnerable children” will be? To me, all children of a certain age are vulnerable.
Therefore there are several problems with the Government’s position. First, the suggestion that exempting children would encourage migration to the UK is mere speculation. Research has found no correlation between accessibility of healthcare to migrants and migration patterns. That some people may abuse that is different, but it does not encourage migration. Secondly, not all children falling within the groups specified as vulnerable are in practice recognised as within those groups. As the Department of Health response acknowledges, victims of human trafficking are exempted from charges only if they have been formally recognised as victims or potential victims, and most do not engage with the formal recognition system. If they do not do so, they are not recognised. Child asylum seekers may also be excluded by reason of disputes as to their age.
Thirdly, the Government’s position fails to have any regard to the effect of greatly extending charges to cover primary care and accident and emergency treatment. While children are not generally exempted from NHS charges now, the consequences of this are less harmful because primary care and accident and emergency treatment are currently provided free. Fourthly, the Government’s position seeks to draw a generally inappropriate distinction between children who are vulnerable and those who are not. While some children face greater risks to their health and well-being than others, all children are vulnerable to such risks by reason of their physical and mental immaturity and their dependency on parents or guardians. That is why we look after our children—because they are vulnerable.
If the Government proceed with their current proposals, children face being effectively excluded from basic primary care and accident and emergency treatment if they or their parent or guardian are deterred because they cannot afford to pay a charge, are worried about the consequences—including immigration consequences—of incurring a debt they cannot afford, or are simply afraid that if they seek healthcare, the Home Office will be informed. Clinical experience shows that individuals and families are already deterred from accessing health treatment they need. The Royal College of General Practitioners said that,
“we are concerned that limiting access to primary care would impact detrimentally on immunisation rates”.
At Second Reading, the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, offered the reassurance that,
“claims that we intend to turn GPs into immigration officers are untrue”.—[Official Report, 10/2/14; col. 419.]
However, can he comment on the plans expressed by the Home Office Permanent Secretary to extend the Home Office “radar”, as he puts it, into the NHS? The Minister has sought to portray the Bill as making little difference to the accessibility of healthcare. That picture is profoundly flawed. The Bill significantly extends, by Clause 34, those migrants who may be charged for healthcare. The healthcare services for which this wider group of migrants may be charged are also to be greatly extended. To implement this, and the migrant levy in Clause 33, the Department of Health and the Home Office are working on a registration system to be applied throughout the health system. I refer noble Lords to page 18 of the Department of Health’s Visitor and Migrant NHS Cost Recovery Programme: Sustaining Services, Ensuring Fairness in the NHS. Will the Minister comment on whether they are working on such a system and what its purpose is?
The proposals can lead only to an increased public health risk—and I have no doubt that we will deal with that at a later stage. Children’s health and well-being will be put at greater risk if a parent or family member is not treated for an infectious disease. The people who will be most at risk are the children. The Department of Health accepts the responsibility to provide healthcare to anybody who needs it, but the proposals in the Bill will play against that. The children’s future will also be put at risk if their mothers do not receive any or timely antenatal care. A physically or mentally ill parent may be unable properly to care for his or her child, with health and other safeguarding consequences. Indeed, when children are not attending healthcare services, the risks that safeguarding concerns are missed will be increased. Hence, the Bill runs counter to the Home Secretary’s duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of children. Nor is it consistent with the UK’s general duty that,
“in all actions concerning children, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration”.
That is a reference to the 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. How do the Government feel that they will fulfil this by introducing the proposals in the Bill?
Imposing the health levy and other NHS charges on children and pregnant women for preventive, acute and emergency care will not fulfil the Government’s legal, moral or ethical responsibility for providing care for children, particularly emergency care. They will fail in their commitments to the UN convention. If we do not care for those vulnerable children, particularly the very young, and pregnant mothers, who do we care for? Is it only those who can afford to pay?
Clause 33 enables the Government to introduce a health levy. The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, said that her Benches support it in principle; on our Benches, we support it as the least worst of a number of options, none of which we particularly favour. We think that a health levy is preferable to requiring people who come to this country to take out forms of private health insurance that do not meet their needs and are considerably more expensive. However, having said that a health levy may be one way of generating income for the NHS that we can support, like other Peers we have considerable reservations about what the effect will be in practice—and, in particular, what the deterrent effect will be on people who require health services. We will go on in later groups of amendments to discuss that in greater detail, but in this group noble Lords have focused first and foremost, perhaps not surprisingly, on pregnant women and children.
The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, in his introduction was almost biblical in his references to our consideration for expectant mothers and children. I am not as spiritual as he is—I am much more practical. I would say that one of the haunting images of last year was that of the asylum seeker who drowned in the boat off Lampedusa in southern Italy, who was found to be giving birth at the time. When I listen to people talking about maternity and health tourism, time and again I go back to that woman and what must have been going through her mind, and what her life must have been like, to be pregnant and in that position. That is just my disposition towards our general discussion.
The noble Baroness, Lady Cumberlege, introduced her amendment in her characteristically thoughtful and well researched way. She, too, referred to the letter of the noble Earl, Lord Howe, of 6 March, in which he explained the thinking behind this Bill from the point of view of the Department of Health. I, too, wanted to focus noble Lords’ attention on the statement that he made. He said that there was “widespread evidence” and,
“a cost of between £70 million and £300 million from people who deliberately travel to England to get free NHS treatment—so-called ‘health tourists’”,
of which those seeking maternity treatment were most prominent. There is some difference between £70 million and £300 million. My first question to the Minister is: can he explain the range? Even if he can, £300 million in terms of the overall NHS budget is minuscule. Consequently, when we are doing our job in this House as we should, which is to consider not just the immediate cost but the overall impact of a charge, we have to do it in recognition of that fact.
I should like the Minister to explain exactly how the Department of Health arrived at that estimate, particularly as the small charity, Médecins du Monde—Doctors of the World—conducted research across the European Union and discovered that there is no higher rate of migration to this country under our current system of charges than to places such as Germany. I simply repeat, as I did at Second Reading, that I have no problem with our making a fundamental change to our health policy provided that we do so on the basis of proper evidence and not the cynical opinion of newspapers.
Amendment 64A in this group stands in my name. Other amendments in the group, which I support, refer to pregnant women. Mine refers to women who are pregnant or require postnatal treatment. We afford postnatal services to those who are ordinarily resident. We do so routinely for women who do not have problems, who also have access to health visitors to ensure that they and their children are functioning well in the first few weeks of the children’s lives. We afford these services to women who have problems which may not be very significant but which we know are important in the development of their children—for example, women who are having trouble breastfeeding or women who are suffering from postnatal depression. We also extend treatment to women who have suffered traumatic deliveries and need surgery following deliveries that have not gone well. That is what we do for our own people because it is the right and decent thing to do. I should like to think that in future, no matter who a woman is or what her financial status is, she, too, will be afforded such treatment.
Finally, I thoroughly support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Patel, which mentions children. I pay my taxes to live in a country where the first question that a doctor asks concerns what is wrong with a child and what treatment they need, not who their parents are. Our wish is to retain that as far as we possibly can.
My Lords, I support the amendment on domestic violence in the name of my noble friend Lady Smith of Basildon. She has made the case for it, so I will not repeat that, other than to point out that this amendment is totally consistent with the Government’s own action plan on domestic violence and builds on the destitute domestic violence concession. It is a very modest amendment, which would simply guarantee a period of safety, with access to services and benefits, after the breakdown of a relationship because of domestic violence. I hope I am not being naive when I say that I am confident that the Government will support this amendment, given that it is so consistent with their own policy.
I also support Amendment 60, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Patel. I am very glad that he introduced an amendment on children to remind us of the potential effects on children of some of these changes. I draw noble Lords’ attention to what the Joint Committee on Human Rights, of which I am a member, had to say on this matter. It referred to the concerns that,
“arise about the possible impact on children of the provisions in the Bill which extend charging for NHS services … Extending charging to migrants not previously charged for accessing health services, and extending the range of services for which charges apply, are likely to have a deterrent effect on accessing health care, which in turn is likely to have a particularly detrimental effect on the children of such migrants”.
I will not go into the full detail but our recommendation was that to meet these concerns,
“about the impact of extended charging for health services on children’s health, we recommend that new guidance be issued specifically on the s.11 Children Act duty”,
which applies to the NHS,
“explaining to front-line decision-makers in the health sector exactly how that duty applies in the context of extended charging for NHS services”.
I should therefore be grateful if the Minister would say what the Government’s response is to that.
I want to go on to talk about a number of amendments that relate to pregnant women. I will not make the health case because it has already been made so well by people who are much better placed than I am to make it. I want to reflect on some of the comments made by Ministers in response to concerns raised at Second Reading. In his letter, the noble Earl, Lord Howe—the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, referred to this issue—singled out,
“those seeking maternity treatment as the most prominent among so-called health tourists”.
I am glad that he used the words “so-called” in front of “health tourists”, because it is a horrible term. He talked of “widespread evidence”. Like the noble Baroness, I should be grateful if the noble Lord could clarify what that evidence is. My understanding is that no primary research has been undertaken. If he was referring to the Department of Health’s research, noble Lords should bear with me while I quote from the report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, which noted:
“Given the very wide range of the estimates it has produced”—
the noble Baronesses, Lady Barker and Lady Cumberlege, referred to these “very wide” estimates—
“we caution against ascribing too much weight to the Department of Health’s research when assessing whether the Government has demonstrated an objective and reasonable justification for the differential treatment to which the health charging provisions in the Bill give rise”.
The letter therefore seems to ascribe too much weight to not very firmly based evidence—it is not research, as such.
The Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, in his helpful response to issues raised at Second Reading, reassured us in his usual soothing way that, following representations from Maternity Action and the Royal College of Midwives about the harmful effects on pregnant women among illegal migrants, short-term visitors, failed asylum seekers and visa overstayers, the proposals in the Bill did not apply to them. However, Clause 34 extends the reach of NHS charging provisions to migrants not currently covered. Will the proposals not therefore increase the likelihood of a pregnant woman falling into this category, and is it possible to consider the Bill separately from the parallel healthcare changes being proposed?
If we really are all barking up the wrong tree with our concerns about pregnant women, I hope that the Minister can give us a firm assurance that not one pregnant woman who would not be charged under the current rules will not be charged as a result of the Bill and the related health changes. If he cannot give that assurance, I hope that noble Lords will support this range of amendments that exempt pregnant women.
Finally, the claim at the end of the noble Earl’s letter that, taken together, the changes will,
“maintain safeguards to ensure necessary treatment is not denied”,
ignores the extent to which necessary treatment is already being denied. That point was ably and well made by the noble Baroness, Lady Cumberlege. The letter denies the extent to which pregnant women are deterred from accessing services, even though they would not be charged until afterwards, for fear of the implications of being charged, reported or whatever, or for fear of misapplication of the rules. A report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, going back to long before I even joined your Lordships’ House, referred to the evidence on this. It said:
“The arrangements for levying charges on pregnant and nursing mothers lead in many cases to the denial of antenatal care to vulnerable women. This is inconsistent with the principles of common humanity and with the UK’s obligations under ECHR Articles 2, 3 and 8 ECHR. We recommend that the Government suspend all charges for antenatal, maternity and peri-natal care. We recommend that all maternity care should be free to those who have claimed asylum, including those whose claim has failed, until voluntary departure or removal from the UK”.
That recommendation was never accepted. That was a few years ago but my understanding from Maternity Action and the Royal College of Midwives is that pregnant women are still deterred and the rules are still misapplied. The Bill is taking us in the diametrically opposite direction to that recommended by the Joint Committee on Human Rights back in 2006-07.
I also look forward to what the Minister has to say in response. I hope that he can genuinely reassure us this time, because I was not reassured by his response when these issues were raised in at Second Reading.
My Lords, I support all these amendments—in particular, Amendment 63, to which I have added my name. Unfortunately, due to circumstances, I was not able to be present at Second Reading, but I support these amendments because I worked in the health service for more than 30 years, particularly in women’s health services, implementing, supplying and managing those services. My late husband worked in the health service for more than 40 years.
The first point that I would like to make from that experience and that of many colleagues with whom I am still in touch concerns health tourism. It really is most extraordinary that this term is bandied around to scare people that the health service is being misused by countless numbers of people who really should not be here. It is the same old thing that appeals to Daily Mail readers: these people should not be here and they must not access our facilities. Yet, in all that time neither I nor my husband ever came across health tourism and nor have I ever heard colleagues talk about it. I reinforce what the noble Baronesses, Lady Barker and Lady Lister, said: the letter from the noble Earl, Lord Howe, was extremely woolly in that department. I think that the so-called evidence for this is really just anecdotal.
Perhaps I may say a few words about the noble Earl, Lord Howe. He writes a wonderful letter and he is the most emollient man. I think that if I were on my deathbed and the noble Earl appeared, I would rise and feel well again. He has that ability. He is in the wrong profession—he really should be out there tending the sick because he makes us feel happy and cured. However, being a cynic, I do not believe all that he says, and I hope that sometimes he does not believe it either.
So let us sit back and think really hard about whether health tourism exists. In any case, if, through some medical sleuth, we identified that there were health tourists, would the problem be large enough to make a difference? Would it really bring in that much more money to the health service?
In passing, my late husband was at St Thomas’s Hospital, which is alleged to have experienced the “Lagos shuttle” in relation to maternity care. St Thomas’s and the Royal College of Midwives have denied this, so I question whether this should be used in any way as evidence for charging pregnant women if they want to come to this country as migrants.
My second general point is that one of the reasons why I support Amendment 63 is because it points out awfully well how terribly difficult it will be to make any of the charges. How will that be done? I have been out of the health service for quite a while and I wonder who will implement this? If a pregnant woman says, “I’m pregnant and need antenatal care”, presumably a layer of bureaucrats will have checked her bit of paper. However, what if she does not have a bit of paper, forgot to get it, has lost it or does not speak English? She may have high blood pressure or be carrying twins—we will not go into all the medical obstetric possibilities that the noble Lord, Lord Patel, mentioned. If so, will we really deny the woman care? Doctors and nurses go into their profession because, I hope, they possess a certain amount of compassion, and want to help people. We have to ask patients myriad questions before we even start asking medical questions about their health. Are we to add another layer of questioning? How will we have time to do it? We do not have enough doctors and nurses. They are all overworked, so how will we implement this? Again, will it be financially worth it to create all that distress and bureaucracy?
I know that I have made general points but I say finally that I want to support all noble Lords who have pointed out that if we fail to give proper antenatal care to a pregnant woman we are failing her and her future health, and we are failing the baby or babies she is carrying and their future health. That is not only a double human tragedy but it is denying them their human rights. It is also setting up far more work and expense for the health service in the future if it is not dealt with properly. I beg the Minister to reflect on this between now and Report and to withdraw this awful provision.
My Lords, this list of important amendments deals with the health of some very vulnerable people. I have put my name to Amendment 65, but several deal with exemption of payment for pregnant women if they are unable to pay. I do not know which of the amendments is most appropriate but I hope that the Minister will accept the spirit behind the amendments and bring forward an acceptable amendment on Report.
Charges at the point of care create risks that women will not attend care, will attend late in their pregnancy or will be denied access to care because of inability to pay. This can prevent midwives identifying and treating health conditions early in pregnancy which, in turn, can lead to significantly worse health outcomes for vulnerable, migrant women. NICE has acknowledged this and recommended that care providers take additional measures to promote early engagement with maternity services. FGM reversal is best undertaken prior to 20 weeks of pregnancy. Charges at this point of care can result in higher costs later to the NHS. Pregnant women who are HIV positive need treatment so that their babies are born free of HIV. They should not be put off seeking care. Delayed or no antenatal care can lead to complex interventions at a later date. For example, identifying and treating urinary tract infections during standard antenatal care prevents a woman developing a kidney infection that can result in premature birth which can be very expensive to the NHS. I hope that the Minister will do his very best to agree to some of our points.
My Lords, I have listened carefully to the debate and support the general thrust of all the amendments. However, like the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, I am not clear which of the amendments particularly meets the bill. I hope the Government will indicate not only whether they are receptive to the general thrust but which amendments are particularly inadequate. I hope the Minister will address the question posed by the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, of what exactly is meant by the phrase “health tourism”. What is the evidence that it exists?
My Lords, this has been an important debate and I declare all my health interests. In speaking briefly, I will not reiterate the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Cumberlege, and my noble friend Lord Patel but they are incredibly important.
When the Minister comes to reply, perhaps he will give the figures in respect of the actual cost of antenatal care versus the actual cost of complications. Let us not forget that a massive haemorrhage in labour or a massive problem with obstructive labour will cost a great deal of money in emergency treatment when, if they had been picked up much earlier with a simple ultrasound examination, the problems could have been avoided. Will the Minister give the costs and the research evidence behind the reason for the Government not exempting pregnancy and children? Will he say what discussions the Government have had with the royal medical colleges and the Royal College of Midwives, in particular, over the background to this measure and its implementation? For doctors, nurses and midwives trying to implement it on the ground it will be a nightmare.
What do the Government intend to do to monitor the effects of the measure—in other words, how will they audit it—when and if they proceed to implement the Bill as it is currently drafted? Will that audit include a cost of the complications that would have been avoided in the event that pregnant women had had appropriate antenatal care?
There is a great deal of evidence behind this. From all the amendments that have been tabled today it seems evident that a consolidated and focused amendment will be brought back on Report. Like others who have spoken, I believe it would be most sensible for the Government to listen today and take the evidence on board, rather than push the House to determine its view.
My Lords, I should like to add a few words to what my noble friend Lady Barker has already said about Amendment 64A which, unlike some of the other amendments in the group, covers postnatal as well as prenatal treatment.
We had a meeting with representatives of the Royal College of Midwives, as mentioned by the noble Baroness, and Maternity Action on 27 January and we have taken note of the strong arguments for exempting these patients from charging, as I hope the Minister will have done by the end of this debate. As has been said repeatedly, there is no official estimate of the net cost to the NHS of non-EEA short-term migrants needing maternity treatment once those exempt from charging are removed from the equation. Neither in the Government’s briefing nor in any other source have I been able to find a reliable estimate of the volume of alleged maternity tourism. However, as has been said, anecdotal evidence exists, of which the Minister’s letter is an example.
This all seems to have arisen from an assertion by Sky News that 300 women had been stopped at Gatwick but then had to be admitted because they were assessed as being more than 36 weeks pregnant and therefore unable to travel back to their countries of origin. This information was said to have come from a government report, but no title or reference was given. The noble Baroness, Lady Cumberlege, quoted the letter from the noble Earl, Lord Howe, giving a wide range of estimates of the volume of health tourism generally but not maternity tourism in particular. All it had to say on that subject was that maternity tourism formed a large proportion of the total value of health tourism. Surely the answer to that problem is for the Government to stipulate that airlines flying pregnant women to UK destinations should be required to obtain certificates of the length of pregnancy from doctors they can trust, and for carriers that bring women who are more than 36 weeks pregnant to the UK to be subject to fines. That should not be too difficult because the alleged maternity tourists are said to come from a limited number of destinations. When my noble friend the Minister comes to reply, I would like him to make some comments about that idea.
At the other end of the spectrum from the Sky News report was an article about a woman whose case was reported in the Guardian. She had been living in the UK as the wife of a British citizen for seven years, but for some reason not explained in the article had evidently not obtained indefinite leave to remain. Having paid Lewisham Hospital £5,000 for maternity services in regard to care during and after her first child’s birth, she was terrified of going near the NHS and was expecting to give birth without medical supervision because she and her husband were still paying off the bill for the first child.
My noble friend Lady Tonge asked about the denial of treatment for women who present themselves as maternity patients but cannot satisfy the health authorities that they are legitimately entitled to those services. Surely the answer to that must be that the delivery of the services should come first and the ascertainment of the woman’s right to treatment dealt with afterwards. I cannot imagine that any clinician would say that they would not provide maternity services for a woman in the early stages of pregnancy, and that may be the answer to those who say that complications arising from a variety of serious causes might result from the failure to treat those who are in the early stages of pregnancy. I hope that I am right in saying that this will not happen because of the first duty of clinicians, mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, to treat patients who come before them.
Will the noble Lord give way? I appreciate his point, but if someone gives a patient the benefit of the doubt for antenatal care and it then turns out that they do not have an entitlement to treatment, do they then say that the patient is not going to get any more antenatal care?
As I am sure my noble friend is aware, pregnancy goes on for nine months. It is not a short intervention which is treated and the patient then goes away; it is an ongoing thing that includes postnatal care and goes on for a long time, as the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, pointed out. This is a long-term treatment and it is important that it should be so. Perish the thought that treatment is cut off mid way.
No, what I was saying is that I hope that the treatment would be given irrespective of the woman’s entitlement while checks are being made to see whether she is a valid patient of the NHS or is someone who should incur the charges. However, if the charges do fall on the woman, I hope that they will simply lie on the table, as obviously a substantial proportion of the costs of treatment of migrants has done in the past. From the official figures given by the Department of Health, I think it was two-thirds of the charges incurred—not just by pregnant women but by persons who were not entitled to treatment presenting themselves to the NHS. In no case that I have heard of were patients denied treatment, but the charges piled up and the debt was left there on the table. I do not know what the mechanisms for recovery will be under this system, and perhaps the Minister will deal with that point in his reply.
I assume, and want confirmation, that no woman would ever be denied treatment, but if it was ascertained subsequently that she was not entitled to it, the debt would be recorded somewhere. Whatever steps the NHS might take to recover it would be fair enough, but if it could not be recovered, like so many other debts which have been incurred by migrants generally in the past, would it be written off to the NHS? I would like reassurance from the Minister on that point.
Undocumented migrants such as overstayers and failed asylum seekers, of whom there are estimated to be half a million, are unlikely to be able to pay for maternity or indeed any other medical services. If such people work, they are on or below the minimum wage and are now likely to become unemployed with the tightening up of checks by employers on their right to work. Health authorities may invoice patients from this group, but can the Minister say what proportion of the debt is recovered and whether there is anything in this clause, or indeed in the Bill as a whole, that will make it easier to collect the money? Will they be able to transfer the debts at a discount to a debt collector, and will they be any better off than they would have been in the past before this clause was enacted?
My Lords, in listening to my noble friend Lord Patel’s concerns, which I share very strongly, about children and the charging of children, it occurred to me that there might also be an issue about the immunisation of children. If significant numbers of children do not get immunised, that might pose a threat. I would appreciate the Minister addressing that question in his reply.
My Lords, this has been a very full discussion about all aspects of healthcare and healthcare charging, some of which lie within the provisions of the Bill and some of which lie way beyond it and are actually part of the Department of Health’s consultation. I guess there are two ways of dealing with this debate: I can give either the short answer or the long answer. I have chosen to give the long answer—I hope that noble Lords will indulge me—in the hope that I will be able to disabuse them of some of their anxieties and reassure them. I am very mindful of the kind words from the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, but I am also slightly anxious as a result of the description of my noble friend Lord Howe. I am equally concerned to try to be as upfront as I can be about what the Bill provides for and to reinforce my noble friend’s letter, which noble Lords will have received, which seeks to place measures in this Bill in the context of wider health service charging.
Perhaps it would be helpful to provide a brief reminder of the intentions behind Clauses 33 and 34. I will refer to my noble friend Lord Howe’s letter because it sets out the context for these provisions, which is the Department of Health’s wider programme of work on migrant access and financial contributions to the NHS. Likewise, I want to reassure noble Lords that, first and foremost, the NHS is, and will remain, free at the point of delivery for permanent residents. But it is a national service, not an international health service. We believe that migrants should have a form of access to the NHS that is commensurate with their immigration status. That is our policy position.
As my noble friend Lord Avebury said, we have perhaps one of the most generous health services in the world. Temporary migrants with leave of more than six months currently qualify for free care almost immediately after their arrival in the UK. In effect, this means that only tourists and illegal immigrants are generally chargeable for healthcare in the UK. I ask noble Lords to bear that in mind when we come to discuss the detail of the amendments.
Temporary, non-EEA migrants will be required to pay an immigration health surcharge. Our policy is that this will provide them with generally the same free NHS access as permanent residents. This will cover treatments including maternity services. I remind noble Lords that this is not a charge to be paid when they go to the doctor or to hospital; this charge is paid on application for a visa to come to this country. It is a charge that is part of the package and is designed to give those people—who, I agree, could be vulnerable—the same status as citizens and permanent residents of this country.
As my noble friend Lord Howe set out in his letter, in itself the Bill will not make any changes to NHS structures or remove the ability of the Department of Health or devolved health ministries—we must remember that while immigration is UK-wide, the administration of healthcare is devolved—to exempt certain groups or treatments from overseas visitor charging on health grounds. Short-term visitors—those here for less than six months; that is, people who are not provided for in this Bill—and illegal immigrants will continue to be liable to NHS charging, as they are now. There is no change proposed by the Bill.
Decisions on what services should and should not be exempt from this charging regime are set out in the NHS charging regulations, which are laid before Parliament, where matters such as those raised by many noble Lords today could be discussed. The regulations are a matter for the Department of Health and the devolved Administrations for health purposes and not part and parcel of immigration legislation.
I hope that I will be able to go on and talk about these matters when I address the specific amendments. I hope that when I have concluded my remarks, the noble Baroness will feel that I have indeed satisfied her in that respect. I understand the vulnerability of pregnant women and the care that is needed to ensure that both mother and child have healthy prospects.
The health surcharge is designed to ensure that legal migrants make a fair contribution to the NHS, commensurate with their immigration status. We intend for it to be applied fairly and without unintended consequences. As I have just said to the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, pregnant women should not be adversely affected—I listened with great care to the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, and to subsequent speeches on this subject. However, it is important to consider the safeguards already provided in the Bill.
In respect of the provisions relating to landlords, there are exclusions from the restrictions in accessing accommodation at Schedule 3 to the Bill to protect the vulnerable. Local or housing authorities providing accommodation in discharging a statutory duty—for example, under national assistance or children’s legislation—are not subject to these restrictions.
Asylum seekers and failed asylum seekers who face recognised barriers to return will be authorised to rent property by the Home Office, and the department will continue to support destitute applicants. Accommodation for vulnerable individuals, such as hostels for the homeless and refuges for victims of violence, will also be exempt from the checking requirements—I mention these because the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, rightly expressed concern about the vulnerable and I shall address her amendments later.
We need to consider the checks that would be required by some of the amendments. These would be intrusive; indeed, it would be objectionable to ask all temporary female migrants of childbearing age if they were pregnant and to verify that information. How could the Home Office or a service provider establish that an individual was indeed pregnant rather than merely seeking to circumvent the rules? Rather than a simple check of documentation, which is what the Bill provides for, inquiries would need to be directed to the individual’s health provider. We must also consider the unintended distress that such a practice could cause. What if a woman was reluctant to reveal a pregnancy? What if she suffered a miscarriage while her visa or other applications were being considered? She would no longer be exempt; she would need to tell us of her loss at a time of great distress. The more one looks into the detail of this and the practical application of the policy, the more the intrusive nature of these amendments becomes clear.
Some of the amendments would allow pregnant women who were illegal migrants to rent accommodation, open bank accounts and hold driving licences. As such, they would help them establish a life in the UK. However, they would also create a dangerous loophole through which illegal migrant women might be encouraged or pressurised into becoming pregnant so that they could rent accommodation or open a bank account for themselves or their family members. We surely cannot introduce legislation that places women at risk of such exploitation.
Before turning to the particular amendments, I shall address some of the questions that have been asked. The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, asked me about the health consultation. The Bill provides that certain expensive treatments could be charged for, even though persons have paid the surcharge—it is important to have flexibility in the legislation—but when the Act is initially implemented it is our clear policy intention that there will be no further charges for treatments where people have paid the surcharge. They will be treated as if they are permanent residents. The Bill’s provisions are therefore wider than the application of the legislation
The noble Baroness also asked me about the transitional arrangements. There are no transitional arrangements to the extent that anybody who is already here under existing immigration laws permitting them a period of stay greater than six months will not to have to pay the surcharge. The payment will be required only of people who are making a new application or new applicants. It should be noted that if somebody is extending their leave by making a fresh application the surcharge will become due. There is no question of trying to recover the surcharge from people who already have a right to be in this country for more than six months.
I apologise for interrupting the Minister, and I am grateful for his response to my queries. I am still slightly confused on the issue of pregnant women. I think that he said that the Bill allows for such charges but there is no intention to make them. If I have that wrong, perhaps he could clarify it for me. The only reason it has been flagged up is that the public health consultation mentioned additional charges. I want to be absolutely clear that if a woman has paid the surcharge, there is no additional charge to be made. I may have misunderstood, but what he said seems slightly contradictory.
The other point is on transitional arrangements. If someone is already here legally, my question is about the practicality and workability of the measures. How will we be able to distinguish between someone who has paid the surcharge but is here illegally and someone who is here legally but has not paid the surcharge?
If the Minister will allow me, before he answers the noble Baroness, can I make something clear? We keep confusing surcharge with levy. Let us talk about the levy that will be imposed on people coming here who are not visitors. Once that levy has been paid, it will allow them to access all health services. Is that quite clear?
Yes, that is exactly right. They will have the same access to health services as is available to a permanent resident. That is the whole purpose. It is administratively a tidy arrangement; it is straightforward and easy to police; and people will be paying it at the same time as they apply for their visa. Their visa application will show that they have those rights, so if anyone seeks to charge such a person, they will not be chargeable because they will have a clear right to free healthcare, just as the noble Lord and I would.
It is really important to emphasise that point, because the whole point of having the levy, the charge or whatever we call it, is to provide a contribution from people who stay here and may impose some cost on the health service but to avoid asking them for payments for services provided or to take out an insurance policy before they come here to cover any chance that there will be health costs. It will be an asset to the health service in the sense that it will provide money to support the health service. It also regularises the position of the individuals involved. I hope that that satisfies the noble Lord.
I do not think so. I think that the Bill’s provisions are purely about health service charging for those who come here for a fixed term of six months or more and who are not here as visitors. It clearly differentiates between those who are here legally and with proper documentation and those who are illegal, so it will make it more difficult for those people who are here illegally to avoid the implication of their illegal presence here in the United Kingdom. We should remember that most people who are here illegally are overstayers; they are not people who have come in but people who should have gone home. That is one thrust behind the legislation.
May I press the Minister just one step further, since this is quite a complex area? I think I am right that, at present, students count as being ordinarily resident as distinct from permanently resident. In future, because the ordinarily resident concept will broadly disappear, they will be regarded as permanent residents only if they put in the time to become, eventually, citizens in that sense. Many students, particularly those who are post-doctorate, continue to work in some area associated with what they are doing. For example, many post-docs work on research and are paid for it. If those students then pay taxes and national insurance on those earnings which they receive, but which are often well below what the market rate would be for their level of qualifications, am I right in thinking that they would not have access to free health treatment unless they had paid the surcharge at the moment when they got the visa?
They will have access currently, as the noble Baroness will understand. When they make an application to come here from now on, they will have to pay the health surcharge on top of the visa that they are currently applying for. I hope that I have made that clear. At the same time, it has been suggested from the Box that I ought to make it absolutely clear that the surcharge will be paid when a person applies for a visa and for leave to remain when they are in the UK and extending their leave. I think that was what I said, but the Box obviously thought that it is such an important point that everyone should understand that.
My Lords, what the Minister said in response to my question is clearly recorded, so we can all read it. As I understood it, I thought he said that once the health surcharge—let us say it is £200—is paid, for the duration of their legitimate stay in this country all health services will be available to them.
On this point, I am sorry that we are pursuing the Minister, but can I take this one step further? I was talking specifically about a post-doctoral graduate who might be earning some relatively small sum while he was a post-doctoral graduate. I take it that he would therefore not be exempt from the surcharge as well even though he would be paying both national insurance and taxation, if he was about the taxation threshold, and had paid the surcharge already. That is where the sense of some unfairness in the system arises rather strongly.
I suppose that at any boundary point, there are bound to be these sorts of situations occurring. The post-doctoral leave to remain would be in addition, perhaps, to a university degree. There would be an additional application, so indeed it would be allowable because they would not be permanently resident here in the UK. That is a correct analysis of the situation and the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, is absolutely right in pointing that out.
My Lords, I hesitate to add to the interruptions that the Minister has already suffered, but I think I can understand what the noble Lord, Lord Patel, was getting at. Clause 33(4) states:
“In specifying the amount of a charge under subsection (3)(b) the Secretary of State must … have regard to the range of health services that are likely to be available free of charge to persons who have been given immigration permission”.
That implies that not all health services will be available to that person, but the noble Lord has insisted that such persons will be treated on the same basis as a native of this country in accessing the health service. Why do we need subsection (4), which implies that there are other services which the health service provides that are not covered by the surcharge?
I thought that I had made that clear in answer to an earlier question, and I am just trying to find my notes on that matter. When the Bill is initially implemented, it is our clear policy intention that there will be no further charges for treatment. The provision in the Bill is there for this particular period, but we will clarify the position on implementation. The policy position is that there will be no further charge. That is not on the face of the Bill, as the noble Lord, Lord Patel, rightly points out, but I am giving him the policy position from the Dispatch Box. I hope that that reassures him and my noble friend on that point.
Would the Minister be patient one more time? I thank him very much for giving way. Unless the granting of a visa is made dependent on paying the health surcharge, will poor migrants—let us assume that a lot of people wanting to come to this country are coming for a better life and are very strapped for cash—not waive the health charge, or whatever we like to call it, and assume that because they are healthy when they apply for their visa they will never need medical treatment? Is there not a danger that we are forcing people into a situation where they will not be able to receive any medical treatment at all because they will be too poor?
I have to say that we are not looking to put people in that situation. Indeed, one would hope—this is the reason for the provision—that if people are here for a period of time, they have got cover for their healthcare. That is the whole point of the charge in the first place. If people come as temporary visitors then that is a slightly different position, but they make that choice. They make the choice to come here, and they carry the responsibility to do so.
Perhaps I may turn to some of the amendments. It is good that we have had this chance to talk about the principles behind the charging and I hope that it has clarified the position to some degree. However, there are points here that I think I need to clear up. The first is that the restrictions to services set out in Part 3 are designed to protect our services from illegal immigrants—people who are remaining here outside the law. Many of these provisions will have no impact at all on pregnant women who are in the UK lawfully. The Government are committed to ensuring that the new restrictions and charges in Part 3 are appropriately targeted and do not impose a disproportionate burden on either service providers or migrants.
I should like to address some other points regarding Amendments 59, 60, 63, 64A and 65, which seek to exempt pregnant women from the health surcharge or the NHS treatment charges. I fear that there has been a misunderstanding about the purpose of the surcharge and the manner in which it will operate. As I say, the surcharge will be paid by legal, temporary migrants who come to the UK for more than six months. Our policy intention is that those who pay the surcharge, including pregnant women, will not be subject to most other NHS treatment charges. That will include both antenatal and postnatal care. They will be charged only for services that a UK resident might also be expected to pay for.
Amendment 60 also seeks to exempt children under the age of 18 from the surcharge. This would undermine the general principle that temporary migrants should contribute to the NHS, commensurate with their immigration status. Children are as likely to need NHS care as anyone else. It is therefore reasonable to expect parents—and it would be parents—to make this contribution on behalf of their child.
We have seen the headlines about health tourism. I am afraid that Amendments 63 and 65 would exacerbate the problem of maternity tourism. They would allow any pregnant woman to use the NHS free of charge. The NHS is not equipped to supply free maternity services for the rest of the world, and I do not think that that is an unreasonable thing for a government Minister to say.
Amendment 63, which I tabled, proposes four new subsections. Proposed new subsection (1A) states:
“Notwithstanding subsection (1), any pregnant woman shall be treated as ordinarily resident”,
and proposed new subsection (1B) states:
“However, subsection (1A) shall not apply where there is evidence the woman has entered the UK for the purpose of obtaining healthcare”.
I think that is quite clear. I am saying that people who apply here simply for the purpose of obtaining healthcare should normally have to pay. Perhaps the Minister will clarify that. I am still very concerned about the three examples I gave. Will he address them? The first is a woman who came in with her husband and the relationship has broken down. Is she now exempt from these charges? The second example is a woman who is destitute and living on the streets. If she becomes pregnant as a result of a sexual assault, is she exempt? The third is a woman who is married to a British man and has submitted an immigration application to the Home Office who becomes pregnant and gives birth while the application is being assessed. Is she to be charged? It is not just maternity services; it is the other services being introduced in this Bill, such as prescriptions, dental care and A&E.
My noble friend is very prescient because I was just about to turn to Amendment 63. It is exceptionally difficult to prove that a migrant had a prior intention to use the NHS. Pregnant migrants would simply say that they fully intended to return home for the birth of their child. It would be difficult, if not impossible, for us to prove otherwise if they were a temporary migrant. This amendment would require GPs and hospital staff to act as immigration officers, and that is exactly what we are trying to avoid in setting this charge.
I have an answer here for my noble friend on victims of sexual assault. I have been speaking for 30 minutes, which is way beyond the conventions of the House, in answering these amendments. I am quite prepared to go on if noble Lords are prepared to do so. Other noble Lords are waiting to hear the Statement, and I have to crave their indulgence. If I skip any points, I will try to sweep them up by writing to all noble Lords who have spoken on this group of amendments, but there are an awful lot of points. I am literally but halfway through my speaking notes.
My noble friend asked about the operation of NHS charging regulations. Urgent treatment will always be provided no matter what the circumstances, and the Department of Health will still have the power to exempt treatments from charges. It is considering what exemptions for vulnerable groups are appropriate as part of its reform programme; there is no provision in the Bill.
My noble friend also asked whether women who have outstanding NHS debts will receive care. Women who pay the surcharge will not incur NHS debts. Where illegal immigrants or visitors incur debts, they will still receive treatment where it is immediately necessary or urgent. Their NHS debt for this treatment exceeding £1,000 will be taken into account by the Home Office when determining future immigration applications.
I reassure my noble friend Lady Tonge and the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, that pregnant women in need of NHS care will receive it. Our intention is that surcharge payers will receive this care free of charge, at a fraction of the real cost of maternity services. Those who do not pay the surcharge, such as tourists and illegal migrants, who might otherwise be charged for maternity care, are also protected. Guidance to the NHS is explicit that, in order to protect the lives of both mother and unborn child, all maternity care, including routine antenatal care, must be provided to all women without delay caused by charging issues. I hope that I have made that clear in all the answers that I have given: the health of mother and child is paramount, regardless of the charging regime or the status of the mother.
I want to address the point that the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, made about victims of domestic violence. The Government are quite clear that domestic violence is a terrible thing and are committed to combating it in all its forms. If an individual is the victim of domestic violence, they have full protection of the criminal and civil law and of the law enforcement agencies, regardless of their immigration status. That is not in question. But that is not to say that all victims of domestic violence should expect that they can stay here in the UK. There is provision in the Immigration Rules to grant indefinite leave to remain to victims of domestic violence who are here as the partners of someone who is a British citizen or settled in the UK, or a Foreign or Commonwealth member of Her Majesty’s forces who would be able to become settled were it not for service in those forces.
The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, also asked about access to vulnerable people. On child immunisations, the Government are committed to protecting public health as a priority. The Department of Health has confirmed that existing exemptions from NHS overseas visitor charges will remain for treatment of specific infectious diseases; that includes HIV, for example. The Department of Health is considering which groups and treatments should be exempt from NHS overseas visitor charging as part of its wider reform programmes, and we will look at child immunisation in that way.
I am sorry to intervene on the noble Lord; I know that noble Lords are anxious to get on to the next debate. The answer the Minister gave me was not the answer to the question that I asked. I asked about those who have leave to remain in this country and are here legally—they could be UK citizens—but, having fled the domestic home where they have been subjected to violence, do not have the documents to show to a landlord and so cannot prove their status. How does the noble Lord intend for that matter to be dealt with, given the problems that it will cause to women fleeing domestic violence?
My Lords, I remember that the noble Baroness painted this scenario and I understood it well enough; I am sorry if I missed that point in picking up another. There are exceptions for refuge accommodation and local authority-provided housing. After all, a broad range of individuals are in this situation. Social services will be able to help them with long-term housing needs and asylum seekers will also be authorised to rent. If I have not satisfied the noble Baroness, I do not want to mislead her or the House by giving her an off-the-cuff response which is beyond my brief at the minute. I will write to her, and copy in everyone, on this matter.
I am looking through these notes, and see that I have satisfied a number of questions—such as those raised by the noble Lord, Lord Patel, on children—in the way in which I have answered the broader matters. However, I recognise, too, that I may not have covered all the points made by noble Lords, but I am very mindful of the time. If noble Lords will forgive me, I will ask the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, to withdraw his amendment. I thank all noble Lords who have contributed to the debate, which is by way of a warm-up, I suspect, for further adventures in these fields with the amendments that are yet to come.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for choosing to give the lengthy reply rather than the short one. This is clearly a matter of great concern to many of us, so I am most grateful to him for taking the time to answer our points as carefully as he could. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 48 withdrawn.
My Lords, with the leave of the House I will now repeat a Statement made by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister in another place. The Statement is as follows.
“With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a Statement on last week’s emergency European Council.
What has happened to the Ukraine is completely indefensible. Its territorial integrity has been violated, and the aspirations of its people to chart their own future are being frustrated. This European Council sent a clear and united message to Russia that its actions are a flagrant breach of international law and will incur consequences.
We agreed on a three-phased approach to stand up to this aggression and uphold international law: first, some immediate steps to respond to what Russia has done; second, urgent work on a set of measures that will follow if Russia refuses to enter dialogue with the Ukrainian Government; and third, that there should be a set of further, far-reaching consequences should Russia take further steps to destabilise the situation in Ukraine.
Let me say a word on each of these steps. First, as a response to what Russia has already done, we agreed on some immediate steps. We have suspended preparations for the G8 in Sochi indefinitely. As I told the House last week, my view is that it would be completely wrong for a G8 summit to go ahead at all under current circumstances.
We decided to stop work on a comprehensive new agreement on relations between Russia and the European Union, and we immediately suspended the talks that were under way on a more liberal visa regime in the Schengen area—the thing that Russian Ministers and business delegations have pushed for more than anything else.
Here in Britain, I have ordered an urgent review of all government business with Russia. We have already announced that no Ministers or members of the Royal Family will visit the Sochi Paralympics. Many other planned ministerial-level contacts will be cancelled in current circumstances.
All bilateral military co-operation is under review, with the presumption that we will suspend it, except for work carried out to fulfil international treaty obligations, such as European arms control inspections. I have ordered a review of licences for arms exports to Russia. It is hard to see how anything that could be used in Ukraine could be justified. However, as with other measures, it is best if possible to take these decisions in concert with our European allies.
There has been intense work to persuade Russia to come to the negotiating table with the Government of Ukraine and to discuss its stated concerns face to face. The idea of such a contact group that included other countries and organisations was one I first proposed to the Polish Prime Minister back in January.
The Council agreed that it was essential for such talks to start within the next few days and for them to deliver progress quickly. We also agreed that if Russia did not co-operate there would need to be further measures—the so-called second phase—which would need to start rapidly. So at my instigation, the Council tasked the European Commission to begin work on additional measures which could be taken against Russia if these talks do not get going or do not start producing results. Those will include asset freezes and travel bans.
We are working closely with our American, European and other international partners to prepare a list of names, and these sanctions, plus the measures already agreed against Yanukovych and his circle, will be the focus of a meeting here in London tomorrow with key international partners.
There is an urgent need to de-escalate tension in the Crimea. We are all clear that any referendum vote in Crimea this week will be illegal, illegitimate and will not be recognised by the international community. I have to say, in addition, that any campaign would be completely impractical as well as illegal. There is no proper register, no proper campaign, and the territory is covered in troops. It is completely impossible for a proper referendum campaign to be carried out. As I discussed with Chancellor Merkel last night in Hanover, Russia can choose the path of de-escalation by signalling that it understands that the outcome cannot be acted on as legitimate. Chancellor Merkel and I were clear that any attempt by Russia to legitimise an illegal referendum would require us to respond by ratcheting up the pressure further.
Thirdly, and most significantly, we agreed that it was essential to stop Russia taking further unacceptable steps in Ukraine. The Council agreed that, if further steps are taken by Russia to destabilise the Ukraine, there will be additional and far-reaching consequences for the relationship between the Russian Federation on the one hand and the European Union and its member states on the other. The Council conclusions state that these consequences would,
‘include a broad range of economic areas’.
Britain played a leading role in helping to reach this agreement, including through a meeting that I convened with fellow leaders from France, Germany, Italy and Poland on the morning of the Council. Such sanctions would have consequences for many EU member states, including Britain. However, as I argued at the meeting, the costs of not standing up to aggression are far greater. Britain’s own security and prosperity would be at risk if we allow a situation where countries can just flout international rules without incurring consequences.
Finally, we decided to send a political message of support to the Ukrainian Government and people. The Ukrainian Prime Minister spoke at the European Council with great power and force. The Ukrainian people want the freedom to be able to choose their own future and strengthen their ties with Europe, and they want a future free from the awful corruption that they have endured for far too long. At the request of the Ukrainian Prime Minister, we agreed to bring forward the signing of the political part of the EU’s Association Agreement with the Ukraine, and to help Ukraine tackle corruption.
The EU has now frozen the assets of 18 people linked to the former regime, and Britain has deployed a team to Kiev from our National Crime Agency to help the new Ukrainian Government go after ill gotten funds and return them to the Ukrainian people. It is vital that Ukraine proceeds towards free and fair elections, which enable all Ukrainians, including Russian speakers and minorities, to choose their leaders freely. Britain is now providing substantial and immediate technical assistance to Ukraine to support elections and assist with reforms on public financial management, debt management and energy pricing. Ukraine also needs support to stabilise and repair its economy. The EU agreed unilaterally to lower trade tariffs and to work with the International Monetary Fund on a package of financial assistance to the Ukrainian Government.
As I agreed with President Obama during our call this weekend, there is still an opportunity for Russia to resolve this situation diplomatically. It should engage in direct talks with the Ukrainians; return Russian troops to their bases in Crimea; withdraw its support for this illegal and unconstitutional referendum in Crimea; and work with the rest of the international community to support free and fair elections in Ukraine in May. No one should be interested in a tug of war. Ukraine should be able to choose its own future and act as a bridge between Russia and Europe.
Britain’s own future depends on a world where countries obey the rules. In Europe, we have spent the past 70 years working to keep the peace, and we know from history that turning a blind eye when nations are trampled over stores up greater problems for the longer term. We must stand up to aggression, uphold international law, and support the Ukrainian Government and the Ukrainian people, who want the freedom to choose their own future. That is right for Ukraine, right for Europe, and right for Britain”.
My Lords, I commend the Statement to the House.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord the Leader of the House for repeating the Statement made by the Prime Minister in the other place. I join him in expressing deep concern about the situation in Ukraine. Since this matter was discussed last week, we have seen an illegal referendum announced in the Crimea, OSCE observers prevented from crossing into the region by Russian forces for four days running and, yesterday, violence on the streets against anti-Russia demonstrators.
We support the twin-track approach of encouraging dialogue and, at the same time, maximising pressure on the Russian Government. However, no one looking at the unfolding situation on the ground would conclude that this is yet having the desired effect. It is on that basis that we should examine the discussions taking place, the outcome of the EU summit and the steps that should be taken in the days ahead. Of course, getting agreement among the EU 28 is always difficult, particularly when a number of member states are vulnerable to Russian action on issues such as energy. However, as we agreed last week, this is a test of EU resolve and of its commitment to uphold the rule of law, democracy and human rights—values that it prides itself upon as an institution.
I would like to ask the noble Lord the Leader of the House about the Prime Minister’s talks with the German Chancellor. I welcome the proposal for a contact group involving President Putin and the Ukrainian Government. Does the noble Lord agree with me that Russian co-operation in the establishment of this group is an absolutely necessary, though not sufficient, signal of its willingness to resolve the crisis by diplomatic means? I welcome the things that were agreed at the EU summit. These include the unity of the EU in condemning Russia’s actions and the decision to provide support and encouragement to the Ukrainian Government, including €11 billion of aid.
The Prime Minister also made reference to the suspension of both visa talks and a new agreement on EU-Russia relations. These are welcome although they had already been announced on 3 March before the further developments had taken place that I referred to at the start of my remarks. Does the noble Lord therefore accept that the evidence from recent days suggests that these measures alone will be insufficient to get Russia to change course and that further action will therefore be required?
Turning to what more needs to be done, I welcome the European Council’s decision to look at further measures, although the agreed language is weaker than we would have wished in that the communiqué merely committed to “take forward preparatory work”. I welcome what the noble Lord said about asset freezes and travel bans. Will he confirm that there will be a timeframe of days, not weeks, for their implementation, particularly given that the United States is already committed to action on this?
On the EU-Russia summit, unless there is an immediate change of course by the Russian Government, surely at the very least it makes sense to suspend preparations, as has already been done for the G8 summit. Beyond this, we welcome the Prime Minister’s Statement that we need actively to look at other measures. I urge the Government in the days ahead to build support for further measures among our European and other allies to prepare for the eventuality that they may be required. Specifically, if Russia does not change course, will the noble Lord confirm that the Government will consider working with the G7 to suspend Russia from the G8, something that the Prime Minister specifically called for at the start of the crisis in Georgia?
Following the announcement that the UK Government are reviewing every outstanding arms export licence to Russia, will the noble Lord confirm the timescale for the conclusions on this issue? Will he say what scope he believes there is to get an EU-wide agreement on the issue of arms exports? Will he confirm not only that the Government are open to wider economic and trade sanctions but what the circumstances are in which he thinks they would be required? Will he specifically confirm whether he would regard it as an appropriate response to Russia using the referendum to tighten its grip on the Crimea? This would clearly represent a major step and should not be done without consideration of consequences, but does he accept that it may be necessary if we do not see the change of course that is needed from Russia?
Let me say in conclusion that we should continue to use all possible channels to facilitate dialogue, encourage the Ukrainian Government to be as broad-based as possible and recognise the constraints on the Prime Minister in seeking to reach EU-wide agreement. However, we urge the Government, particularly as we approach the referendum in Crimea, to apply maximum influence on our allies so that, in turn, maximum pressure can be applied on the Russian Government. Hesitancy or weakness on the part of the EU about its response will send the wrong message. The UK has a vital responsibility in making sure that that does not happen and that, instead, the EU and the US stand together in clear and united resolve. The Opposition will provide the Prime Minister with all the necessary support as he seeks to achieve this.
My Lords, I am grateful for the comments of support from the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, and I agree with his concluding remarks about the responsibility that the British Government have—in particular the Prime Minister—in trying to pursue the twin-track approach in the way that the noble Lord described by working with both the United States and our partners in the European Union. I believe that the Prime Minister has been doing that assiduously in recent days.
I agree very much with the remarks that the noble Lord made at the beginning of his response about the importance of the contact group. It is, I suppose, our overriding aim at the moment to try to get that work taken forward and to apply pressure on the Russians to become involved in that process, because ultimately getting them and the Ukrainians to talk directly together is the most sensible way forward.
The noble Lord was concerned about whether the measures already announced were insufficient and he asked whether further action would be required if the Russians continue to behave in the way in which they have behaved in recent days. The honest answer to that is that the steps that Britain, the EU, the United States and others take will depend on the response that Russia gives. We are trying to be clear, consistent and predictable in setting out our position on that and on what would happen if Russia took further steps to destabilise Ukraine. That is what lies behind the idea of having a three-step, phased approach.
So far as travel bans and the freezing of assets are concerned, whether we move to that stage will depend on whether Russia agrees to the setting up of the contact group that we discussed. If Russia does not accept that, the Prime Minister has made it clear that travel bans and asset freezes would follow. He has also been clear that that should be able to happen within days rather than weeks, as the noble Lord asked me.
As to whether it would make sense to suspend preparations for the EU-Russia summit as well as for the G8, it is the Government’s view that it would make sense for those measures to be considered in tandem and that the summit should not go ahead under the current circumstances. In response to the noble Lord’s question, we would look at all our options. As to whether we should suspend Russia from the G8, if progress is not made in setting up the contact group a step that could be taken would be to bring forward the revival of the G7, which would send a very clear message to the Russians. However, it would be better if things did not come to that and if we could resolve the issue through diplomatic means.
So far as the arms licences and the timescale are concerned, the Government are keen to review that issue across the EU to create the greatest amount of common ground that we can. So far as Britain is concerned, as the Statement made clear, the Prime Minister has already given instructions that a review of arms licences between Britain and Russia should be carried out immediately.
I can confirm that broader economic and trade sanctions are being considered. If the referendum in Crimea is approved and endorsed by Russia, the Government’s position on it is extremely clear: we cannot accept the referendum as legitimate. We think that it would be essentially farcical. There is no electoral register, there is no ability for people living within Crimea to travel from one side of the region to another and it would be impossible to have a proper campaign in the time available. If, despite that, Russia were to respond to the referendum and claim that it was legitimate, then the kind of broader trade and economic sanctions to which the noble Lord referred would certainly be considered.
My Lords, I, too, join in thanking the Leader of the House for that rather cautious Statement, but perhaps caution is the order of the day at the moment. I would like to press him on two matters. One is the composition of the contact group. We heard last week of the formation of the group and, indeed, in today’s Statement we are told that the Prime Minister was considering this back in January. Would the contact group be an EU initiative comprising just EU countries or would it be a wider group of countries that are slightly more disinterested and possibly therefore have more leverage with Russia? The noble Lord will be aware that when I asked my Question about Ukraine on 27 February when the Russian action was just beginning, I asked whether the good offices of the United Nations Secretary-General would be employed. I urge the Leader of the House to take that message back. However, it may well be more significant to have a contact group that comprises the wider international community rather than just the EU countries that he has mentioned. Can he tell us his thinking in this regard?
My other point concerns the 21 February transition. It may well be worth considering now what measures from that transitional agreement might be applicable. Regarding the elections to be held on 25 May, it would seem legitimate to reflect that at this time, when intense diplomacy is required and when any miscalculation on the part of any country could result in an upping of the stakes, we should consider urging the Ukrainian Government to go for talks through a contact group or to have direct talks with Russia, rather than rushing to elections on 25 May, perhaps sticking to the agreement of 21 February to have elections a little later and, when those elections come, to offer protection for all minorities. I look forward to hearing my noble friend’s response.
I understand the points made by my noble friend about the composition of the contact group. When my right honourable friend the Prime Minister talked to President Putin yesterday, he made the point that the precise format and composition of those talks is slightly less important than getting them going. I am not able to give a precise answer as to who the participants might be because that would clearly be part of any negotiation and discussion that would need to take place. However, the points made by my noble friend will clearly be taken on board and listened to by the Foreign Office as we go forward, as will her other point about the transitional agreement and so on. At the moment, all these areas are in a state of flux, so I am clearly not able to answer with the kind of precision that my noble friend or others might request. However, at the moment our priority is certainly to seek to bring about a de-escalation. The best way of doing that, whatever its precise form, is to find a way of the Russians and Ukrainians talking directly to each other.
My Lords, of course it is right that the Government should say that we cannot have constitutional change, and certainly not territorial change in the boundaries of any country, under duress or the threat of force. However, I would like some clarification on the Government’s position in respect of a referendum in Crimea. Again, the Government are quite right to say that the logistics of any referendum make it impossible or unrealistic for it to take place within a week or so. However, if it becomes the settled view of the people of Crimea or indeed any other country that the present constitutional arrangements are not to their liking, then surely it cannot be the Government’s permanent position that we will, as a matter of principle, say that we will reject that in all circumstances and at any cost.
Whatever form a referendum might take, it needs to be consistent with what is set out in the constitution of Ukraine itself. The simple point about the proposals for the referendum in Crimea is that it is utterly inconsistent with the Ukrainian constitution, which should control it—apart from some of the other practical points to which the noble Lord has already referred, including that when OSCE monitors and others have turned up to try to see the situation, they have been turned back at gunpoint.
Has my noble friend noted some of the commentaries, particularly in the United States, where people still seem to think that we are fighting the Cold War? Will he join others in seeking to explain that the approach by our right honourable friends and our fellow European Governments in looking at the economics of the situation are a much more subtle and effective way of bringing pressure to bear on Moscow and Russia? Does he recall that the Russian economy really floats and survives on a sea of revenue from gas and oil? It may be a supplier, but suppliers need customers. This is the language in which we should bring to bear our efforts to improve Russia’s behaviour and make it more sensible in dealing with a very complex and difficult issue in the Crimea and in Ukraine.
My noble friend makes, as one would expect, a number of extremely pertinent and wise remarks which underline the fact that the importance of financial and trade sanctions should not be underestimated. There are those who seem to suggest that this is some kind of empty threat, but as my noble friend has illustrated forcefully, it is not an empty threat at all. That is why those options are all being considered. At the European Council meeting the member countries made it clear that those options would be considered if we needed to turn to them.
On the question of elections, is it not the case that if a country is divided very much on communal lines and identities itself in terms of nationalism, religion or, indeed, history and geography, as it does, elections which have been taking place under the present constitution—whether it is Tymoshenko or Yanukovych, whereby a result of 51% to 49% means winner takes all—do not work? I know enough about Ukraine to know that this has been coming for some time, because it does not work. Not only does it not solve problems, it exacerbates them. The United Kingdom has experience of something analogous, and I am talking about Northern Ireland. We all know that there are no easy answers but we found that instead of just having elections at 51% to 49%, along with Dublin—which is the equivalent of Moscow in this analogy—we brought people along, step by step, to power sharing. I do not know whether I can ascertain from the Leader of the House whether our experience here would be rather useful in discussions with our colleagues, and indeed with the people, in Ukraine. Can he say whether that experience has been brought to bear, and if not, would it be useful to do so?
The focus of the discussions last week was on prior questions about the need to set up a contact group, the legitimacy of the referendum, the steps that the EU would take and all the rest of it, rather than the minutiae—it is not minutiae, it is an important point—of how Ukraine would organise its own electoral system. I take the noble Lord’s point about some of our own experience, but I do not think that it is our task to try to prescribe how Ukraine carries out its own elections. The most important thing at the moment is that its constitution should be respected and its people should be able to make a decision themselves about the kind of future they want.
My Lords, I welcome the Statement, but will the Government give special thought and consideration to the position of the Crimean Tartars? After all, they suffered greatly under Stalin and have considerable reasons to be nervous now. For example, will the OSCE meet the Crimean Tartars and help them work out suitable future arrangements?
My Lords, all sides of the House—certainly the Government—absolutely understand the significance of the point that the noble Lord has made about the position of the Crimean Tartars and the particular difficulties they have. We are certainly following developments in Crimea closely, including any impact specifically on the Crimean Tartars. I understand that our embassy in Kiev spoke recently with Mustafa Jemilev, who is one of the leaders of the Tartars. That was expressly for the purpose of expressing the support of the British Government and establishing contact during these difficult times.
My Lords, has the Prime Minister and his colleagues in the European Union considered the possibility of seeking a meeting with President Putin to discuss the sort of issues that the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, touched on? A properly supervised referendum with international observers might offer a way forward. Bearing in mind that the future peace of our continent depends on stable relations with Russia, surely it is crucial that we do everything possible, as I am sure my right honourable friend the Prime Minister is doing, to defuse tensions and ensure that civilised dialogue can take place.
I agree with my noble friend that it is important to de-escalate the situation as much as we can and as rapidly as possible. It is certainly the case that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has been in direct contact with President Putin to discuss these issues and to press the case for establishing a contact group—which is, indeed, the most effective way of de-escalating the situation. I accept and agree with my noble friend that it is important to do what we can to defuse the situation. In that regard, I am sure that the House would agree with the proposition that the Ukrainian Government and people have been remarkably restrained in their response to the situation and done everything that they can not to rise to the bait. In accepting the wish to de-escalate, I think that we need to make it clear—and the Prime Minister has been making this clear—that if Russia chooses not to go down that route, consequences will follow, and we will be prepared, along with the Americans and the EU, to take whatever steps are necessary to make it clear that we cannot tolerate this kind of behaviour.
The last time that this House gave detailed consideration to events in the Crimea, some 23,000 British and imperial soldiers died. There is still no fitting memorial to those soldiers in the Crimea. Will Her Majesty’s Government, when the heat and dust of this matter has died down, give serious consideration to the funding of the Crimea war memorial appeal?
I have sympathy with that proposition and the contribution that British soldiers have made in all kinds of spheres through our imperial and colonial history. However, at the moment, the Government’s focus is on trying to resolve this crisis and on making sure that we do not need another memorial to many more people who have been slaughtered. I am sure that others will have heard the noble Lord’s remarks.
Does my noble friend agree that President Putin has undoubtedly drawn the conclusion from Georgia that the effective establishment of the status quo there is a green light for attempting the same in the Ukraine, and in the Crimea in particular? While I welcome the Statement, is not the most important message to get across that today’s heat and anger will not turn into a shrug of the shoulders a few weeks or months down the line?
I agree with the force of what my noble friend has said. That is why it is proposed, not only by Britain but across the EU and by the United States, that there should be a phased response whereby appropriate steps can be ratcheted up depending on the circumstances and the reaction of the Russians. That should help militate against the danger my noble friend sees of us turning our back when the immediate dust settles, which we all hope it will.
My Lords, I fear I may make some slightly controversial comments, although I do not wish to do so. Having worked within the Russian Government over several years in the 1990s—funded and supported by our own Foreign Office—I was conscious of the extraordinary humiliation of the Russian people as a result of the loss of so many territories at that time. Of course the situation in Crimea is extremely dangerous and incredibly undesirable. However, if we can look at the situation through Russian eyes, we should be conscious that they have the idea that Ukraine, their neighbour, their friend, their backyard, will become ever more allied to the European Union and that their naval base—well, where are we with that?
The only question I wish to raise with the Leader of the House is whether he feels that the Ukrainian Government have done enough to reach out and reassure the Russian people within Crimea—and, indeed, within their own territories—that they are citizens and part of the Ukraine. The impression I have is that their language law and the exclusion of all Russian speaking people from the Government was incredibly provocative and unhelpful. Can the Leader of the House assure us that behind the scenes a great deal of work is being done to encourage greater acceptance by the Ukrainian Government of their Russian people?
My Lords, I understand the sense of historical perspective and the points made by the noble Baroness about Russian history going back a very long time. Having said that, I do not think it excuses or detracts from the fundamental point that we cannot stand by if international agreements upheld by a range of countries are defied. I know that she was not saying that.
On her specific point, I agree that the more we are able, without deviating from the fundamental need to defend the rule of law, to demonstrate that the Ukrainians are sensitive to Russian concerns, the better. I take that point. The noble Baroness will therefore be encouraged by the action taken by the acting Ukrainian President to veto the introduction of the kind of language law to which she referred which played exactly into those prejudices. That is an encouraging step to have taken. As I said earlier, the Ukrainians have been quite remarkable in the restraint that they have shown in recent weeks and months in the face of often quite direct provocation.
My Lords, I am quite concerned about a number of aspects of the Statement. First, I regret the distinction being made between the phase 2 and phase 3 sanctions. The implication seems to be that, if Russia limits itself to annexing the Crimea without attacking the rest of Ukraine, the cost will be limited to the phase 1 to the phase 2 sanctions, which are not very onerous. I fear that, given the psychological and strategic importance of the Crimea, Mr Putin might think that the acquisition was rather a good deal on that basis.
Secondly, I am dubious about the idea of announcing asset seizures on a contingent basis in advance. If we need to seize these assets, by the time we get around to doing so they may have been removed from our jurisdiction. Would it not be more sensible to seize the assets in the first place and then negotiate the basis on which that seizure could be lifted?
Thirdly, has the Minister given consideration to, as a major sanction, the possibility of freezing Russian banks out of the interbank market? I am not going to ask whether or not that will happen or whether it was agreed in the EU Council for the obvious reason I have just mentioned in another context, but I would be grateful for his assurance that this matter has been or will be carefully considered. It amounts to instructing European and North American banks, when swaps and deposits with Russian banks mature, not to renew them.
I can confirm to the noble Lord that the Government and their allies will consider a range of possible sanctions which may well include the kind of measures to which the noble Lord has referred. When that work goes on, I am sure that people will think about those kinds of issues.
On the issue of phasing, as the noble Lord will know, it is difficult to be too precise in every respect at this stage about what measures will be taken precisely and in what circumstances. It will depend on what steps the various players take. It is a situation in flux. The Government and their allies, overall, were attempting not to box people in too early but to give people routes out and to have phased and gradated responses. However, we want to be clear in the final calculation that if, despite our best endeavours, Russia persists in this course of action, there will be serious consequences.
Committee (3rd Day) (Continued)
49: Before Clause 15, insert the following new Clause—
“Exemptions to Part 3
No restrictions on access to tenancies, bank accounts, driving licences or other services, or charges for services, under this Part shall apply to persons—(a) holding Tier 4 (General) visas sponsored by a recognised higher education institution, or(b) holding Tier 2 visa and registered in full time undergraduate or postgraduate study at a recognised higher education institution.”
My Lords, last week we had a useful debate about the negative impact of some aspects of the present Bill on overseas students, both undergraduates and postgraduates, wishing to come to this country. That debate took place on Amendment 26; today we are discussing Amendment 49.
Ministers can be in no doubt already of the depth of concern felt in all corners of the House about the damage being done by the cumulative effect of the Government’s immigration policy to what is, by common agreement, one of Britain’s most buoyant and valuable invisible exports, and of the strong desire that Ministers should think again before imposing any further charges or burdens on overseas students.
Last week we discussed the new appeals procedure; today we are considering what I would describe as the two most worrying aspects of the Bill so far as overseas students are concerned—the NHS charge and the provisions on accommodation. It is the aim of Amendment 49 to remove the threat to this very important part of our economy by, as it were, carving out full-time students from the application of those provisions.
I shall try not to weary the Committee with too much repetition of the general points and facts about the contribution of the higher education sector to our economy and the reasons for believing that it is already being harmed by the cumulative effect of the Government’s immigration policy, about which I have spoken—and that, I add, before any impact from the measures in the present Bill has taken effect.
I hope that the Minister can respond to this: what other British economic sector, bringing in more than £10 billion net a year and rising, is being put at risk by the Government’s own policies? Is there any other industry that we do that to? The latest statistics from the Higher Education Statistics Agency show that we are losing market share to our main competitors—to the US, Australia, Canada and, perhaps not too far in the future, to France and Germany, where more and more courses are being offered in English.
Let me cite one or two of the findings from a National Union of Students survey carried out in January this year on a sample of 3,000 overseas students already in this country; that is to say, people who will not be directly affected by the measures we are discussing today. Some 74% of them said that the proposed NHS charge would have made it more difficult or impossible for them to study in the UK, while 82% of those with dependants, who are mainly postgraduates paying much higher fees, of course, said that free access to the National Health Service was important to their choice to study here. Some 40% said that the introduction of landlord checks would have negatively impacted on their decision to study in the UK, and that figure rises to 51% in the case of PhD students. Those are pretty sobering findings.
When it is suggested that overseas students should surely in equity make some contribution to any welfare costs, it seems to be completely overlooked that such research as there is shows that the costs incurred are substantively outstripped by the benefits that these students bring to our economy. Unlike what I will call genuine economic migrants—people who come here looking for work—these people bring with them over £20,000 a year in cash which goes into our economy. They are creating employment both at our universities and in the towns and cities that host those universities, as research by the University of Sheffield shows. They often enable our universities to maintain a wider range of important subjects, such as engineering, science and mathematics, than would otherwise be the case. I do not imagine that anyone supposes that taxpayers’ money is going to be available to fill any gaps that might be caused by a shortfall in the number of overseas students who would otherwise be attracted by the excellence of our academic establishments.
I hope that I and others who are to speak to this amendment will have demonstrated why removing full-time undergraduate and postgraduate students from the scope of these measures, as Amendment 49 proposes, is not just a piece of special pleading but justified as a rational analysis of our national interest. I beg to move.
My Lords, my name is attached, along with others, to the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay. I will speak briefly to make one or two points that perhaps are not so widely part of this debate, because, as I have rung up acquaintances of mine in universities—I know quite a few, having been an Education Minister—I have become more aware of the depth of the challenge to our university and higher education system and, at one remove, of the depth of the challenge to the front wave of our economy in terms of its dependence on innovation and invention. I will not detain the Committee for long, but I believe that what I am saying, although supplementary to what has already been said by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, deserves a great deal of thought.
Let me begin by saying that what has attracted students from overseas to this country has been not only the English language and the excellence of our universities, but also a deep sense of our being an old and stable democracy. People have a sense of freedom of expression in this country, along with freedom of intellectual discussion and debate. There is no doubt that, rather surprisingly, in the fields of science and technological research, this country has continued to be a magnet for students from all over the world in a way that one would not really expect for a country of our size and one that is not in the very first rank of economies, like the United States at the present time. It is very important that the context of what attracts overseas students to this country is something that we maintain. In particular it means our marked ability to tolerate different points of view, and to tolerate people of different races, nationalities and languages. That has been a hallmark of studying in this country.
Anyone who reads the history of the United Kingdom will be more than aware that on three occasions we have benefited vastly from immigration. The first occasion was the immigration of German Jews in the 1930s, who brought with them an extraordinary level of understanding and knowledge of medicine and science, including a number of very distinguished Nobel laureates. The second great wave was immigration from the Caribbean in the 1960s without which, quite frankly, we would not have a working National Health Service today because of the huge contribution they have made to staffing that public service. The third wave, more recently, was of immigrants from Asia and east African refugees who came here in the 1970s and gave a tremendous boost to our commerce, business and research.
However, it is not the case that the concerns being expressed here are those only of overseas students, although I echo completely what the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, said about the very disturbing information from the National Union of Students. He mentioned the fact that more than 50% of undergraduate students said that they would think hard before coming to us again. Perhaps even more significant and important is that no fewer than 66% of postgraduate students—half of our overseas students are postgraduates—said exactly the same thing. In light of the changes being made—the increase in visa fees, the health surcharge and all the rest of it, these students would think hard before coming here again. Let me say in passing that we do not seem to recognise our extraordinary dependence on these postgraduate students. I can give an example. Time after time we have recruited doctors from the Indian subcontinent to sustain our health service. A great bulk of them have been postgraduate students who came from India to study in the United Kingdom and then went on to work as postgraduates, and in some cases decided to become citizens of this country and continue to sustain the NHS.
I would add to that that there are people of great significance and wisdom who would associate themselves powerfully with the view that the discouragement of overseas students has a devastating effect on our economy, in particular the science and engineering sectors. I shall quote two of them. The first example is a quotation from the CBI which has said in a public statement:
“Despite the government’s assurances to the contrary, many businesses fear that complex recent work permit and visa reforms have created a perception that Britain isn’t open for business”.
That is often treated as something that is said by those who come from outside this country, but no, it is something that has been said officially by the CBI, the leading organisation representing industry in the UK. The second example comes from the president of the Royal Society, Sir Paul Nurse, who is a very great scientist indeed. Time and again he has pleaded with Governments to give a more generous reception to overseas students. I shall quote his words:
“The rhetoric from the Home Office, combined with the complexity involved with immigration rules and visas, has led to a perception internationally that the UK is not particularly welcoming”.
I have given these examples because no one can pretend that these are partisan statements made for political ends. They are statements by distinguished people who believe that what they are saying should be a warning for the rest of us.
I will give another example. Something comes out every year called the Agent Barometer, which is published by a body called ICEF, together with the Enterprise Institute. This year, it said in its report on 2013 that there is now a steady decline in Britain’s attractiveness. In particular, it pointed out that in one year Canada has leapt to become the second most attractive destination for overseas students, the position that we held for a very long time, with only the United States higher. That is because Canada has changed its visa regulations and has decided on a campaign to welcome overseas students. It has certainly not added a series of obstacles to their coming to the country. The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, made the crucially important point about what we might call the localism element when it comes to overseas students and the universities that serve them. Anyone who knows the many cities where new universities have been born in the past generation will know how, in almost every case, the new university brings with it a degree of demand, excitement and stimulation which the old city simply did not have without it. That has been a huge contribution, against the great pull of London, to making this country intellectually and industrially lively and innovative well outside the London bubble.
There is another thing which is of great importance. The attempt that the Government made to try to meet some of the problems and objections about our becoming less attractive to overseas students—in particular the so-called exceptional talent scheme, introduced only two years ago, which allowed 700 visas to be taken up by the most brilliant scientists who could be attracted to this country and another 300 by the most brilliant artists—has failed dismally. So far only 80 of those 1,000 visas have been taken up because people who are inclined to accept them discover the obstacles on the way, including the cost of a whole range of things that they did not perhaps take into account in the first case.
There is another subtle and in some ways even more disturbing factor, which hardly anybody notices, although it was just touched upon by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay. As a former Education Secretary, it is something that certainly burns with me. I was very shaken to hear one of the most senior people out of the many that I spoke to over the weekend from the university sector—I will not name him but he is certainly in one of the very top positions in the university world—tell me that his university is considering dropping the so-called STEM courses. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics. He said that without overseas students coming in substantial numbers, the university was unable to finance these courses. He said, rather sadly, that there would not be sufficient British recruits to make up the difference; the university would simply have to drop the courses because it could not afford to sustain them in the situation where they were largely not taken up.
We are slipping in terms of engineering and science, as many noble Lords will know. The number of our own young people who opt for engineering and science courses is steadily declining, and the examination results in engineering and science are not very impressive. We are largely sustained in these fields, which are crucial to revive British manufacturing and to sustain British science, by overseas students, most of them postgraduates, who join our teams and work on cancer research, pharmacology and cybernetics—the whole range of what one might call the first new wave of scientific and engineering areas. We are no longer giving them the encouragement that would bring them to our country. That is really serious. How else do we imagine we will sustain an economy in the coming years if we cannot maintain the quality and brilliance of our research?
Another very great man who I will not name, also a leading researcher, said to me that time and again he finds that his teams need people with some innovatory experience from another country, but increasingly they cannot come, do not want to come or, because most of them are at an age when they have wives and children, cannot afford to come. The surcharge is deceptively low, and if you have a wife and two children it becomes really quite substantial.
I plead with the House to take this very seriously. I think we are in the process of killing the golden goose, which is a very foolish thing to do. We are, essentially, becoming more inward-looking. I am not blaming just my own Government, of whom I am a supporter; the practice of British Governments for many years now has increasingly failed to recognise the need to welcome people from overseas, help them and make them feel at home.
I conclude by saying that I am not a bit surprised that the United States takes first place. Having been a professor at Harvard for 10 years, I know the immense lengths that Harvard goes to to attract, hold, sustain and make happy people from all over the world. I sometimes think that it is like a huge vacuum cleaner simply sucking up talent. I do not believe that is the best thing that can happen to the world. However, I recognise that if we do not leave the doors open in our own old but brilliant country—which really does mean substantial changes to the legislation in front of us—we will have only ourselves to thank as we start slipping our way through the 21st century.
My Lords, I have added my name to this amendment because I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, that it is a fundamental mistake to subject international university students to further hurdles, barriers and restrictions. Instead, I believe this House should send a clear message to the Government: international students should be encouraged, welcomed and supported. This carve-out amendment would send that message, and I hope it will find wide support. I note that in adding my name to this amendment, I am joined by noble Lords from all sides of the House. Indeed, it is characteristic of our debates about international students that there is consensus among the parties. We know that at the highest level of the coalition, Cabinet Ministers recognise the absurdity of policy which drives the Government to stifle the UK’s prospects for growth in higher education exports—despite the fact that this is now one of our most important export markets and one with the strongest potential for growth.
While we invent new restrictions, our competitors are going to considerable lengths to reduce them. Australia, as is so often the case, has done us the favour of experimenting with draconian visa restrictions and has learnt from that experiment. The consequence was that students went elsewhere. After a wholesale review—the Knight review—Australia has rapidly set about undoing the damage that it inflicted on itself, streamlining visa processes and offering more generous post-study work opportunities as part of a dramatic about-face on immigration policy in relation to students. Nevertheless, Australia reckons it will take a decade to recover its former position.
We are not doomed to repeat that mistake, but we must stop being complacent about what is happening, which is why this amendment is so necessary. Ministers repeatedly quote partial UCAS and visa application figures as though they disprove the concrete enrolment data. The Minister must know that visa applications do not always translate into enrolments and that a relatively small proportion of international students apply through UCAS anyway—not least because UCAS does not deal with postgraduate admissions.
Recently, the right honourable Oliver Letwin used a Telegraph interview to point out that the Government’s net migration target was “statistical nonsense”. I agree. As senior Liberal Democrats have pointed out, it is not in fact coalition policy, but a Conservative pledge. It appears to me staggeringly unlikely that the target will be met. Can the Minister assure the House that he will use his influence to persuade his colleagues in the Government that this is the right time to withdraw gracefully from the position they have got themselves into?
I put it to the Minister that measures such as the ones we are dealing with in the Bill are part of a wider attempt to make the UK as unattractive as possible to those who might come here. Since students are the largest category of visa applicant, it particularly targets them. Since the majority of student visa applicants are now bound for our universities—because the Government have made it next to impossible for everyone else—they, in turn, are particularly hard hit. I agree that many other groups will be hit by the residential tenancy and NHS surcharge provisions in the Bill, and I shall certainly join other noble Lords in supporting amendments that would reduce the impact of the Bill on all migrants, not just students. Meanwhile, I urge noble Lords not to be distracted by arguments that the amendment we are now debating will not help other groups.
I understand the charge that support for this amendment looks like special pleading from the university lobby, but it misses the point: the overwhelming majority of those affected by these measures will be students, many of them living away from home for the first time. There seems a real risk that those students will choose to go elsewhere if they are faced with high initial charges for access to NHS services and are prevented from securing accommodation in advance of their arrival. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, and others that the wholesale exemption of students would be preferable to piecemeal improvement.
My Lords, 20 years ago, along with my friend, the noble Lord, Lord Radice, I was invited by the late, great—I use the word advisedly—Lord Dahrendorf, one of the most remarkable international figures ever to grace your Lordships’ House, to be a visiting parliamentary fellow at St Antony’s College, Oxford. We were the first two. I am sure I speak for the noble Lord, Lord Radice, who is not in his place. We were immensely impressed by this postgraduate Oxford college, which attracted students from all over the world. Many of them went on to hold positions of high importance and real influence in their native countries but always had a sense of real gratitude, affection and, indeed, obligation to the institution at which they had studied here.
I am still a member of the Senior Common Room at St Antony’s and just a couple of weeks ago I was talking to our present warden, Professor Margaret MacMillan, herself an eminent Canadian historian who has just written a most remarkable book on the origins of the First World War. She said that at the moment there are students from 73 different countries at St Antony’s, and that many current Governments of the world include those who received at least part of their education there. I believe there are four or five in the Mexican Government alone.
That is truly remarkable but it is not unique to St Antony’s, eminent as that institution is. When students come to this country and study, they contribute far more than they obtain, and go back with a knowledge and affection for the United Kingdom. Of course, that does not apply just at postgraduate level. In the fair city of Lincoln, where I now live, we have two universities: the University of Lincoln, which has in a remarkably short space of time become a very significant university; and the smaller Bishop Grosseteste University, which began more than 100 years ago as an Anglican teacher training college and is now a proper university. Both those universities have students from a variety of countries.
As the head of another college said to me not long ago, we are in danger of making those who consider applying feel that they are not entirely welcome here. I cannot for the life of me believe that that is our intention. Of course it is not. I know it is not the Prime Minister’s; I know it is emphatically not the view of my noble friend the Minister. Nevertheless, as we all know, perceptions in politics are very important. There are, in India in particular, young men and women who believe that they are not as welcome as we should make them feel.
I said in a previous exchange in this House that far better that a bogus student come to a bogus college than we shut out somebody who might in the future be Foreign Minister of his country or win a Nobel Prize. That puts it very simplistically but I would not depart from that. We really should be treating students separately from other immigrants. They come, they pay, and the vast majority of them go back, and very often those who do not enrich our society by staying.
A few moments ago my noble friend Lady Williams talked of those who came as Jewish refugees before the war and gave a new depth and dimension to the intellectual life of this country. We have in your Lordships’ House those who were in the wave of Ugandan Asians expelled by that ghastly dictator, Idi Amin, in the early 1970s. I shall always be very proud that it was a Conservative Prime Minister, Edward Heath, who opened the doors for them, and they have enriched our society.
We have been admirably led by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, in his brief, concise but extremely persuasive speech. We are dealing with students, with young men and women from around the world who still look to Britain as being a place where they can enjoy intellectual freedom, benefit academically, acquire and develop knowledge, and engage in research that will enrich all. I beg my noble friend, when he comes to reply, to acknowledge that there is a difference between the student immigrant and others.
I will concentrate my activities on this Bill on students because I believe that this is the part of the Bill that is most defective. I urge noble Lords in all parts of the House, whatever their political affiliation, to support the plea made by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, and so admirably followed up by my noble friend Lady Williams and the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick. I sincerely hope it will not be necessary for the House ever to divide on this issue because I hope the Government will recognise the powerful good sense of the arguments that have been advanced and which I am trying, in a gentle and modest way, to reinforce and support.
My Lords, I strongly support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, which seeks to remove tier 2 and tier 4 students from the Bill in all its aspects. I will speak also to my own Amendment 57, which relates specifically to the health charges for tier 2 and tier 4 students. Before I do that, I will just comment on the unintended consequences of some of the Bill’s provisions.
Let us take the evidence that students will have to produce of their bona fide tier 2 or tier 4 visas. I came to this country as an east African Asian schoolboy in the late 1950s, to do A-levels before entering university. I did them at a school in Harrow—not the public school. That is not the point. The point is I went to look for accommodation, which I eventually found, and I still remember the address: 38 Priory Road NW6, near Kilburn. The adverts for rooms in the newspapers that I looked at would either say “No blacks” or they would say nothing. So you went to addresses whose adverts did not say, “No blacks”—what was the point of going to a place that did? Sometimes the door would open and shut in your face, with a response, “Sorry, the room has gone”, before they even asked whether you had gone there for a room. There will be unintended consequences of having to provide proof for non-EU students. Later I found out why there were five east African Asians and one non-east African Asian—there were six of us—staying at that address. It was because we were paying a higher rent. The landlord—whom I would not name, but I do remember his name—knew that we were no trouble. We were no trouble because we had no money anyway. We were law-abiding, decent young people—I hope. But that is exactly what will happen: those landlords who are willing to take non-EU students will charge higher rents. That will be the unintended consequence of the clause in this Bill relating to renting.
That is one good reason why I would favour a carte blanche removal of students from this legislation. I declare an interest: I am the chancellor of the University of Dundee. With our strength in life sciences and being the second university in Dundee with strength in computer sciences, we have a large number of non-EU students. A tier 2 student’s perception of a health levy would be that this was just another example of unfriendliness in the United Kingdom. They would already have paid a lot of money for visas, for English language tests and sometimes for interviews, and they will now have to pay more. Is there an evidence base to suggest that students access the NHS disproportionately? There is no evidence, from general practice, from A&E departments or from specialist hospitals, that students disproportionately access healthcare—quite the reverse. In my case, the students that we used to see were the girls who came to contraceptive clinics, but, most of the time, even my wife, who did general practice, did not see students particularly. So there is no evidence that students disproportionately access the NHS.
It has already been said that there are huge net economic gains to be had from having students in this country—of several billion pounds. A study carried out by Oxford Economics showed that students in Sheffield contributed £120 million to the local economy. Let us remember that they pay for housing; they pay for their travel; they pay for everyday living costs; and they also pay indirect taxes because they buy stuff on which they have to pay VAT. There is no economic loss associated with our having international students. However, the likely impact of a perception—it might be a perception but perception becomes a reality—is a decline in the number of overseas students, particularly in STEM subjects and in those related to medicine where at one time there were large numbers. Figures that I have been quoted show that the total number of visa applications fell from 313,000 in 2009-10 to 207,000 in 2012-13. Forty per cent of our students come to university through pathway providers, which are mainly independent schools. They have seen a decline of 21% and we are likely to see a further decline in total numbers as a result of these pathway students not coming to university. All in all, including international students in the provisions of this Bill will have a greater detrimental effect on universities.
It was interesting to read in evidence given to the Science and Technology Committee inquiry on STEM subjects by Philip Lockett of London South Bank University, Ian Bradley of Manchester University and Daniel Stevens of the NUS—noble Lords can read the transcript—that they felt that an NHS levy and charges would deter students coming to the UK, even though such a levy might be only £150. Tier 2 students—the postgraduate and research students—are among the most valuable students that you can have. From them, you pick out the brightest and the best, and you keep them here because they will contribute to our university strength. They felt that the levy and other difficulties that the Bill would pose for them in finding accommodation et cetera would deter them from coming here. In a survey of 3,100 students, 83% of PhD students felt that the levy would have a detrimental effect; 82% of those who had dependants said that it would have a detrimental effect—let us remember that the levy is on top of the visa cost for dependants that is going up by 50%. All these costs quite rightly add to their perception that we do not welcome non-EU international students. I know that we have had that debate and that it is not the intention of the Government, but the perception needs to be addressed.
My Lords, I had a communication this very morning from the University of Essex, from which I stood down as chancellor at Christmas after more than 10 years, which drew my attention to the fact that the Times of India newspaper recently had a headline stating, “Indian students feel unwelcome in Britain”. Other noble Lords have mentioned that. Indeed, the speeches we have had do not leave a great deal in need of saying, but I want to emphasise a couple of things.
The University of Essex, apart from the London School of Economics, has the greatest proportion of overseas students of any university in the United Kingdom. Happily, I may say that undergraduate applications for this year, coming in the autumn, have declined by only 1%, although it is notable that the decline in applications from China and India is 16%, which has all sorts of significances of which I am sure the Committee is aware and on which I shall not enlarge.
What I want to emphasise—and the noble Lord in moving the amendment touched on it very effectively—are the non-economic aspects of a university education in this country. I think that many here now would agree that our universities and the opportunity that they provide to students from every corner of the globe are a jewel in our national crown. It is quite extraordinary that we are, almost inadvertently, undertaking a series of changes that lead to the consequences which other noble Lords have emphasised in terms of the dropping-off of applications to come here and so on. The non-economic consequences of having overseas students at our universities can be underestimated. Some talk of it as “soft power”. I understand the force of the phrase, but I am more keen, if one is allowed to be in this age, on the personal ties and relationships that are formed by having a large body of overseas students among our students here, whether undergraduate or postgraduate. Those personal ties, loyalties and affections work miracles after they go away from their university, miracles in all aspects of human life: cultural and economic, of course, as well as personal, societal—you name it. I think that all of us would agree that the most valuable thing that we ever take from a university is our relationships and the extraordinary broadening of our understanding of the lives of other people in other continents that comes from a close, lifelong relationship with someone you have met at university or some number you have met. I am lucky enough to have a number of lifelong friends who came from other countries. What you get from that and they from you cannot be put in terms of pounds, shillings and pence and is of infinite value in a world wracked with problems and tensions. This country cannot with any semblance of common sense do anything to damage in any way that jewel in our crown at a time when the whole wide world is competing for students. Everybody wants foreign students. Every country in the world is expanding its student base at huge rates—China and India are two exemplars.
I hope that my noble friend, who has an unenviable job in summing up on the amendment—
There we are: he is an optimist from the Fens. I hope that he will take heed of all that has been said. I have just a small last point. The bureaucratic consequences of the Bill are horrendous, and the amendment has a wonderful simplicity about it. It simply removes overseas students from the tentacles of I do not know how many aspects of our modern, burgeoning bureaucracy.
My Lords, I believe this to be a very important amendment, and I am very glad to follow the noble Lord, Lord Phillips.
As some noble Lords will know, I spend some of my time visiting African developing countries with a view to promoting agriculture, and smallholder agriculture in particular, as a tool for development. While I am there, often on parliamentary visits, I meet parliamentarians in those countries, Cabinet Ministers, Prime Ministers, Vice-Presidents and even occasionally Presidents, and heads of institutions, top civil servants, heads of research stations and so on. It amazes me how many of those people have paid for themselves to be educated at British universities and institutions.
Being a bit more mercenary than the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, I want to make the point that the resultant Anglophilia that that education gives them, the resultant ingestion of our culture, way of life and thinking must be of huge value to UK Inc, as it were. It must be worth all the budget of the British Council, the BBC World Service, millions of pounds-worth of diplomacy in embassies, millions of pounds-worth of DfID’s great worldwide reputation and even, if it came to a fight, probably a couple of regiments as well.
We must do everything possible to encourage—not just not to discourage but to encourage—those overseas students because, in the short and long term, their value to us is huge. This is a very good case of government silos, because the Home Office clearly sees its job as to control immigration but ignores in this case the wider implications for UK business, UK education and UK reputation in its foreign policy. I beg the Minister to send out the message to the world that we are open for business and that those students—most likely the future leaders of their country—should be given every incentive possible, not just not discouraged but seriously encouraged, to come to pay for themselves to attend our institutions and absorb our culture and values.
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick, said that the amendment enjoyed support from all quarters of the House. I speak as the Conservative sponsor of the amendment, and I am very happy to do so.
We have heard a number of powerful speeches and I think that I agree with every word that has been spoken. I particularly draw attention to a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, in his introduction when he said that he was not making a special plea for any given set of individuals. Rather, he was pleading on behalf of one of the most successful sectors of British life and of the British economy in order to enable it to continue to be one of the most successful, not only within this country but in international terms.
If I may say so, it is very important when the Minister answers that he should not treat this as being something directed towards a particular group of people who come to this country, as if we are conferring some favour on them. Rather, he should deal with the issue in the context of the impact that the Government’s proposals will have on one of the most successful sectors of British life and of the British economy. The ability to attract international students is both a means by which British universities excel and a measure by which others can see that they are excelling. To diminish in any way the free flow of talent to this country would be very damaging.
I should like to make one final point, because so much has been said that there is no point in repeating it. The Government should look at the beam in their own eye, if I may say so, on this issue. The Government understand very well that, when they make senior appointments to different institutions, they want to attract talent from all over the world. Indeed, they boast of their ability to do that and of their willingness to make appointments of non-Brits to high places in this country in a way that most other countries would not in the case of foreigners. They paid vast sums of money to attract a redoubtable Canadian to run the Bank of England—about four times what the president of the Federal Reserve gets, they were so anxious to attract his talents to this country. Another very talented Canadian—paid rather less, actually—is at the head of the Royal Mail. There are many other examples, I am happy to say, of talented people being attracted by the Government to contribute to the British economy.
The Government understand perfectly well the importance of attracting the best people to run British institutions, and they should be commended for their lack of chauvinism in that regard, but that is also true of universities. If universities cannot continue to attract the best talent from all over the world, that will seriously damage their ability to continue to contribute as much as they do to the British economy. As my noble friend Lord Cormack, said, those who stay after graduation are often the people who contribute the most to academic research, industrial start-ups or the businesses they build up. Those are all factors which I feel that the Government have overlooked in this rather ill-conceived measure.
My Lords, I should like to say just a few words in support of the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, based on my experience as chancellor of Strathclyde University for 17 years. Having spoken to many students of the kind we are talking about and having hosted alumni events overseas, I think that my experience has been very similar to that described by the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, in that we have trained those students in our country and find them in positions of great influence in the countries to which they went after leaving.
I shall not repeat the points made so well by so many other noble Lords; I endorse all of them as background to what I should like to say. Perhaps the Minister will be kind enough to focus precisely on what the amendment is intended to do. If he reads its wording, he will see that it encompasses all the various things in Part 3: access to tenancies, bank accounts, driving licences and other services. Of course, among the services is what Clause 33 deals with: access to the health service. There is a difference between the Clause 33 matter, which I shall come back to in a moment, and the other services mentioned in the opening words of the amendment.
The difference is this. As I understood the Minister’s words in the earlier debate, the purpose of the other clauses is to flush out people who are not entitled to be here. It is to deal with people who are not legal migrants. We find that in Clauses 16(2), 35(2) and 42(1) all of which direct attention to people who require leave to enter or remain in the United Kingdom but do not have it. I raise this point because the amendment is dealing with tier 2 and tier 4 visa holders—people who, because of the terms of their visas, are entitled to be here. Bearing in mind all the points that noble Lords have made, why is it necessary to subject tier 2 visa holders and tier 4 general visa holders to these restrictions? Why is it necessary for them to go through these hurdles to have access to, for example, a bank account? Why is it necessary to do that for driving licences?
As for Clause 33, that is a different point and I do not want to go over the debate that we had earlier this afternoon. However, while I did not intervene in that debate because the Minister was under great pressure from many people who were doing that very thing, there is one point that struck me in looking at Clause 33. It is that its wording, which is designed to confer a power on the Secretary of State to make provisions for charges to impose, begs so many questions. Who, for example, are the persons on whom the charge is to be imposed? Clause 33(1)(b) refers to,
“any description of such persons”,
but who are they and what is the intention of that provision? We then have all the various steps in subsection (3), including the points that other noble Lords drew attention to. With the greatest respect, my suggestion is that the noble Lord and those advising him should have a very careful look at the wording of Clause 33. I suspect that the debate which we had earlier, and which I am not going to rehearse, has flushed out some points of real concern about the breadth of the wording, what it is really intended to do and whether it is necessary to do what it is seeking.
Quite apart from that, there is the point that others have made: that to subject overseas students to this sort of extra charge is bound to have consequences. Two words struck me as I have been listening to the debate. One was “cumulative”, in the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay. It is about the cumulative effect of all those measures that are made. The other was “perception”, because perception is fuelled by rumour. Figures have been put forward in this debate as to what students in this country, and perhaps overseas students, are thinking. What about all those who are wondering to which country they should come? They are the people whose perception should really worry us. There are also the rumour makers. Their rumours may not be based on accurate figures, which may have been the point that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, was making the last time that we spoke. However, the fact is that the rumours and the perception are there. The Government really have to face up to the fact that to pile on more cumulative items on to this package of things which are fuelling that perception is very ill advised. I hope that the Minister will explain to us why he believes it necessary to do that.
My Lords, I support Amendment 49, moved by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, and I agree with everything that has been said so far in support of that amendment.
I would like to highlight the views of the students’ guild at Exeter University, where I am chancellor and so I express an interest. The students’ guild has raised concerns on behalf of the international students at the university, with whom it has had several meetings. The most worrying thing to come out of this meeting is about the proposal that international students must prove to potential landlords that they have the right to be in the UK before they are allowed to secure accommodation. As many international students are required to secure accommodation before they come to the UK, this poses an unnecessary and potentially impossible burden for them as they will not be able to present the documentation needed. The students’ guild also feels that this check will force many to endure extra expense, as letting agents charge for the process, yet the Government gain no further value in this monitoring. In addition, it feels that landlords may turn anyone who they perceive to be from international backgrounds away from their accommodation because they do not understand how to check for immigration status and do not want to risk the £3,000 fine.
A recent NUS survey of more than 3,000 international students found that 28% felt that their international background already had a negative impact on their ability to find accommodation, and they fear that the Bill will make it even more difficult. This is not a workable policy and international students will have to pay the price for the UK Government’s attempt to implement it.
Exeter University prides itself on doing a thorough check on international students when it comes to securing accommodation for them and strongly feels that it is best placed to do so in a controlled and responsible manner. The students’ guild believes that landlord checks, together with the proposed healthcare levy and the loss of appeal rights, will further undermine the attractiveness of the UK as a study destination, particularly after the removal of post-study work visas. International students bring not only economic benefits to the UK but diversity and a global perspective to Exeter. They are an integral and celebrated part of Exeter’s experience and the guild is very concerned at the damage, measurable and immeasurable, that the Bill will cause to students’ experience on its campus.
On graduation days at Exeter, I embrace graduates from all corners of the world. It is like being at the United Nations. I tell them to go out and change the world, to make a difference, and they all promise to do so but they also express their love and allegiance for Exeter and to the UK. I would hate to see this pledge disappear and to see that devotion and loyalty to our country damaged in any way, so I sincerely hope that the Government will reconsider these proposals. I so look forward to hearing the Minister’s response on these matters.
My Lords, I would like to speak, as briefly as I do passionately, in support of the noble Lord, Lord Hannay. My noble friend the Minister is well aware that I have always been enthusiastic about the proper, effective and efficient control of our borders in the national interest. Indeed, there are a number of areas in respect of national security where there is much more that can be done. I hope to introduce some amendments on Report to fill some of those gaps.
However, it is very sad that, when a government department is seeking to produce policies to deal with sensitive issues and there is a choice between being subtle and acting in a crass manner, all too often the crass seems to win. I am convinced that the overwhelming empirical evidence is that students who come to this country, whether they be at schools, universities, business colleges or military establishments such as Sandhurst, Cranwell or the Royal College of Defence Studies, contribute hugely to their own future as well as ours. One of the features of this relatively small country is the way that we act as a catalyst in world chemistry. We are a catalyst for tolerance, for the rule of law, for decency and for the cultural and political aspects of what we call civilisation. I would never be able to vote for something that reduces our country in respect of being that catalyst.
My Lords, the Minister will not be surprised that I wanted to have a last word about colleges. We have many illustrious representatives of the universities but every time that we have this debate I think, “Why has no one mentioned the colleges?”. The proportion of foreign students in our colleges and other institutions is quite a bit higher. The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, refers in the amendment to “all institutions”, so they are covered, but the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, made an important point about the sustaining of courses: if you do not have enough students, you do not have enough courses. This is happening right now. I know personally of a college in London—I am not a representative of it—that is losing staff and courses as fast as it is losing its students. I think that last year they had an 80% loss, which they are now trying to make back up again. I remind the Minister of my interest there.
My Lords, in opposing the amendment, I certainly do not do so in any spirit of being against the importance that higher education students have to this country; clearly, they are important. We have had some very passionate speeches, with which I find myself much in agreement, about the danger of speculation, rumour and perception. However, it is important that we keep the changes that are put forward in perspective, and that we look at some of the facts as well. I put down some Written Questions and had back some answers based on figures from the Office for National Statistics about student numbers from some of our important markets. The latest figures available show significant rises from China, Hong Kong and Malaysia. Admittedly there are falls from India, but that is against a background of a fall in the value of the rupee, and other countries, such as Australia, have also noticed a fall in Indian student numbers. One or two noble Lords suggested that already a drop in student numbers was feeding through. That is certainly not true of many of our important markets.
Yes, perception is important, as are overseas students, but I would like to say something specific about the health charge, because I do not think that the amount has been addressed directly. The noble Lord, Lord Patel, suggested that we were suggesting that students were making calls on the health service disproportionately. I do not think that that is being suggested. I accept that that is not remotely the case.
That is certainly true but of course the charge is lower than the charge for other people, so that is going to be recognised in the proposal. The amount of the charge, at £150 per year, is significantly less than the average student would cost the health service, and I accept that that is as it should be. I think that the charge is actually lower than for other people. We need to get in perspective just how much the charge is: it is £150. I am not minimising that but, if you look at it spread over a year, and many of the students at a higher level will be here for a full year, you see that it is the cost of a Sunday newspaper each week throughout the year. It is important to keep that in perspective.
I look at the charge in terms of whether it is fair. I know what the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick, suggested, but we have to look at it in the round against the other changes. Compared with the other proposals, is it not fair that students should pay a charge, a levy, as well? I think that it is, against the background of the Bill and indeed of the other people in this country who have contributed.
I am most grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. I was a bit puzzled by his saying that the charge is spread over a year. The whole point about this charge is that it is not spread over a year but is paid up front. Moreover, if you ask for a visa for the whole of your study period, the charge is tripled and up front.
I was specifically addressing the health charge. When I say that it is spread over the year, I mean that the benefits are spread over a whole year, and many students are here for a whole year. I appreciate that it is paid as a lump sum. On the issue of fairness, I think that it is fair, looked at across the broad sweep of the changes that are being proposed.
The other issue is whether the charge is competitive. Some noble Lords have cited the position in the United States. As I understand it, they require insurance, and the cost of that is at a much higher level. The USA is the chief market for students; more students go there, as has rightly been said, than elsewhere. I am not suggesting that we slavishly follow the USA, but, if we are going to make the point about competition, we have to look at other states and how they handle this issue. Many of them have a charge or require insurance. We have to look at it globally in that way.
My Lords, I suspect that we are rapidly moving into territory where everything has been said but not everyone has said it. Given that, I wanted to respond not only to the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, but also to my noble and learned friend Lord Wallace of Tankerness, who responded a week ago to Amendment 26 from the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, and my noble friend Lady Hamwee’s Amendment 80 to reassure us about the impact of the Bill. The fact is, though, that the Bill exacerbates the impact of previous policies towards overseas students. The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, and many other noble Lords have talked about the contribution to the UK economy and to soft power, while my noble friend Lord Phillips has talked about personal ties.
However, the hard figures already show a drop in overseas student numbers. My noble and learned friend Lord Wallace of Tankerness, and indeed the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, today, have taken comfort from the increase in Chinese students in particular in recent years, compared to Australia and France. If the riposte of the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick, and my noble friend Lady Williams was not enough, the recent British Council document Education in East Asia—by the Numbers (Making Sense of the Slowdown in Outbound Student Mobility from China) shows a global slowdown in outbound Chinese student numbers. This demonstrates that we cannot stand still and that we need to increase our share of Chinese students if the numbers are not to fall. That is the very latest document from the British Council.
We cannot take the risk of alienating aspiring students from China and other emerging markets. My noble and learned friend Lord Wallace said:
“We are still an attractive proposition for people wishing to come and study”—[Official Report, 3/3/14; col. 1192]—
but he himself admitted to us that a good story is not being told and it cannot be told with the Bill as it is. No one quarrels with measures designed to prevent abuse of the immigration system, but if we do not redress the impression—indeed, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, said, the perception—that students are not welcome, we will see more severe reductions in student numbers. What better way to counter that impression than to totally exempt overseas students from the Bill?
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, indicated that nearly everything that people wanted to say has already been said. I am only too conscious that that is the truth, because the second of the two short points that I wanted to make has just been made by the noble Lord himself.
The reason why I think the amendment should be welcomed by the Government is that it is a signal that we do want students. I know a bit about the university world because for a time I was chairman of the council and pro-chancellor of London University and then chairman of the council of University College London. What is needed is something to point to so as to destroy the perception, which is undoubtedly increasing, that this country does not want students. If we made this exemption, when those who are attached to universities travelled the world to recruit students, as they do, they could respond to that perception by saying, “This is nonsense. Look at what we did in the Immigration Bill”—which by then would be an Act of Parliament—“and you can see that it takes a step which positively is favourable for students”. That would be a very important message.
I want to make a point that I do not think has yet been mentioned. Although I agree with everything that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, has said, I fear that he was probably more economical with his time than I am being with mine and did not want to mention it, but if you travel to many parts of the world, as the noble and learned Lord and I have done, you find that in most countries you visit there are substantial numbers of former law students who are struggling to establish the rule of law there. The interest in the rule of law around the globe is growing all the time, and its importance in international affairs is being constantly demonstrated. The Statement we had today emphasised the importance of the rule of law. Students who have received a grounding in law in this country go back to their countries and are the champions of furthering the rule of law. So, again, it is right to say that we want to be able to make ourselves as competitive as possible in that regard.
What an excellent debate this has been, my Lords. I have counted 16 speakers on one side, and one on the other. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, on putting his head above the parapet. Although I think he picked up some of the arguments, I did not think his heart was entirely in it, but he put up a brave show. There was lots of vigorous nodding on the Front Bench, but all to no avail.
This amendment seeks to exempt bona fide overseas students from the provisions relating primarily to housing and health charges because I do not think, despite the fact that the amendment says so, that bona fide students are caught by the measures on bank accounts and driving licences, but I would be grateful if the Minister would confirm that when he responds.
This amendment has received considerable support from around the House. We should not really be surprised at that. I took part in a debate about nine months ago that was led by the noble Lord, Lord MacGregor, whose committee had reported on just this point. That debate was again virtually unanimous in recommending that the Government’s then policies should be reviewed carefully to ensure that they supported the arrival and proper education of students from overseas, but here we are.
There seem to be two main thrusts to the arguments which have been made by noble Lords today: first, that this series of measures is one of a number of hurdles and burdens that, taken together, represent an attack on our universities, making it more difficult for students from overseas to study here and thereby endangering one of our most successful exports; and secondly, that the measures are unworkable, possibly discriminatory and overly bureaucratic, will not achieve what they set out to do and should be withdrawn. We have a great deal of sympathy with both those arguments, and we will be listening carefully to what the Minister has to say on the questions that have been raised this afternoon, and I am certain that we will be returning to this matter on Report.
At Second Reading, I referred to the recent BIS publication International Education: Global Growth and Prosperity. Its introduction states:
“There are few sectors of the UK economy with the capacity to grow and generate export earnings as impressive as education”.
It goes on:
“Overseas students who come to Britain to study make a huge contribution to our economy”.
As we have heard, the most recent estimates are that overseas students paid about £10.2 billion net in tuition fees and living expenses in the UK. They boost the local economy where they study as well as enhancing our cultural life and broadening the educational experience of the UK students they study alongside.
This BIS report makes it clear that attracting international students is not an easy matter and that we have many competitors. If the numbers of international students in higher education is to stay as it is or even to grow, there are a number of things we must do right. The report picks out that,
“we must show that the UK values international students, will provide a warm welcome and support while they are here and will keep in touch after they go home".
The questions for the Minister when he comes to reply are, first, whether the measures proposed in the Bill support the assertion made by the Government that the UK is open for international students and that they are welcome to come here; and secondly whether the measures in this Bill help, not hinder, both that general supposition and the reality faced by overseas students in gaining a visa and making a success of their studies here.
There are a number of other questions that I hope the Minister will respond to. He has a good record, not of answering across the Dispatch Box, but at least in writing to us, and I hope he will pick up the various points that have been made. As I was listening, the questions that struck me included: has the department an assessment of the continuing viability of certain STEM courses in particular, of courses offered in higher education in general, and of certain institutions as a result of the decline in student numbers that we think will happen if these measures are introduced? This was spoken to very positively by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, and others. The noble Lord, Lord Cormack, wanted to know more about the impact on soft power. Have the Government made an assessment of the reduction of soft power as a result of these measures? Has the Minister talked to the CBI about its call for changes in the way in which the visa arrangements operate for various important aspects of supporting the economy? Has the department made an assessment of competitor countries, such as Canada and Australia, and their measures for supporting overseas students? If it has done that, will the Minister put a copy of the evidence in the Library so that we can look at it, because it would make interesting reading? What assessment has the department made of the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, about personal contact? That is something that we all have experience of and recognise. He said that we cannot measure it in economic terms, and he may be right, but I think you probably could value it. It is certainly important in terms of the world that we live in.
In the commentary circulated after Second Reading, the Minister did not really engage with the issues that have been raised this afternoon. He wafted away rather airily some of the points made by several speakers and did not feel that the discouragement of international students would affect the way they choose the UK, although we have heard differently today. I think the view around the Committee is that these additional procedures and costs will create the impression that it is harder to secure a visa to study in the UK than it is in other countries. Even if that is not the case, it will add significantly to the up-front visa cost compared to our competitors. What evidence is there that the Home Office recognises the risks it is taking in relation to our competitiveness in this market?
On the detailed points, residential accommodation has attracted the most attention. There is no suggestion from what we have read from the Government that they have any interest in how this system must look to prospective students. As we have heard, international students already face difficulties in securing accommodation and are often made to pay large fees and advance rent payments. As the noble Lord, Lord Patel, reminded us, this Bill may result in landlords refusing even to consider international students as tenants or charging higher rents or additional fees to cover the extra hassle and administration costs. Does the Minister not agree that this clause could cause considerable anxiety and could add to the perception that the UK is unwelcoming?
In the Minister’s commentary, he said:
“I do not think the measures would discourage private landlords from letting to international students”,
“landlords in our university towns and cities are familiar with their clientele and know that they represent a sound and stable choice of tenant for their properties, in the main for at least an academic year if not longer”.
So that is okay then. To his credit, the Minister conceded in his commentary that certain categories of student accommodation would be exempted from the landlord’s provisions and said,
“we will look closely at the rationale for doing so when we consider this in Committee”.
I look forward to his further thoughts on this important point this evening.
Some noble Lords raised the position of international students who need to arrange accommodation in advance of their arrival. In the commentary, the Minister said:
“The Government intends to make regulations under the Bill which will provide for overseas students to be able to arrange accommodation in advance of taking up their studies in the UK, and for such tenancies to be entered into conditional on the production of the relevant visa or residence permit when the student arrives and takes up residence”.
It would be useful if we can have further information on that because it is clearly a very important point.
Given that overseas students with the requisite visa are often offered accommodation owned or administered by the university which is offering them a place, why does the Bill not recognise this and simply exempt all such university-provided accommodation, including the currently exempted halls of residence?
A number of noble Lords expressed concerns about the proposed introduction of the NHS charges. The main argument seems to be that international students and staff already make a significant contribution to the UK economy. International students bring in over £10 billion a year, while international academic staff pay taxes and national insurance while they are here.
The Government’s plans are for a health surcharge for access to NHS services of about £200 in general and £150 a year for students. As the noble Earl, Lord Howe, said in his letter to all noble Lords, over a working life, the payment of taxes and NI contributions usually provides a contribution to the NHS but new arrivals have not yet done so, and are not likely to be able to build up the long-term commitment and contribution that those permanently settled here have made. We do not object to the principle, since it is legitimate for those who are coming to partake in the system to make a contribution, particularly when the NHS is under pressure, but it is legitimate to press the Minister on whether a one-off cost, payable in full at the time that the visa is obtained, is actually in the best interests of our commitment to overseas students. That is the question.
A couple of other questions were raised during the debate, and I shall mention them for completeness. Has the department done any research to test whether this new system will discourage undergraduate and postgraduate applications and, if it has, will the Minister place a copy in the Library so that we can look at it? As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, said, given that the Bill deals mainly with illegal immigrants, not those with leave to be present, why is Clause 33 really necessary? The point here is that the students are already covered by the visa application. Surely that can be considered sufficient on this point. Can the Minister when he responds, or separately in writing, give us the argument for the £50 discount on students? It is £200 for most people but £150 for students. If there are reasons for that, I would be interested to know what the economic argument would be, given the disproportionate use that is made of the NHS by students. Fifty pounds seems an odd figure to have chosen.
Fees, charges and living costs already make the UK a relatively expensive destination for study. As others have said, the Government cannot on the one hand impose new procedures and costs for prospective overseas students and on the other blandly claim that we are “open for business”. As the noble Lord, Lord Tugendhat, said, it would be wrong to think of this amendment as special pleading for the students. This is actually about our standing in the world, our history and our culture, and about our economy going forward.
Taken as a whole, the requirements for students who wish to study in the UK are in many cases much more stringent than in our competitor countries, particularly when you take into account language requirements, academic progression, limits on study time, the ability to bring in dependants and police registration. These new challenges will have an effect. Do the additional cost and hassle, and the impression that we are tightening up, justify the risk? Perceptions, as the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, reminded us, are important in this matter. Are we, as the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, said, killing the golden goose?
I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response. However, like the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, I believe that we will need to return to this issue on Report.
Well, my Lords, this subject certainly engenders good and powerful debates. If arguments are repeated, perhaps noble Lords feel that they are worth repeating. I have to repeat my arguments. I am afraid that the Government cannot accept the amendment, but perhaps I can help noble Lords by telling them why that is, and why we feel that, despite our policy of welcoming the brightest and the best with no limit on numbers, students are an important part of any strategy which deals with immigration.
I start with that strategy. The noble Baroness, Lady Warwick of Undercliffe, challenged me on the whole business of net migration. Reaching the tens of thousands remains the Government’s objective. We chose a net migration target because we want to control immigration due to its effects on social cohesion, infrastructure and public services. These arguments are frequently discussed in other areas, but they form the background to why this legislation has come forward. Jobs and wages are affected by migration but, when it comes to students, there is no cap on numbers—I repeat, no cap on numbers—of genuine students who want to come here. They are welcome. Those who have the right qualifications, sufficient funds to cover their fees and maintenance costs and a good level of English can study here, and there is no limit on numbers. Our reforms, to tackle the widespread abuse that was occurring in the system we inherited, have favoured our world-class universities.
Those reforms are working. The number of issued student visas has dropped by around 27% from the high in 2009, while visa applications from university students were up 7% in the year ending December 2013 and applications from students going to Russell group universities were up by 11%. Higher education statistics show that numbers of international students in our universities held steady in 2012-13, with a small decline of 1%—but numbers of UK and EU students have fallen by more than that. It is true that there has been a decline in the number of Indian students at our universities, but this followed a period of soaring numbers and, by contrast, there has been strong growth in numbers of students from China, Malaysia and Hong Kong in 2012-13.
A British Council survey published in 2012-13, of more than 10,000 young people across India, showed that the UK was their most favoured destination, chosen by 21% of respondents. Young Indians put British universities first for postgraduate courses. As my noble friend Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth said, we are not losing out to our competitors. The UK is the second destination of choice for university study, with only the USA attracting more international students. Numbers of Indian students going to universities in our competitor countries have also fallen.
The noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, spoke of visa costs; we will be discussing those when we discuss the fees orders. We do not think that the cost of a student visa deters students from coming here. It is around average when compared to our competitors and represents a small proportion of the overall cost of studying here. The addition of the NHS surcharge will not, in our view, alter that balance. I will address specifically, giving graphic examples, some of the costs that can be incurred by students when they are here when we debate amendments that are specifically about those surcharges.
In considering the amendment, I invite noble Lords to reflect upon its practical effect. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, sought to know why students seeking accommodation, bank accounts, driving licences and access to the NHS were included in the Bill. They are already required, either under the current law or current practice, to prove their identity. There is no extension, and the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, acknowledged this in his speech. Additionally, when applying for a driving licence or seeking hospital treatment, they already must demonstrate their immigration status in the UK. Genuine students do this now by presenting their biometric residence permit or their passport and visa documentation. That is all that is needed for an immigration check, but it is important and that is why they are included. Of course, they are not the target, but the people who do not possess that identification are. I hope that the noble and learned Lord can therefore understand why it is important that we use this weapon in addressing illegal immigration.
I know that a number of noble Lords will want to talk about landlord checks. Schedule 3 already provides an exemption for specific types of student accommodation. As I have previously indicated, we have listened carefully to concerns raised by the higher education sector about the adequacy of this exemption, and we will return to this later in the debate. I do not wish to spoil the denouement, but the next group of amendments deals specifically with landlord checks and it would be more appropriate to deal with those there.
I cannot repeat sufficiently that the Government take every opportunity to communicate the message that students will find a warm welcome in the UK, even if it takes a debate of this type. I can say it again: there is a warm welcome for students in this country. I hope that noble Lords will take that message on board and that Universities UK will be reinforced in its argument in promoting higher education in this country.
I mentioned the Indian situation: young Indians put British universities first for taught postgraduate courses. The UK was also top with the United States as a quality destination for research doctorates and undergraduate degrees. We are a premier centre for higher education in the world. As I said at Second Reading, we have an excellent offer for university students. There is no limit on the number of students who can come. University students can work here, and postgraduates can bring dependants. We have ensured that there are good opportunities for graduates to stay in skilled work or to set up or develop a business.
The indications are that that approach has been successful, and we continue to attract students to study at our world-class universities. Visa applications were up by 7%, and more than three-quarters of all student visa applications are for studies at a higher education institution. The most recent higher education statistics show that the number of international students studying at Russell group universities rose by 5% in 2012-13 and that the number of those enrolling rose by 4% in the same year. A comparison of the most recent UK higher education statistics with those of other countries shows that the UK continues to attract a good share of the international student market. For the year to September 2013, the UK issued 1,873 more visas to Indian students and 33,011 more to Chinese students than Australia.
The UK is the second most popular destination, as I said before, and student numbers in Australia and France have dropped at a similar rate to the UK. Although Canada has experienced strong growth, it attracts only a quarter of the number of international students who come to the UK. There was strong growth in students coming to our universities from China, up by 6%, Malaysia, up by 3%, and Hong Kong, up by 15%, which shows that the UK still succeeds in attracting high-quality students.
Calls to exclude students from the net migration figures miss a basic point: there is no cap on the numbers. Changing the way we measure migration would not make any difference to our student migration policy. The United Nations definition of net migration includes all migrants who change their place of residence for 12 months or more. That acknowledges that all migrants, students included, have an impact on communities, services and infrastructure for the time they are here.
All our competitors—Australia, Canada and the USA—include students in their net migration figures. I should also say that this is not a perfect world. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, talked about the justification for students and asked why we need to have any controls on them at all. It is not the case that all students leave. In the year to September 2013, while 124,000 non-EU students came to Britain planning to study for over a year, only 49,000 left the country. I hope that noble Lords will just think on those figures and then perhaps put themselves into the position of the Home Office, which seeks to make sure that we have legal migration into this country.
I think that the noble and learned Lord will understand that I suggest both. The graduate course has been a success—we are increasing the numbers of students who are staying on for postgraduate work—and the business entrepreneur course is equally successful. There will be some, but there is unfortunately still some evidence that the tier 4 student migration group—it is a special route; it is not the same as everything else; students are treated as a special case—is being misused in some cases. That is why it is important that we have checks in place to make sure that that does not occur.
My noble friend Lady Williams suggested that the exceptional talent route has dismally failed. We do not accept that. We recognise that the number of visas that are taken up under that is low, but it was always thought that that would be the case. However, we are working with all the competent bodies—the Royal Society, the Royal Academy of Engineering, the British Academy and the Arts Council—to improve the process so that the visa process payment will not be paid until the competent body has endorsed the application. We are working with these bodies to ensure that the scheme is a success.
In answer to my noble friend Lady Benjamin, it is not the case that international students are unable to stay on and work. The post-study work route, which was much abused, which allowed all students to stay on and look for work, has been replaced by the graduate level job scheme, and we have made a success of that.
The noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, asked whether the cost of the surcharge in relation to the cost of studying was competitive with other countries. Yes, it was addressed in our published impact assessment, where the noble Lord will find the answers to a number of the questions he asked. However, I will make a point of writing to him with a full answer to all the various questions, some of which lie outside the Home Office’s own immediate area of engagement.
I understand that people want to make sure that the Government do not do anything that damages the reputation of this country as a centre of intellectual and academic excellence. I accept that. Speaking as a member of the Government, I remind noble Lords that we have a responsibility to seek to control immigration. All the measures in the Bill are about methods of making sure that people who are in this country are here legally.
There is no difference between us on the benefits that overseas students bring to this country. That is why there is no limit on numbers, and why I will continue to seek to reassure noble Lords on the Bill. I hope that we will have a chance to discuss it before we come back to this issue on Report. Meanwhile, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, will withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who participated in a very impressive debate. I thank in particular my three co-sponsors of this amendment, the noble Baronesses, Lady Williams and Lady Warwick, and the noble Lord, Lord Tugendhat, who so eloquently set out the case which I tried to introduce. There were many other remarkable contributions to this debate, so I will not try to pick out any others.
In a previous debate on this subject—we are getting quite used to having debates on this particular subject—I likened the Minister to St Sebastian, filled with arrows but still smiling. The best pictures of St Sebastian always show him smiling despite the number of arrows that have gone through him. The Minister always handles this with great good temper. I was very pleased on this occasion that he had one supporter, as that removed the sense that we were indulging in an unfair debate.
I hope that we can stop having a war of statistics. The Minister came back again to the point about the UN figures. No one is contesting that the Government will continue to submit to the UN figures in the way that the UN has asked for—that is to say, all people who stay for a year or more. But there is not the slightest difficulty about disaggregating those figures and putting them together again before sending them into the UN. If the Government wanted to, they could leave students out of this Bill completely but, at the same time, continue to make the same returns. I hope that we do not have to come back to that. I think that the war on statistics has gone about as far as it can go. Frankly, citing several times the enormous enthusiasm for Indian students to come to this country sits a little oddly alongside a 49% drop in the past two years. If that is enthusiasm, I do not think we can afford many more victories like that.
The one thing that I would like to pick out was the very perceptive statement from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, that if we really wanted to show that we want the brightest and best to come without any limit on numbers, we should pass this amendment, because that would send a message of complete clarity to all the people who may be hesitating and thinking that we are rather unwelcoming.
The Minister spoke about the Government’s overall aim to get net migration down to the tens of thousands—a policy that does not always seem to be shared by all members of the Government, but I know that it is the Government’s policy. He quoted that and seemed not to understand the contradiction between saying that and saying that there was no limit on students coming here. Students are 60% of that net figure. How on earth are you going to get down from 230,000 or 240,000 to below 100,000 without cutting back on students? The answer is that you are not. You either believe in one part of the policy or you believe in the other, but if you believe in both you are going to do the splits.
Before we get to Report, I hope that the Government will take into consideration all the views that have been expressed around the House. There is an easier way out of this, which is in the national interest, and I just hope that the Government will take it. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 49 withdrawn.
Question for Short Debate
My Lords, I am enormously relieved that the House is not adjourning, because I wish to say something about that small country, Gibraltar. Today is Commonwealth Day, a suitable occasion to discuss one of our members with long-standing and continuing problems as a result of the bullying and illegal tactics of its neighbour, Spain.
I am a member of the Anglo-Gibraltar parliamentary group and I have been visiting Gibraltar for over 60 years. In September last year, I attended with other parliamentarians the Gibraltar National Day in Casemates Square. It was an occasion of great enthusiasm, with a vast number of union jacks waved by the crowd who packed the square. At one side, there was an enormous television screen and we had a video speech from the Prime Minister. He pledged that Gibraltar was British and would always be so. I left Gibraltar feeling that our Government were in every way totally behind this small outpost of Britishness. His speech sent a powerful message to Spain.
The Prime Minister was right to do so. As the House knows, Gibraltar has been British for centuries. It also sits at a strategically important point as the gateway between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. It is important to NATO, the EU and wider global interests. Members of the Gibraltar Regiment serve alongside other British troops and also take part in peacekeeping operations authorised by NATO, the EU and the UN. It is the only UK overseas territory to be part of the EU and its membership dates from the moment when the UK joined the EU. It is important to remember that its unique status is defined by Article 355 of the Treaty of Accession. Further, since the implementation of the Maastricht Treaty in 1993, Gibraltarians are, in the same way as other British and Spanish nationals, European citizens.
On 20 January this year, I listened to a Question on Gibraltar responded to by the Minister at the FCO, the Minister here this evening. Her answers showed action by the Government in various ways, such as speaking to the Spanish ambassador, the Spanish Minister for Europe, the Deputy Prime Minister, and our Prime Minister to the Spanish Prime Minister. Putting it bluntly, raising the subject of Gibraltar with Spanish Ministers is great as far as it goes, but where, so far, has it got Gibraltar? During her answers, the Minister said:
“However, our strategy at this stage is very clear: to de-escalate the situation and to try to resolve these matters through diplomatic and political routes”.—[Official Report, 20/1/14; col. 450.]
I pose the question to the Minister—with what success?
I am also somewhat concerned about the use of the word “de-escalate”. I understood the British policy over Gibraltar is to maintain the status quo. The word “de-escalate” means to me a degree of stepping back and may so be understood by Spain. I hope the Minister can reassure me that she did not mean to step back but really intends to preserve the status quo.
According to a Written Answer by an FCO Minister in the other place, Mr Lidington, on 4 March, there had been 496 incursions by Spanish state vessels into Gibraltar territorial waters during 2013 but 77 this year up to 28 February, of which 53 were by the Guardia Civil. There appears to be no let-up as a result of the diplomatic and political efforts of the UK Government.
Last week, the Foreign Affairs Committee of the other place held a meeting in Gibraltar at which the Minister gave evidence. I look forward to reading the report of that committee. If I may respectfully say so, the Foreign Affairs Committee is to be congratulated on going to Gibraltar and seeing on the ground for itself what is happening. I do not know when a Minister of this Government last went to Gibraltar or how often a Minister has been there during the nearly four years of this Government, but it would seem to me that a Minister’s visit to Gibraltar would send a powerful signal to the Spanish Government, who are plainly not yet receiving the message that this Government take the Gibraltar issue truly seriously. The speech of the Prime Minister last September was excellent, but that was given from 10 Downing Street. Regular visits to Gibraltar by Ministers would give an even more powerful message that the Spain-Gibraltar issue was taken genuinely seriously by our Government. We have to demonstrate publicly to Spain and the rest of the EU that it is high on the Government’s agenda, or it will not be taken as an important issue across Europe.
The Chief Minister of Gibraltar in his briefing to me says that the UK is not effective in the diplomatic action it has taken. He recognises the increasingly robust use of language by Ministers, but is understandably frustrated by the present situation. He raises the point that Spain continues to say that relations with Britain are excellent despite Gibraltar. Ought not that assertion be challenged? Not only has the situation not improved on the ground, also the ad hoc talks have not been resumed so no discussions are taking place.
There are a number of obvious issues where Gibraltar is being threatened and damaged by the unlawful and unfair behaviour of Spain, and I will refer to four. The incursions of Spanish state ships, particularly, it would seem to me, those of the Guardia Civil, present the real possibility of an altercation that gets out of hand with consequences. On 5 March, there were in one day nine incursions into British Gibraltar waters, seven of which were by the Guardia Civil and on 6 March again nine incursions, four from the Guardia Civil, one from the Spanish navy and on both days several from the maritime agency.
I am told that the response of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to these incursions is made weeks after the event, whereas one inadvertent incursion of a British ship into Spanish waters was the subject of a complaint by Spain within a few hours—six hours, I believe. Surely we should equal the swift response of Spain. If we do not, there is a real danger that our protests may not be taken seriously if they are so low key.
One of the most important issues is the interruption of free movement within the EU by the obstructions at the Spanish-Gibraltar frontier, obviously under instruction via Cadiz and Madrid. This affects tourists, those who live in Spain and work in Gibraltar and those doing business on both sides of the border. The tourist industry of Gibraltar has been badly affected and I understand that there has been a 44% reduction in visitors and a 26% reduction in the number of non-Gibraltarian cars crossing the frontier. The average waiting time this year for pedestrians is between one hour and an hour and a half. Pedestrians crossing the border into Spain are met by crack Spanish anti-terrorist officers armed with machine guns, for goodness’ sake, for ordinary pedestrians. Vehicles crossing with five available lanes took at the beginning of March an average of 93 minutes, and up to 110 minutes, to cross, and since then an average of 70 minutes to get across.
This is a serious and continuing breach of the right of free movement provided across the whole of the European Union. It is a state of affairs which is entirely unacceptable and should be so seen by all the member states. La Linea and other local areas of southern Spain are also being damaged. There are approximately 10,000 Spanish workers in Gibraltar. There could be more, but I gather that the mayor of La Linea has been told that her town has to suffer for the greater good of Spain.
The third issue is aviation. In 2006 there was a Trilateral Forum for Dialogue which created the Cordoba agreement. This agreement included Gibraltar Airport within the EU law on civil aviation. Spain is now seeking to exclude Gibraltar Airport from the automatic application of EU law. Four measures are affected. The European Parliament is debating the Motions. At the moment, four Spanish amendments are being debated there. Perhaps the most important concerns the EU air passenger rights regulation. The European Parliament debated that first measure last month and voted the Gibraltar exclusion clause out of the legislation. The matter now goes to the European Council. It is crucial that the United Kingdom gets the maximum support to defeat the Spanish efforts. Ordinary people should be enjoying Gibraltar Airport as nationals of the European Union.
The fourth issue is bunkering. The Spanish have now created bunkering facilities and shore facilities at Algeciras and are apparently suggesting that they will prosecute and fine anyone who goes into bunkering facilities in Gibraltar waters. Understandably, this is affecting ship owners who do not want to go in for the expensive and costly procedures that might arise, even though this is clearly unlawful. It is also surely anti-competitive and will have a hugely negative effect on Gibraltar.
The EU Commission sent a team of experts to Gibraltar last September. I understand that the EU Commission wrote to the Spanish Government setting out the findings of the experts and detailing the findings and observations of the delays at the border. It also made recommendations to Spain. Have our Government seen the letter? May we know the recommendations? May we know the response of Spain, how it can be monitored and what further examination can be expected by the EU and the UK?
My last question to the Minister is: how far are our Government seeking support from other members of the EU to put pressure on the Spanish Government over these unacceptable infringements of EU law?
My Lords, I am deeply saddened that in Spain, just as in Argentina, prime ministers and presidents alike in deep economic and, therefore, political, trouble seek by diversionary tactics to raise with their electorates alleged threats by foreigners. Indeed, over this weekend, a very senior European foreign affairs figure, with no interest in either the United Kingdom or Spain, told me that it is possible to correlate exactly Spain’s recently renewed activities against Gibraltar with the emergence of the corruption scandals in the Spanish Government not long ago—the two correlate.
Therefore, just as the President of Argentina routinely issues daft and pathetic threats against the Falklands, so in recent years the Prime Minister of Spain has authorised deliberate incursions into Gibraltarian waters, as outlined by the noble and learned Baroness in her commanding speech and the figures that she gave, while political amnesia leads him to forget the ambiguity that Spain actually has two much contested exclaves of its own just across the Straits of Gibraltar on the north African coast at Ceuta and Melilla, surrounded by Morocco. Spain carries out these incursions—these interruptions into the lawful behaviour of people on Gibraltar—in a concerted campaign against the United Kingdom, one of its allies and a fellow NATO member. Indeed, in Spain people are today making bits of kit that go into the Eurofighter and are sent to Lancashire to be assembled there. That is an extraordinary reflection on Spain. I ask my noble friend the Minister: please, what kind of ally is Spain?
Only last week, on Wednesday 5 March, as the noble and learned Baroness has already referred to, in the Foreign Affairs Committee in another place I heard the First Minister of Gibraltar outline what he terms Spain’s “bullying tactics”, ranging from all those lengthy border delays to the breaking and entry into a British diplomatic bag at the frontier on one occasion—in the old days a gunboat would have been sent to deal with that kind of thing—to much more shocking incursions into territorial waters. The worst was on 18 February 2014 by a Spanish state vessel which sailed into British Gibraltar waters and disrupted an important Royal Navy exercise involving some of our special forces personnel from the Royal Navy Submarine Parachute Assistance Group—a disgraceful act. This must stop. I would like to ask my noble friend the Minister: on that occasion was the Spanish ambassador immediately summoned to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and, if not, why not?
By comparison, over the past 15 years, Royal Naval vessels have entered into, or passed through, the waters claimed by Spain around its two north African exclaves, to which I have already referred, on precisely two occasions. The first was by invitation back in 1999, when HMS “Herald” paid a port visit to the Spanish exclave of Melilla in north Africa just across the Straits of Gibraltar. The second was when, in August 2013, HMS “Montrose” exercised its lawful right of passage through the Straits of Gibraltar off Ceuta en route to the eastern Mediterranean. The score of incursions is several thousand to one, as far as I can see from the figures that the noble and learned Baroness gave. This is no beating about the diplomatic bush from me. It seems to me that in this respect we behave impeccably whereas the Spanish behave disgracefully.
Why does the United Kingdom not raise the Gibraltar issue at the next NATO council, for I think these Spanish claims and incursions are the only current examples of belligerence by one NATO member against another in the whole list of 28 member nations, setting aside the long-running saga that followed the Turkish invasion of Cyprus?
Gibraltar’s population wished by an overwhelming majority in the last referendum in 2002 to maintain the status quo. That population of 30,000 is approximately 10 times the size of the population of the Falklands, who feel exactly the same. Therefore, I welcome the apparent strong support of Her Majesty’s Government for the status quo. I just wish that Spain and the Argentine would—I borrow a phrase—grow up and get over it all soon and that their leaders would pay proper and effective attention to their own economies and the appalling unemployment, with the social unrest that follows, that both countries are experiencing, rather than trying to disrupt endlessly the life of a friendly neighbour. What a shocking accusation I am about to make: that is very un-European behaviour.
I am so pleased that the noble and learned Baroness has raised the issue of Gibraltar because I am appalled at the behaviour of Spain in relation to it. I declare an interest: I have been to Gibraltar many times; I am a friend of Gibraltar; and I have the freedom of Gibraltar. I am always puzzled as to why our Government do not take a firmer attitude. I want to outline two or three things that are troubling Gibraltar.
One has been referred to by the noble and learned Baroness in relation to the EU air passenger rights. The Spanish Government unilaterally abandoned the trilateral forum for dialogue and are seeking to exclude Gibraltar airport from the application of European law. It is absolutely essential that any EU citizen going to Gibraltar has the same rights as when they use airports anywhere else within Europe. Why should Gibraltar be different? I emphasise what has been asked of the Minister because it is going to be debated by the European Council in June: what are we doing to lobby other people in Europe before that meeting to ensure that they support us in making sure that they remove the exclusion of Gibraltar? That is essential. Are we taking steps? I would be pleased to hear from the Minister when she replies on that matter.
The second matter that I want to talk about affects Gibraltar and us: it is the world’s leading remote gambling jurisdiction. There are 26 licence orders in Gibraltar and I wish to emphasise the effect that they have on the economy. They provide 3,000 jobs and account for 25% of the economy. We are not discussing, and I do not want to go into any detail about, the Gambling (Licensing and Advertising) Bill. Nevertheless, it could have a disastrous effect upon Gibraltar. It also would not be good for this country as regards remote gambling because many more licences would be applied for. Many people in this country would be affected, and Gibraltar would not be strengthened but weakened. While it could cause us problems here, it would be an absolute disaster for Gibraltar.
I return to another matter that has been raised: the problem at the borders. Delays of up to an hour continue, and longer delays are common, and they have an effect on the economy of Gibraltar. It also affects the thousands of Spanish workers who cross over to and work in Gibraltar. They experience these difficulties daily because of the attitude. What is going to be done about it? Anyone who has been to Gibraltar will know about the number of British citizens residing in Spain who go over the border to shop in Gibraltar—the noble and learned Baroness remarked on that. They come to the supermarkets there but are being prevented from doing so. What are we doing in relation to that?
I move on to the other matter that has been raised about the incursions into British territorial waters. I shall read to noble Lords a Written Question to which I received a reply about the important naval exercise. I asked Her Majesty’s Government,
“what response they have received from the government of Spain about the disruption of the Royal Navy parachute exercise in British territorial waters off Gibraltar”,
on 18 February. The Answer I received from the Minister who is replying tonight was:
“The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs … raised his concerns about illegal incursions”—
I emphasise, “illegal incursions”—
“by Spanish State vessels into British Gibraltar Territorial Waters with the Spanish Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs … on 20 February. We continue to protest formally all illegal incursions”.—[Official Report, 6/3/14; col. WA 331.]
Those concerns were raised on 20 February. These incursions are still occurring. What are we doing about them? As has been said, the UK and Spain are both allies but, sooner or later, there will be an incident in which lives will be lost. I emphasise that.
My time is up but I ask the Minister to say whether, in the light of the reply to my Written Question, what we are doing about these incursions because they are still going on. Surely we have a right to protect not only our interests but the interests of Gibraltar and Gibraltarians who want to remain British.
My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Baroness for tabling this debate and for her speech in which all her experience was brought to bear in a characteristically incisive and robust style. I should make it clear at the outset that I am not an expert on Gibraltar, but last year, as the serious damage done by the level of Spanish border checks became clear, one aspect of the situation reminded me of somewhere that I know well at the other end of the Mediterranean, on the island of Cyprus. In both cases, a historic legacy is causing monumental problems for citizens today, and they are not receiving adequate support from the institutions that ought to be protecting them. The people of Gibraltar are UK citizens and have been for 300 years, and while the bilateral relationship between the UK and Spain is paramount, Gibraltarians have another citizenship as members of the European Union, and it is that issue on which I wish to focus my remarks.
It is an irony that while the EU has become increasingly active in the diplomatic field as a result of the creation of the External Action Service, it has not been sufficiently active in resolving tensions within the EU itself, as Cyprus and Gibraltar graphically demonstrate. To be slightly tongue in cheek, I wonder whether there ought to be an internal action service. A recent report on enlargement from the House of Lords EU Select Committee noted that, when countries join the Union without prior resolution of bilateral disputes, it results in the import of those disputes into the everyday decision-making of the EU. We see that constantly with regard to Gibraltar and Cyprus, and I fear that Serbia and Kosovo may be coming down the track.
There is an inconsistency at the heart of the Commission’s approach to these situations. On the one hand, it quite rightly does not get involved in sovereignty disputes but, on the other, it does not always uphold EU legislation in a neutral way. Despite the agreement made in Cordoba in 2006, for example, recent EU passenger rights legislation excluded Gibraltar. The result of this would have been that not only Gibraltarians but any EU citizen passing through the airport would not have benefited from the passenger rights. The European Parliament has subsequently accepted an amendment tabled by Liberal Democrat MEP Graham Watson, which remedied this situation. The matter is now coming to the Council and I hope that the Minister can say today that the Government will fight hard to keep the amendment in.
On Wednesday of this week there will be further votes at the European Parliament plenary session on the same set of issues—only this time it is about the safer skies initiative on air traffic control. Amendments tabled by the Spanish centre right party at the transport committee have succeeded in removing Gibraltar from this legislation, which is disgraceful. We now have to hope that the Parliament will overcome that and put Gibraltar back in. I would like an assurance from the Minister that the Government are doing everything they can.
I believe that the Commission needs to take its responsibilities much more seriously. After years of problems with Spanish authorities carrying out border checks, the escalation of the problem last autumn has meant that the Commission cannot continue to turn a blind eye to it. I am surprised that the conclusion of its investigation was that no EU law had been breached. It seems a strange interpretation of free movement; perhaps future visits should be unannounced and incognito so that the real picture emerges. It was disgraceful that neither the Commission nor the Spanish Government were prepared to publish the conclusions that had been reached. It took an official access-to-documents request by Sir Graham Watson to ascertain that the Commission had described the intensity of the border checks as “unjustifiable”. Therefore, I ask the Minister to outline what steps the British Government are taking with the Commission to ensure that the rights of the citizens of Gibraltar will be upheld.
What we really need is a lasting settlement to stop these incursions, and there is one other potential course of action regarding the border which the Minister might consider. Is it possible to create a legal position whereby Gibraltar, alone from the rest of the UK, could join the Schengen agreement? If this could be done for Gibraltar, then the border crossings could be removed. It has been done—in reverse, so to speak—in that there are islands which are part of France but which have been excluded from Schengen. As both Britain and Spain are members of NATO, I, too, would be interested in hearing whether the incursions of the navy into Gibraltarian waters have been discussed.
European Commission President Barroso recently said:
“Free movement of people is a fundamental principle of Europe, a fundamental principle of the treaties, indeed one of the core elements that distinguish our Union ... the principle of free movement exists and … is applicable throughout the Union, without discrimination, because we don’t want citizens of first class and citizens of second class in Europe”.
He is quite right to say that, but he now has to act on that with regard to Gibraltar.
My Lords, I had the very great privilege of being Governor and Commander-in-Chief of Gibraltar in the late 1990s. I thank my noble and learned friend Lady Butler-Sloss for introducing this important debate and at this time.
Of course we all want good relations with Spain. Bilateral relations are important. They are partners in the European Union and our partners in NATO. There is one other responsibility that we also share: we are both former imperial nations and we both inherited responsibilities to certain territories which have decided that they wish to keep their link with their former imperial power. In the case of Spain, it is Melilla and Ceuta; in the case of Britain, examples are the Falklands, Bermuda and Gibraltar. Spain needs to understand and respect that fact.
I believe that relations between the Spanish Government and Gibraltar and our country are worse than at any time since Franco was in power. That is damaging to our relations with Spain and is in sharp contrast to the behaviour of the previous Spanish Government, who had a very sensible policy on regional co-operation in that area. This Spanish Government have a record of incursions, border harassment, ending the negotiating process, undermining Gibraltar’s participation in EU directives, generating an atmosphere of hatred in Andalucía towards Gibraltarians, false accusations of smuggling, money-laundering and so on, and behaving more like Francoists than democrats. Why do they do this? As the noble Lord, Lord Patten, rightly said, we have seen this elsewhere, in the Argentine. It is simply a diversion from their economy, from the corruption cases that they have, from youth unemployment of over 50% and from the separatist movements in their country. If they wanted to win over the Gibraltarians, they would not exactly be bullying them in the way they are doing at present. Who suffers? It is not just Gibraltarians but all the Spaniards in that region. Gibraltar has withstood this pressure enormously well, with a growth rate last year of 8%, but it is asking an awful lot of it.
The British Government’s words of support have been robust but their deeds do not match their words. My experience as a former governor and following a recent visit in the autumn is that we give the wrong signals to Spain. Spain thinks that by bullying it can erode our position in Gibraltar. Psychologically, for a long time our Government—it does not matter of what colour—have felt that they should be timid for fear of upsetting the Spanish. I am not convinced that this Government are giving the kind of defence support that has been asked for by successive governors and commanders of British forces. I understand, for example, that some two or three years ago a fisheries protection vessel was asked for but not given. I understand that the British Government have increased the number of crews to support the patrol ships to enable them to be more active, but I ask the Minister whether we are now able to defend the British Gibraltar territorial waters day and night, every week, if we need to. Will the Minister assure the House that we are providing the naval resources that are required to uphold our sovereignty? It is absolutely crucial for the people of Gibraltar to know this.
Secondly, on the border—others have referred to this—it is important to have a report from the Minister about the progress that has been made by the European monitoring commission. We know that the Gibraltar Government have immediately acted on one recommendation—to tighten up on tobacco regulation. The Spanish Government were asked to end random inspections of vehicles on the border and to introduce risk profiling, making more space for the faster flow of traffic. What progress has been made in the past six months? If none has been made, will the Government ask the Commission to make a return visit to take follow-up action?
On the diplomatic side, we must be more robust and immediately respond and protest when incursions are made. On fishing, I am glad to note that the Gibraltar Government have introduced new legislation to do with conservation and proper regulation. On the question of dialogue, the Foreign Secretary quite rightly proposed ad hoc talks. What is the Spanish reaction? I have heard nothing from Spain on this issue.
Others have made many references to the European Union. We must fight our corner in terms of efforts by Spain to exclude Gibraltar from EU directives such as those on aviation.
In short, first, we must defend the Gibraltarians by giving full support to our governor, Sir James Dutton, and our excellent Chief Minister, Fabian Picardo; secondly, we must make sure that Spain understands our determination; and, thirdly, we must work to persuade the Spanish Government that, by returning to the previous policy of regional co-operation, the Spanish people, as well as the Gibraltarians, will benefit and Anglo-Spanish relations will improve.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to be able to join in this debate, so brilliantly and comprehensively opened by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss.
For those of us who have campaigned on behalf of Gibraltar in your Lordships’ House over the years—and I am thinking nostalgically of the late Lord Boyd-Carpenter, Lord Bethell and Lord Merrivale in particular—as well as others who have participated in the debate this evening, it is always good to have an injection of new blood, as it were, and the noble and learned Baroness speaks with great authority from her personal experience and involvement in Gibraltar.
I am a member of the All-Party Parliamentary Gibraltar Group, and I am also president of the Friends of Gibraltar, which operates outside Parliament. However, I am also a member of the all-party group for Spain, and I find nothing incompatible about that, as I have many friends in Spain and go there often. I suspect that that is true of others here this evening and it is certainly true of many of my friends in Gibraltar, many of whom have close links with Spain and some of whom also have homes in Spain.
Given that the people of Gibraltar have made their views clear in the referendum, and given that the British Government have made it equally clear that they will not do anything against the wishes of the people of Gibraltar, it seems perverse of the Spanish Government to take actions now that further antagonise Gibraltarians, rather than seek to win hearts and minds. That is why I welcome the initiative coming from the people of Gibraltar, together with their neighbours in the campo. They have formed a cross-frontier group composed of business representatives and union activists from both sides of the border. I understand that its visit to Brussels at the end of February to protest at the illegal and disproportionate queues at the frontier had considerable impact on Members of the European Parliament, Commissioners and other Commission officials as well as the media.
Can the Minister comment on this development and the ways in which the group can continue to present evidence to relevant groups and commission bodies? Is this being encouraged by our Government? Can she say how this ties in with the recent visits made by the Chief Minister to both Brussels and Strasbourg? He, as ever, was assiduous and articulate in making the best possible case for Gibraltar. Most of all, can she tell us about the follow-up to the visit made by the European Union team of experts last September, which has already been referred to by every person speaking in the debate? The team inspected the problem on the spot, made recommendations to ease the border restrictions and, since then, nothing has been heard. Is there any evidence that Spain has complied with the recommendations? How is it being monitored—by the European Union itself, or HMG? What more can the Government do in this respect? The noble Lord, Lord Luce, spelt out the course of action that the British Government could take on this and many other issues far better than I can. Indeed, the many other issues affecting Gibraltar have also been covered very well in this debate, so I will not repeat them.
The present impasse on the border is a sad, unnecessary and incomprehensible state of affairs that has gone on for far too long. I can only hope that the patience of the good people of Gibraltar will last. I have a feeling that it will and that they will continue to prosper in spite of that impasse.
My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, for introducing the debate tonight. Whether we like it or not, Spain’s insistence on its rights over Gibraltarian territory is not new and is not likely to change. Before Christmas, as many noble Lords have indicated, there was a significant increase in the volume of noise emitted by Spain in relation to its ongoing claim over the island of Gibraltar.
Ever since the treaty of Utrecht in 1713 Gibraltar has been associated with the UK, but Spain has never given up its rights over the land. Since that time tensions between the UK and Spain over Gibraltar have blown hot and cold. However, what has become clear, as suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Patten, is that there seems to be a direct correlation between Spain’s appetite to turn up the heat on its claim over the island that seems to coincide directly with difficult situations for the Spanish Government domestically. Seeking an outside distraction is the oldest trick in the book when the Government are up against difficulties.
The difficulties are evident. In January, official Spanish statistics confirmed that the country’s unemployment rate has risen to above 26%, with the total number of unemployed now at 5.9 million. With austerity measures continuing and corruption scandals being exposed, in addition to a move to restrict abortion, it is no wonder that Spain’s ruling Partido Popular has lost its lead in the opinion polls to the Spanish socialists. Maybe that is what this is all about. This sabre rattling is not the way to resolve international conflicts, nor does it detract from its internal problems. It should be made absolutely clear that Spain cannot advance its position on sovereignty by unlawful incursions, breaking diplomatic conventions and other aggressive methods and manoeuvres. The UK should respect the rights of the 30,000 Gibraltarians who time and again—and most recently in referendums in 1967 and 2002—have maintained their preference for retaining their particular relationship with the UK.
In 2000, a political declaration of unity was signed by all living present and past members of the Gibraltar Parliament. In essence, the declaration stated that the people of Gibraltar would never compromise, give up or trade their sovereignty or their right to self-determination. It said that Gibraltar wanted good, neighbourly European relations with Spain; it belonged to the people of Gibraltar; and it was neither Spain’s to claim nor Britain’s to give away. Unilateral threats are not the way to sort out problems. Spain is aware of the sensitivities of an issue such as Gibraltar where there is an historic claim to land adjacent to another country. Ceuta and Melilla, which have been mentioned before, are enclaves that Spain has in the north of Morocco over which Morocco claims sovereignty rights. Is it not interesting that there is a striking similarity between Spain’s relationship with Ceuta and Melilla and the UK’s with Gibraltar? Both are military and naval bases dominated by fortified mountains, and both contain populations which are racially mixed but united in their fervent loyalty to a Crown and country whose capital lies hundreds of miles away.
However, keeping a strong relationship with Spain is imperative. Spain is one of our strongest allies, both in the EU and in NATO. One million British people live there and 14 million citizens from the UK visit the country every year. I know from my time in the European Parliament that Spain was an ally on which we could rely on a number of crucial issues of common interest in the European Union.
The UK must not be bullied. Illegal incursions into British Gibraltar territorial waters are not uncommon and have been increasing of late—almost 500 in 2013 and more than 77 so far this year. Can the Minister state whether the Spanish ambassador has been summoned to account for its incursions into Gibraltar waters this year? Can she indicate the last time a UK Minister had direct contact with a Spanish Minister on this issue? When was the last time a Minister visited Gibraltar in an official capacity? Can the Minister elaborate on whether there are any signs of a positive response from the Spanish Government?
Shadow Minister for Europe, Gareth Thomas, and my noble friend Lord West have recently asked the Foreign Secretary whether he would consider reinforcing the Gibraltar garrison, in particular its maritime security capability. Can the Minister give an indication as to whether this has been done?
Can the Minister update the House on the latest situation with delays at the border, including whether Spain has responded to the recommendations of the Commission? We do not know what the recommendations are. Have the UK Government had any luck in persuading the Commission to share the correspondence it has had with the Spanish Government on this issue?
The Spanish Government pulled out of the trilateral forum in 2011. Does the Minister see any sign of the Spanish accepting the need to return once again to the use of that sensible diplomatic channel for discussions? Can she explain what the Spanish Government’s response is to the reiteration of the proposals by the Secretary of State for ad hoc talks involving all relevant parties?
My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, for securing this debate and for the comprehensive way in which she outlined the many challenges that the Government of Gibraltar face. I shall try to deal with some of her specific questions. I also thank all noble Lords for their contributions, especially the noble Lord, Lord Luce, whose expertise and opinion on this matter I hugely respect.
Recent months have seen a number of further unhelpful moves by Spain to advance its claims towards Gibraltar, in particular incursions into British Gibraltar territorial waters and the introduction of unreasonable and illegal delays at the border. However, the position of the British Government is unequivocal: Gibraltar and its waters are sovereign British territory. They will remain so for as long as the people of Gibraltar wish them to be and we will continue to respond robustly, taking whatever action is necessary, to safeguard Gibraltar, its people and its economy.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, for her outline of the situation. Our position on the sovereignty of Gibraltar is clear and unchanged: we will protect the right of the people of Gibraltar to determine their political future. The UK will never enter into arrangements under which the people of Gibraltar would pass under the sovereignty of another state against their wishes. Furthermore, the UK will not enter into any process of sovereignty negotiations with which Gibraltar is not content. I hope those comments are clear and unequivocal.
Gibraltar’s constitution reflects the principle that all peoples have the right of self-determination. The realisation of this right must be promoted and respected in conformity with the provisions of the charter of the United Nations and any other applicable international treaties. I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Luce, that the British Government are confident of UK sovereignty over the whole of Gibraltar, including British Gibraltar territorial waters.
The noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, and other noble Lords asked what action had been taken and whether it could have been stronger. We have taken robust action. The Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have called their Spanish counterparts and we have summoned the Spanish ambassador on a number of occasions. We have made our concerns very clear and have acted in close concert with the Government of Gibraltar. We are strongly committed to a diplomatic solution and we do not believe that tit-for-tat escalation is in anyone’s interest. For example, incursions by the Guardia Civil which involved photography, filming