House of Lords
Monday 7 September 2020
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Rochester.
Introduction: The Lord Bishop of Manchester
David Stuart, Lord Bishop of Manchester, was introduced and took the oath, supported by the Bishop of Birmingham and the Bishop of Worcester, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, the Hybrid Sitting of the House will now begin. Some Members are here in the Chamber, respecting social distancing, others are participating remotely, but all Members will be treated equally.
Oral Questions will now commence. Please can those asking supplementary questions keep them short and confined to two points? I ask that Ministers’ answers are also brief.
Small and Medium-sized Enterprises: Public Procurement Contracts
My Lords, the Government are determined to ensure that SMEs win public contracts when they offer good value for money. We are committed to tackling the barriers that SMEs face. Each department publishes an SME action plan setting out its commercial strategy to increase spending with smaller businesses. Central government spend figures published for 2018-19 show that SMEs earned £14.2 billion through government contracts. That is nearly £2 billion more than the previous year and the highest since government records began in 2013.
I thank the Minister for that Answer. SMEs account for 98% of the UK’s business population. The Government are prudently seeking to enhance their engagement with the SME sector. In that regard, the Government’s own target for spending with SMEs is 33% by the end of 2022. As we go through one of the worst recessions in our country’s history, there will be a greater desire to achieve economies of scale through higher aggregation of demand in the form of centralised procurement, potentially at the cost of SME participation. However, we know that the SMEs are incredibly innovative and efficient. When given the opportunity, they would be able to drive national economic growth and prosperity. The Government must therefore harness their true potential and ensure that the SMEs are able to play a vital role in the procurement framework and are not left out of the national strategies. Government departments will need to listen to SMEs’ concerns and find solutions without compromising delivery and value for the taxpayer.
Each government department publishes its own SME action plan, which describes how it is engaging better with the SME sector to address the department’s own needs and increase spend with SMEs. Particular departments hold early-market engagement events to explain and discuss their requirements with a wide range of suppliers.
My Lords, could my noble friend please tell me what departments are doing to make sure that SMEs can get on the preferred list of companies—where departments use this—and that the buyers within those departments are rewarded for making the extra effort to deal with small suppliers and are not risking their own careers by doing so?
The noble Lord makes a very good point. We encourage all SMEs that are interested in bidding for public sector opportunities to use Contracts Finder, which lists all tenders over £10,000. SMEs can create an account to get email updates for opportunities that align with their business interests. Public sector contracts are, of course, awarded after a fair and open competition process and commercial buyers are encouraged to ensure that all tenders are suitable for SMEs
My Lords, one area where there is a ready-made opportunity for boosting our industrial output and supporting struggling —and, indeed, collapsing—SMEs is defence. The Prime Minister recently stated that our nation requires
“a shipbuilding industry and Royal Navy that reflect the importance of the seas to our security and prosperity.”
Hurrah for that, but our shipyards—and particularly the SMEs that support them—are in dire straits. They need a commitment to a rolling programme of warship building if they are to survive, and the Navy is desperate for more ships. Can I ask the Minister whether this requirement is being given prominence in the current integrated defence review?
Would the Minister agree with me that, as well as being good business, it is morally incumbent on the Government to procure from SMEs owned and run by people who look like those that they serve? If he does agree, could he explain why—despite years of lobbying from people like myself and groups representing BAME and women-owned businesses—the Government still do not know how many such businesses they are procuring from? What you do not measure, you cannot manage.
I can tell the noble Baroness that, since its launch in 2012, something like 20% of our start-up loans have gone to entrepreneurs from black, Asian and minority-ethnic backgrounds and, throughout this crisis, we have hosted a series of round tables on our wider support scheme for BAME businesses.
My Lords, the Government are keen in their EU negotiations to allow UK companies to benefit from state aid where appropriate. Will the Minister therefore confirm that it is equally important for the Governments of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland to ensure that the SMEs within their own territory are helped to secure public procurement contracts for which those devolved Governments are responsible?
My Lords, as you know, the Federation of Small Businesses is running a campaign called “Fair Pay Fair Play” about what it calls the scourge of late payment. Can the Minister enlighten the House as to when key components of this campaign, such as putting the Prompt Payment Code on a statutory basis and giving powers to the Small Business Commissioner, will ever be introduced?
We are completely focused on fulfilling the Government’s manifesto commitment to clamp down on late payments and strengthen the powers of the Small Business Commissioner to support small businesses that are exploited by their larger partners. At the Spring Statement, as the noble Lord will be aware, the Government announced that they will require large companies’ audit committees to review payment practices and report them in their annual accounts.
My Lords, does my noble friend have details of the financial value of UK companies that are engaged in delivering EU public procurement contracts? In the run-up to the post-Brexit period, are the Government engaged with these firms regarding support because, for many businesses, this may be their main or whole business?
The noble Baroness asks a good question. Unfortunately, we do not gather data on how many UK SMEs are involved in EU procurements. However, there will, of course, be a high level of access to markets in the EU once the UK has joined the WTO general procurement agreement as an independent member. This is expected to be at the beginning of 2021. The UK’s market access offer for services is the same as the current coverage under the EU’s GPA schedule. Reciprocal coverage will continue once the UK is a GPA party.
My Lords, can I ask my noble friend the Minister what opportunities there will be for small and medium-sized businesses in the food sector to bid for contracts to deliver food to schools, hospitals, prisons and other public sector services? This is a wonderful opportunity to have locally produced food locally delivered for local consumption.
I agree with the point that my noble friend is making but, of course, each individual contracting authority will have its own strategy for food procurement. The Crown Commercial Service has established a number of frameworks for the provision of food, and this agreement will deliver a UK-wide SME-inclusive food-procurement service for public sector food buyers.
If we heard the noble Baroness correctly as she was interrupted, I think she was asking about the bureaucracy associated with public sector procurement contracts. We have removed complex pre-qualification questionnaires from low-value contracts and increased the transparency of opportunities via the Contracts Finder website, which covers current and future public sector contracts and award notices above £10,000 in central government and £25,000 in the wider public sector. Contracts Finder is available on a single, free-to-use digital platform and we encourage all SMEs to access it.
My Lords, we always try to avoid or minimise any adverse impacts when we design and develop major highway schemes. The impacts are considered carefully when making value-for-money assessments and when projects are put forward for planning consent. The Planning Inspectorate weighs all relevant material considerations and may subsequently recommend to the Secretary of State that consent is not granted.
I thank the noble Baroness for her Answer. The Government have pledged to plant millions of trees to improve biodiversity, reduce flood risks and capture carbon. However, Highways England’s proposal for junction 10 of the M25 will do the exact opposite. Some 44 irreplaceable trees will be lost. There will be longer, more polluting and more convoluted traffic journeys and building disruption lasting many years, all critically harming RHS Wisley’s heritage site. Also, the RHS charity could see an income reduction of millions of pounds. Will the Government ensure that all evidence is considered, especially the alternative, common-sense proposal to this scheme from the RHS and Wisley’s cultural significance, before making a final decision?
I thank the noble Baroness for reminding all noble Lords of government policy. She is absolutely right that this Government are committed to the environment and want to see improvements within it. The scheme she mentioned is a live planning application. It is with the Planning Inspectorate at the moment so I cannot comment on the detail, but I reassure her that the DCO process is designed to make sure that any proposal is subject to the highest level of scrutiny to ensure that it complies with planning law. It may interest the noble Baroness to know that this scheme had four rounds of public consultation.
Following on from the Question of the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, Wisley is part of the Thames Basin Heaths Special Protection Area, which is a key site for safeguarding very important fauna and flora in England and which we really cannot afford to lose. What action will HM Government take to ensure that the Secretary of State for Transport has all the evidence available to conclude with certainty, as the law requires, that the proposed new junction 10 of the M25 will not harm the integrity of the Thames Basin Heaths Special Protection Area?
It is up to the Planning Inspectorate to make sure that it feels comfortable that it has all the information it requires. If not, it will ensure that it goes out and gets it. I reassure the noble Baroness that under RIS2, the new road investment scheme strategy which came out in April 2020, Highways England has various KPIs which relate to biodiversity. HE’s KPI is that there will be no net loss of biodiversity, using Natural England’s assessment approach.
My Lords, my question cites the example of the UNESCO world heritage site of Stonehenge and the A303, where the current situation is intolerable for both the local community and air quality. Notwithstanding the importance of this route for travel to the West Country for residents and the vital tourism trade, we see constant traffic jams. Does my noble friend agree that we must come to a position balancing preservation against progress?
As my noble friend will be aware, this scheme is also with the Planning Inspectorate and I therefore cannot comment on it in great detail. However, she will know that the decision was delayed owing to an archaeological find and therefore further consultation will take place with all the relevant stakeholders within the particular field. This will enable all relevant matters to be considered and, as she rightly said, a balanced position to be reached. We expect a position to be reached by 13 November.
As part of the Planning for the Future consultation, the Government are considering the relationship between infrastructure, including roads, and the planning system. With the White Paper asserting that decisions to grant planning consent should no longer be taken on a case-by-case basis but be
“determined by clear rules for what can and cannot be done”,
can the Minister give an assurance that the outcome under these future rules for what can and cannot be done will not result in diminished consideration of the environmental impact of proposed roadbuilding, bearing in mind that the environmental impact of roadbuilding and development, including on adjacent sites of ecological, cultural or scientific significance, varies considerably from case to case?
On a case-by-case basis, each road scheme must comply with the national policy statement on national roads, which states that a DCO applicant must show, for example, how the project has taken advantage of opportunities to “conserve and enhance” biodiversity and geological conservation interests. There are many other issues in that national policy statement which will apply to roads now and in future.
My Lords, we are at a crucial point as we try to recover from the pandemic. Do we try to go back to business as usual or grasp the opportunity to build back greener? Does the Minister agree that the Government’s priority after the pandemic should be investment in a zero-emission public transport fleet, including the creation of more cycle lanes and safe walkways, and not the creation of more highways? Will the Government look at the amount of money and the number of schemes they are planning to invest in?
The Government have clearly set out within RIS2 the schemes that will be invested in and the enhancements that will be made. As the noble Baroness will know, for enhancements it is often not a case of building a new road—very few absolutely new roads are ever built—but of improving the existing roads and, as importantly, maintaining our existing infrastructure. I reassure her that, for example, within the funding envelope of RIS2 there is a designated environmental and well-being fund which can be spent not on specific schemes but where it is best needed. That fund amounts to £345 million.
I reassure my noble friend that we certainly consider nature corridors along new highways—not for all of them, because obviously not all are suitable for that sort of thing. Highways England has a huge commitment to biodiversity. For example, my noble friend will be pleased to know that we will improve the habitat alongside the M6 corridor from Preston to the border with Scotland.
My Lords, in making the business case for the proposed roadworks close to Wisley Gardens, it is likely that the time-savings for road users will be taken into account? What proportion of the expected time-savings is of two minutes duration or less? Also, has account been taken in such calculations of the likely fall in commuter traffic and flows to and from Gatwick and Heathrow?
As I have stated previously, I cannot go into detail about the scheme the noble Lord mentioned, but I can say that the junction around the M25 is one of the most highly congested junctions on our motorway network, and it sees 270,000 vehicles a day. Therefore, even two minutes per vehicle would be a significant time saving, both from an economic and social perspective, and it would also have environmental benefits.
The scheme is also designed to improve safety. That particular junction has the highest casualty rate on the M25. It is too early to understand what the long-term impacts of Covid are, but traffic levels have rebounded very strongly. However, each scheme already has a low-growth scenario, which is taken into account in granting planning.
My Lords, to improve air quality around areas of sensitive ecology, we must encourage green transport. According to a Department for Transport survey, only 1% of households own an electric car, and 2% own a hybrid. The main barriers to increasing these numbers are access to charging points and the cost of purchase. Therefore, why are the Government spending £2 on unrestricted fossil fuel subsidies for every £1 promoting clean energy, such as the EV charging infrastructure?
My Lords, this Government have a huge respect for electric vehicles. Certainly, the numbers the noble Baroness quotes are low and are historic, because the number of electric vehicles is increasing, and we expect it to increase in the future. However, while we are transitioning to electric vehicles, Highways England is doing a huge amount of work on air quality. For example, in late September, Highways England will introduce 60 miles per hour speed limits on certain sections of the strategic road network, in order to bring down speeds and improve air quality.
Post Office: Horizon Accounting System
My Lords, the Government are keen to see this review launched as soon as possible. We are making progress with the appointment of a chair. Once this process is complete, the review will then be formally launched. My colleague, the Minister for Small Business, Consumers and Labour Markets, has also spoken to Paul Patterson—managing director and head of sales and country leadership for Fujitsu UK—who has confirmed that Fujitsu will collaborate fully with the review.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend. The delay to this review suggests that the Government are having some difficulty finding someone unwise enough to take on the chairmanship. Is my noble friend aware that the historical shortfall scheme, set up to give compensation to sub-postmasters who have suffered through the Horizon fiasco, is not available to those sub-postmasters who have been employed through others—like McColl’s or the Co-op—even though they have suffered in exactly the same way as the rest? Is this not another injustice inflicted on sub-postmasters who have surely suffered enough already?
I pay tribute once again to the tenaciousness of my noble friend in raising this sad tale. The historical shortfall scheme was open to people or companies who had, or have, a direct contract with the Post Office, including companies such as McColl’s and the Co-op. Assistants of postmasters or employees of other companies who had no contract with the Post Office would not be eligible, as they had no contractual liability directly to the Post Office.
My Lords, there are three strands to this scandal: the continuing failure of the IT scheme, the devious behaviour of the Post Office and the heroic persistence of 550 postmasters and postmistresses. In their case, it has been a story of lost livelihoods, bankruptcies, prison, mental health problems, and now death. Seventeen claimants have died, some without their convictions being quashed; the doctors of one, Julian Mason, spoke of the stress as a contributing factor. There has also been a suicide. Will the Government acknowledge the urgency of this review to bring peace of mind to those who have suffered and, indeed, to hear their evidence before it is too late?
My Lords, my heart goes out to all the sub-postmistresses and sub-postmasters who have been dragged through this Horizon hell. They have been treated despicably. Will the Government act ahead of this review and pay the legal fees of those brave sub-postmasters and postmistresses who took legal action? They were awarded £57 million; after legal fees that is now down to £11 million. Surely the Government can take that action without having to wait for the review to commence?
As is clear for the individuals and families caught up in the Horizon disaster, life continues to be unbearable. I ask my noble friend the Minister to help me answer my friend Rita Threlfall, the former sub-postmistress from Liverpool, whose story I highlighted in this House on 18 June. She said this weekend: “We seek reasonable justice, and it is still our aim to have a judicial inquiry, as we all feel it is the only way to uncover the truth behind the reason we have suffered financial loss through no fault of our own. But more importantly, it will help us in some way to mend our broken lives.”
The lady that my noble friend mentions is one of many tragic cases arising from this. It is indeed an appalling scandal. Of course, there has already been a judicial finding of faults in this, and the comments of Mr Justice Fraser are well worth reviewing. We want to go further than that: we want a proper review, and to be fully assured that through the review there is a public summary of the failings that occurred at the Post Office through this scandal—drawing on the judgments from the Horizon case and by listening to those most affected—without repeating the findings of Mr Justice Fraser.
This has been the most appalling scandal. Those impacted are still waiting for justice, not just for themselves but in holding to account those who appear to have sought, at every stage, to cover up what actually went wrong. Can the Minister give some assurance that the appointment of a chairman, and this going ahead, is imminent, and that those responsible at the Post Office and elsewhere will be held to account?
I can certainly give the noble Lord the assurance that the appointment will be made as quickly as possible. We are under no illusion about the urgency of the case and the need to get on with it as quickly as possible. I am hoping that an announcement can be made very shortly.
My noble friend the Minister made similar comments three months ago when my noble friend Lord Arbuthnot, to whom we all pay tribute, raised this subject. It is a disgrace. The Government, as my noble friend will agree, have both an actual and a moral responsibility here. Can he remember the old adage that “justice delayed is justice denied”?
I agree with my noble friend on this: we need to get on with it. There have been a number of delays, for various reasons, but I am hoping that an appointment can be made imminently, because we all want to see this under way as quickly as possible.
Can the Minister confirm that the review will not have the powers under the Inquiries Act 2005? Therefore, how will the reviewer compel witnesses, including Ministers, to give evidence, or see the papers necessary to assess, for example, whether lessons have been learned and that whistleblowers in the Post Office will not be treated in such a disgraceful way again in the future?
The review is non-statutory, but the Post Office, Fujitsu and the Government have all committed to co-operate as fully as possible with the review. The chair will, of course, be fully independent of both the Post Office and Government, and will draw conclusions and recommendations as they see fit.
My Lords, we all know that sub-postmasters are the pillars of local communities, and yet they have suffered by being compensated for an insultingly small proportion of the losses they incurred through this terrible scandal and the cruel unfairness that followed. The Minister says that he does not want to interfere, but the Government are 100% owner of the Post Office—the Permanent Secretary of the department is its accounting officer and there is government representation on the board. The Government are ultimately responsible for this scandal. It is not good enough to keep delaying this with lots of process and reviews. They must be compensated fully.
The court case resulted in a substantial award of compensation and the Post Office has a separate historical shortfall scheme, which it is looking at and progressing. We want to get on with this as quickly as possible. I agree with all the comments which have been made. This is an appalling scandal: it has originated over many years and we are doing what we can to try to get to the bottom of it.
My Lords, so many careers have been ruined and reputations destroyed because of the failings of the Horizon system. How has the Post Office been encouraged to strengthen its relationship with postmasters? Has there been postmaster training to help build a commercial partnership?
I have spoken to the chief executive of the Post Office, as has my ministerial colleague who is responsible for this matter. We are conveying the strongest possible message that the Post Office of course needs to have a strong and robust relationship with its sub-postmasters.
My Lords, I am very grateful to be here; I thought I might have to be scratched as my train was late. The Minister has said that there was a substantial award against the Post Office, but every noble Lord who has spoken has pointed out that most of that went on legal fees. Is it not the duty of the Government to properly compensate the people who have incurred this loss?
I am pleased that the noble Lord’s train was not late. I understand the frustration expressed by noble Lords. When I first saw the award, I shared some of that frustration, but that was the process and that was the judicial outcome. There is a separate historical shortfall scheme, which the Post Office is following. We believe that this is the appropriate way for compensation to be awarded.
My Lords, cross-government work continues to ensure that complainants and witnesses are asked only to provide what is necessary and proportionate to investigate crime. Policing and the Attorney-General will publish new and updated guidance and the Home Office will work with policing to ensure that this is enabled by appropriate technology and training.
My Lords, there is a sense that, in recent years, police policy in sexual offence cases has swung from favouring one side to favouring the other. Following recent court cases, and the need to review how police deal with digital evidence, can my noble friend and the Home Office officials help ensure that both the alleged victim and the accused have fair and reasonable access to all relevant communications at all times?
I share my noble friend’s sentiment. While rape and sexual assault are devastating and serious crimes, we expect all investigations to be conducted thoroughly and fairly to ensure equal access to justice for both victims and defendants. We are engaging with partners, including the NPCC, the CPS and the College of Policing, to ensure that the police have the appropriate framework, technology and training to strike the right balance between a victim’s right to privacy and reasonable lines of inquiry.
My Lords, the important Question from the noble Lord, Lord Hayward, was one of policy, but there is a prior and more fundamental question of legality. Can the Minister tell the House what is the specific legal foundation for taking rape complainants’ phones? She will know that, to comply with the Convention on Human Rights, this kind of intrusion into personal privacy needs not just to be necessary and proportionate; it has to be in accordance with the law, as well. Mere consent will not work, not least when that consent is given in exchange for the right of something as serious as a rape complaint to be taken forward.
The question of legality is good and pertinent. The ICO found that there is a complex legislative interplay in this area. Officers should be extracting data from victims and witnesses only when it is strictly necessary as part of the investigation. We are working with the police and the CPS to ensure that the proposed framework meets both the requirements of officers to fulfil their lawful duties to pursue all lines of inquiry and to meet their duties of disclosure, as well as providing clarity and transparency about the safeguards and assurances to complainants on their right to privacy.
My Lords, the recent Court of Appeal case makes the issue of examination of the contents of mobile phones and other electronic devices of both complainants and accused far more complex. It is not simply a question of the police investigators receiving additional training. Quite often, the Crown Prosecution Service instructs officers to carry out further investigation. What co-ordination is taking place between the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice to make sure that the training is consistent, both for the police and the CPS, and is in line with that Court of Appeal guidance?
The noble Lord is absolutely right: there has to be consistency and training has to be sufficient across the piece. The CPS, the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice are working through this together. The rape review, led by the Home Office, the Attorney-General’s office and the Ministry of Justice, is considering fully the reasons for a drop in referrals, to which the noble Lord has alluded in the past, and whether the digital disclosure is part of this.
My Lords, earlier in my career, from 1982 to 1988, I was the UK representative on the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. Interestingly, when we had meetings in Brasilia and in adjoining countries in South America, I was very impressed by how much more real help was available for the victims of such bad situations. I support the view that we should do everything we can to stay ahead of these needs. While I have listened to the various technical points raised, will the Minister bear in mind that this would really help women who are in a very desperate situation?
My noble friend is right that this could indeed help to clinch a case one way or another. At the heart of this is that police and prosecutors have a duty to pursue all reasonable lines of inquiry in every investigation. Increasingly, evidence is coming digitally. In response, the police have to ensure that they are acting in a way that is proportionate, but which also protects privacy, as talked about by the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that Claire Waxman, the London Victims’ Commissioner, has called on the police and the CPS to implement the ICO’s recommendation of introducing a code of practice to prevent excessive and disproportionate requests for data, as real victims could otherwise be deterred from pursuing the justice they deserve? Will she accept recommendation 1 of that report, as she seemed to indicate earlier, that the Government should strengthen the current legislative framework by producing a statutory code, or other equivalent measures, to ensure that the law is sufficiently clear and foreseeable?
The public consultations on the Attorney-General’s Office’s updated disclosure guidance and the Criminal Procedure and Investigations Act code of practice ended recently, and the AGO is seeking to implement them later this year. It will implement the recommendations made in the 2018 disclosure review and the Justice Select Committee report on disclosure published in July 2018.
I am sure that it will take such things into account, perhaps particularly the anxiety that women might feel when handing over something that is so much more about our lives in general now than just being a phone. That is where the balance must be struck. We want women to come forward. Rape is such an underreported crime, and we want people to come forward, not to feel hindered.
Rape prosecutions have fallen to a record low. Does the Minister think that this is a result of the Met’s intransigence about data grabbing from victims’ phones, the CPS’s ego-driven attempt to improve its conviction rate, or perhaps the Government’s swingeing cuts?
The noble Baroness obviously has firm views about all three areas, but the rape review will consider all the reasons behind recent drops in referrals—they are low anyway—and charges, prosecutions and convictions of rape cases, so the impact of digital disclosure is being considered as part of that.
In the light of the recent legal challenge and the change of stance by the National Police Chiefs’ Council through withdrawing the digital data extraction forms, what early evidence is there that the experience of the legal system for victims of rape is now actually improving?
I cannot stand at the Dispatch Box and say that there is clear evidence. I am saying here that the Government are doing a number of things across a number of areas to make it easier for people to come forward, to be listened to, and for evidence to be gathered in a proportionate and non-intrusive way. Digital extraction is one part of that, but we would not want that to impede a woman’s—or man’s—willingness to come forward.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, the hybrid sitting of the House will now resume. Some Members are here in the Chamber, respecting social distancing, others are participating virtually, but all Members are treated equally. If the capacity of the Chamber is exceeded, I will immediately adjourn the House.
We now come to the Motion in the name of the Senior Deputy Speaker. The Procedure Committee agreed that this type of business should be conducted as physical proceedings only, with no opportunity to participate virtually other than by the mover, in this case the Senior Deputy Speaker. There is no speakers’ list, but Members present in the Chamber are entitled to participate. However, the Procedure Committee guidance requests any Member intending to speak on such Motions to give notice in advance.
Hereditary Peers’ By-elections
Motion on Standing Orders
My Lords, this Motion will further delay outstanding hereditary Peers’ by-elections until the start of 2021. Standing Order 10(6) states that by-elections must take place within three months of the vacancy occurring. On 23 March, the House agreed to suspend these provisions until 8 September, which at that time was expected to be the first day back after the Summer Recess. On 16 July, the Procedure and Privileges Committee met and agreed that a further suspension until the end of the year was necessary. The Motion before the House today gives effect to that decision.
The current state of the pandemic makes this suspension necessary for a number of reasons, including the difficulty of holding hustings, of allowing Members to vote in person in whole-House by-elections, and indeed for newly elected hereditary Peers to come in to take the Oath in person before contributing. I beg to move.
I will go through the short list that I have. I have been notified that those Members who want to speak are the noble Lords, Lord Cormack, Lord Trefgarne, Lord Newby, Lord Balfe, and the noble Baroness, Lady Smith. I therefore now call the noble Lord, Lord Cormack.
I thank the Lord Speaker. I hope that we should not infer from what the Senior Deputy Speaker has just said that we are going to return on 1 January; I sincerely hope that that will not be the first sitting day.
To be serious, perhaps I may say at the outset that while I welcome this opportunity, I am increasingly convinced that we need to up our act in this Chamber. It is disgraceful that so few Members are allowed to sit in here. It would be very easy to have at least three Peers on this Bench, or to have one on each of certain other Benches. Depriving Members of your Lordships’ House of the opportunity to participate properly in debate is a disgrace and I hope sincerely that those who have charge over these things will look imaginatively at what can be done. Of course we have to remain safe, but nobody can have ultimate safety. We must have a viable Chamber that can hold the Government to account and debate more expeditiously—as it could if more of us were here—the great issues of the day.
I do not oppose this measure but I feel that it would be more sensible to heed what the Lord Speaker has said about the numbers in this House and to delay further by-elections indefinitely—perhaps until a proper and definitive decision has been made on the Grocott Bill. I am sorry not to see my friend the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, in his place. It is very important to underline that the continued participation in this House of any existing life Peer is not and must not be threatened by that Bill. We have valued colleagues and I hope that they will be here for a very long time, but by-elections that sometimes produce more candidates than electors, a point which has often been made, do not enhance the reputation of your Lordships’ House.
We need to look carefully at how we admit Members to your Lordships’ House. Today we have welcomed the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester, and I am only sorry that his supporters had to stand at a distance from him. If ever there is proper social distancing in this House, it is when a new Peer is introduced, so it is farcical that the right reverend Prelate’s two supporting Bishops had to stand on the steps of the Throne. As we begin to introduce new Peers over the next two or three weeks, I hope that there will be a sensible arrangement whereby the supporters are able to support. I hope that they will be able to be robed, but if not, at least the Peer being introduced should be robed and the others should be here. I hope very much that the Lord Speaker will be able to use his considerable persuasive powers to ensure that that happens.
We do believe that too many are coming in, but each one will be courteously and individually welcomed, as is always the case and as it should be. However, we have an underlying problem with numbers, and the sooner that the full House can have another proper debate on the Burns report and on the wise words of our Lord Speaker, the better. I hope sincerely that we will soon reach a stage where, if someone is given a peerage, he or she does not automatically come in immediately. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester came in because he has been waiting for a considerable time. There is a finite limit on the number of Lords Spiritual, at 26, which includes the two archbishops and the right reverend Prelates the Bishops of London, Durham and Winchester. The others have to wait their turn. I believe that we can take an example from that.
I also believe that Prime Ministers should be able to give a peerage without a seat in the House of Lords, because the Prime Minister himself has created an extra problem for your Lordships’ House. All of these things should be looked at together in the round. It would be a good idea if the Lord Speaker asked the noble Lord, Lord Burns, to bring an updated report before your Lordships’ House in order to re-emphasise some of the existing recommendations and perhaps introduce new ones, and for us as a proper House of Lords to debate. The Government should then listen to what the Lords have said.
It is entirely possible for your Lordships’ House to refuse to admit somebody. A peerage has been given but we do not have to sanction immediate entry. There is precedent going back to the reign of Queen Victoria, when she tried to create a life Peer—in 1862, I think. I am not suggesting that we invite a confrontation by doing that immediately, but that in the interests of the House we have to do two things: first, to demonstrate that we are a proper, functioning House—which we are not at the moment—and secondly, to try to ensure a membership that is more in line with the other place.
My Lords, I will not detain the House for more than a moment. As your Lordships will be well aware, I am not a supporter of the Private Member’s Bill tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, and am sure I never will be, unless circumstances change and House of Lords reform has by then been completed, which was the condition on which the hereditary noble Lords came to this House in 1999. In the meantime, there is room for more than one respectable view on the present circumstances. I do not, therefore, oppose the present proposals but I am not particularly strongly in favour of them.
I support this Motion for the reasons given by the Senior Deputy Speaker, and because at the moment no elections to any public office are being held. Elections were postponed in May and no local council by-elections are being held. If the only election at this point was the hereditary peers by-election in the House of the Lords, it would make us look even more foolish—if that were possible—than we already do.
I very much hope that this is a stopgap measure. The strong balance of opinion in the House is that this system should be done away with, and we need to make progress. We are in a difficult position, in that Private Member’s Bill debates are not taking place. I think it is the Procedure Committee that needs to take an in-principle view on this—given the ways of your Lordships’ House, and having been here only 20 years, I am not quite sure about that. Now that we are more back to normal, we need to get more back to normal in dealing with Private Members’ Bills. Then, we could deal with the Grocott Bill, because at the moment it is in limbo, and we need to move on it.
Until recently it was possible to argue that abolishing by-elections for hereditary Peers altogether should not go ahead because it was being beastly to the Conservative Party, which would lose disproportionately. However, the profligacy of the Prime Minister in his recent appointments list—however unwelcome in so many ways—means that the Conservatives can no longer feel unfairly done by. I hope, therefore, that the Government and all their Back-Benchers will review their position and support permanent abolition of by-elections for hereditary Peers.
We are clearly a long way from being back to normal. I endorse everything said by my noble friend Lord Cormack, because we need to get back to normal. We could get many more people in this Chamber, but we also need some willpower behind the need to get back to normal. A certain lassitude and reluctance to get things done seems to have descended on us. We certainly should not be having by-elections until we get back to normal. The Procedure and Privileges Committee will meet in December, I believe—certainly before this new Motion expires on New Year’s Eve. The middle of a vacation does not, in any case, seem a very good date for it to expire, particularly since the Deputy Lord Speaker may, in the tradition of his country, be somewhat busy on New Year’s Eve.
I would like the Procedure and Privileges Committee to look at the need for these by-elections and whether we should make time for the Grocott Bill to be heard. I listened to what the noble Lord, Lord Newby, had to say, but the Grocott Bill will not remove a single Peer from this House: it allows them to die away, over the course of half a century. Some would say that that is an extremely generous way to treat them, but it has nothing to do with the Conservative Party.
We have to start standing up for ourselves. My noble friend Lord Cormack made reference to the Library and the rule brought in when Queen Victoria created a life Peer, and that was turned down. It goes back a lot further than that, however. I read the Library report, but there was also something in the New Statesman and I asked the Library for an account of what had happened in relation to life Peers. I read a debate from around 1860, I think, and I can inform the House that life peerages go back to the reign of Henry III, in the 13th century.
There have been regular life peerages. They used to end them by chopping off the heads of the Lords when they fell from favour. This is no longer recommended procedure, but I have had advice from an extraordinarily senior source to the effect that the sovereign creates but the House sits, and we would be within our powers to amend our Standing Orders to create a queue for Peers waiting to take their seats, as my noble friend Lord Cormack suggested. The size of the House would be determined and there would be a Burns-style distribution, based perhaps on previous elections or other criteria: there would be an allocation to each party.
At the moment I often look at the ranks of the Labour Party—my former party—and I feel a bit sorry for them, because they could do with strengthening, frankly. Democracy in this House relies on having a strong Opposition, not just strong Conservative Benches; it needs to be much wider than that.
I would therefore like to see this Motion passed and the noble Lord, Lord Burns—or, if he thinks it is a poisoned chalice, someone else—to look, in the way suggested, at the means by which this House can implement the desires it endorsed at the time of the Burns report. We have weapons in our armoury that could be used. Although it saddens me to say so, I do not think that the present Prime Minister will follow our advice unless there is some strength behind it—the ability to say, “No, you cannot do that”, and the powers to stop it. Otherwise, we will be ridden roughshod over. I therefore support the Motion. I ask the Procedure and Privileges Committee to consider coming back to this House before the end of December with its thoughts, and that this House look at limiting our numbers, getting a legislative or rule-based way of doing it, and saying to the Government, “Fine, you create, but we will admit”.
This has been a rather wider-ranging debate than either I or probably the noble Lord, Lord McFall, as Senior Deputy Speaker, anticipated. I agree with the point the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, made about the Prime Minister not listening to advice. I think the only advice he listens to is that of the Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Cummings. Perhaps if we could persuade him, we might have more success in him treating the House and Parliament with some respect.
I had not expected the debate to go back to the 13th century. The House of Lords sometimes looks backwards rather than forwards, but it does not often go quite so far back. I think this illustrates the scale of the problem. We are dealing with something here and now, and the Motion before us has my full support. The noble Lord, Lord Newby, made the most telling point. If local government elections have been stopped around the country and the public are not entitled to elect, it would be nonsensical for an unelected House to elect one of its few elected Members to this place.
I want to put on record that this is a policy issue. This is not about the merits or otherwise of any individual who serves in this House, by whichever route they come in. All Members of your Lordships’ House are welcomed. In fact, most of us really do not know who are the life Peers and who are the hereditary Peers, except those who make an effort to defend the continuation of the hereditary principle ad infinitum with the temporary position introduced in 1999.
I disassociate myself from some of the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, which is unusual. We all want to get back to working as normally as possible as soon as possible, but we can do so only in realms that make us safe. Indeed, my understanding is that no Member of your Lordships’ House has wanted to speak physically but not been able to attend physically. We have to respect those who for many reasons—whether for travel or because they live in hot-spot areas or for their own medical conditions—wish to participate remotely. I think we do better than the House of Commons in that regard.
Finally, on the comments made about the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, he was unable to be with us today. For very understandable reasons, he would want to be here. I am sorry the noble Lord made that comment. It would be remiss of me not to mention his Bill. It has had the overwhelming support of your Lordships’ House on many occasions. It is not fit for today’s House of Lords to have by-elections for hereditary peerages. The only reason we do not have that Bill, and have the Motion before us today, is that the Government do not want it. We have invited the Government many a time to say, “We will help give this a speedy passage through Parliament”, but because of the processes, a few Peers who do not support it have blocked that Bill with parliamentary vandalism tactics. We will return to that Bill, but I make a plea to the Government. It is a Bill that has the overwhelming support of your Lordships’ House.
The noble Lord, Lord Burns, gave a way forward on the size of the House, and that is one issue, but the Motion before us has nothing to do with that. It is about having a sensible process: we should not have by-elections to your Lordships’ House in the current circumstances. It has my full support.
My Lords, I thank Members for their comments and for the history lesson, which I followed with great interest, but I remind them that the Motion before the House relates to a suspension of the Standing Order relating to by-elections. I am very happy for Members to write to me on the relevant wider issues they wish to see the Procedure Committee looking at, and I will certainly take a report back to the Procedure Committee as a result of the wider debate today. I note that the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, is not in favour of these proposals or the Grocott Bill.
It is my information that the Lord Speaker’s Committee has agreed to meet again to consider the latest situation—but, again, that is not relevant to the Motion. The points made today about delaying by-elections indefinitely, with some individuals saying they should be abolished, are certainly policy issues, as the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, noted. I am content to take any comments, including those today, back to the Procedure Committee for discussion. We will meet regularly. We are meeting in the next two weeks and then in the first half of October. We have a number of meetings before the Christmas Recess, so the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, can be reassured that there is sufficient time for us to look at these issues. With that, I beg to move.
Commons Urgent Question
The following Answer to an Urgent Question was given on Thursday 3 September in the House of Commons.
“Yesterday, the Government launched our new Kickstart Scheme, as set out in the Written Ministerial Statement and the letter sent to all Members of both Houses. This £2 billion programme will fund the direct creation of thousands of additional jobs for young people at risk of long-term unemployment, to improve their chances of progressing to find long-term, rewarding and sustainable work.
As we build back our economy and return fully to work, a lack of work experience can be a barrier to stepping on to the jobs ladder, which is why, through Kickstart, employers will be supported to access a massive recruitment pool of young people who want to work and are bursting with potential. Employers from all industries and across the private, public and voluntary sectors are eligible if they can meet our simple criteria on the provision of roles. Employers will need to show that these are additional jobs which provide the experience and support a young person needs to improve their chances of permanent employment. These need to be new roles that do not simply replace staff recently made redundant.
Funding available for each job covers the relevant national minimum wage rate for 25 hours a week, the associated employer national insurance contributions, and employer minimum automatic enrolment contributions, as well as £1,500 for wraparound support. There is no limit to the number of jobs that can be created, and organisations of all sizes are encouraged to participate.
If a business wants to offer only one or two Kickstart jobs, as set out in the online guidance, employers can contact their local employer support managers with an expression of interest, and we will work to link them to an appropriate intermediary. These intermediaries could include local enterprise partnerships, local authorities or business groups, ensuring the necessary support is in place to deliver placements effectively. We will continue to be proactive on involving employers and intermediaries following the scheme’s launch yesterday.
We have already undertaken substantial engagement on our labour market strategy. I want to pay tribute to our civil servants in DWP and the Treasury who have brought this scheme to fruition, and I particularly want to thank and recognise my honourable friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Mims Davies), the Minister for Employment, who has worked tirelessly with her usual passion for helping young people get on in life and who I know will continue to do so.
Kickstart is a key strand of our plan for jobs focused on young people and will be a boost for the British economy. I want to encourage businesses and organisations all to take advantage of the most ambitious youth employment programme in our history and help Kickstart to become a flying start for our young people.”
[Inaudible.]—young people not in full-time education or employment. We have been urging government to introduce an equivalent to the last Labour Government’s Future Jobs Fund, which was shown to be so effective in getting young people into jobs, so we welcome the Kickstart Scheme, but it must offer a route to real jobs for those most in need. How will the Minister ensure that these are genuinely new, additional jobs? How will she ensure the scheme is taken up by employers of all sizes in all regions of the UK?
I thank the noble Baroness for her question. She has started us on a very important issue to do with the Kickstart Scheme. The jobs secured through the Kickstart Scheme will go through a very rigorous process. One of the major benefits of the new Kickstart Scheme is the involvement of the private sector. We will ensure that the jobs provided under Kickstart will be good quality. We believe the best chance for a sustained job will come from taking part in the scheme. The employers will have a chance to see if they can place participants permanently in their establishments.
While it is incredibly important to get young people into work, small businesses are struggling to make sense of how they can access this scheme—yet the poster child is Tesco, which is taking on people, growing and benefiting from coronavirus and will now get free members of staff. How can the Minister ensure that those people taken on at government cost would not have been taken on in any case by Tesco and that they will get some kind of qualification or hope of a job at the end of this?
I am pleased to say that the latest briefing I have had today is that a range of companies wish to take part in Kickstart—large companies, as the noble Lord suggested, and small companies, as well as charities. There will be a rigorous process to follow to ensure that those jobs are additional and not previously advertised. I am sure the process we go through will result in good-quality opportunities for our young people.
Prior to my noble friend becoming a Minister, she had devoted much of her life to helping some of the hardest-to-reach and troubled young people in the country find their way into the dignity of work. How will she ensure that the Kickstart programme supports our most vulnerable young people, who already face the greatest barriers to employment, and does not leave them to fall further behind?
The Kickstart Scheme really is very exciting for young people. First, they will have a work coach who will be with them throughout their journey. They will have full support from Jobcentre Plus and employer support; the HR teams will hopefully work with them. They will be able to put together a CV, understand the world of work and undertake training opportunities that enhance their employment prospects. The flexible support fund of £150 million will be deployed and, most importantly, when somebody is in a Kickstart placement, there will be regular reviews of their progress to ensure that we do not miss any opportunity to keep them in that placement, rather than them falling out. Without blowing my own trumpet, there are all the key components we deployed at Tomorrow’s People that made the outcomes so successful.
My Lords, I congratulate the Government on this initiative, but I would like to ask the Minister what plans they have for when it ends. The danger, of course, is that too many people will simply drop back into unemployment, as happens too often in France. I wonder whether it is possible to have continuing support at a lower level, so that there is a tapering off, as with the present furlough system? Would the Government give further thought to this?
My Lords, I am pleased to say—and I reiterate the points I made before—that all through the Kickstart Scheme journey, young people will have the support services of their work coach and the full support of the Jobcentre Plus system, along with their intermediaries and employers. Work coaches will continue to support claimants into work after their placements have been completed. They will not be left to drift. We want as many young people as possible to gain support from this service. On the noble Lord’s point about changing the mechanism of the programme, I am not aware of any plans to do that at present.
My Lords, for those employers whose individual job needs do not amount to 30, arrangements can be put in place, as we have heard, by intermediaries. What is the process for this? Is it just a DWP recommendation? Is there a quality assurance process for recognition of intermediaries? Who has responsibility for delivering the various programmes—individual employers or the intermediary entity?
My Lords, I must apologise to the noble Lord, as the sound was not great, but I think I got the gist of his question. Where employers have robust HR teams and can manage the process, they will obviously be able to bid. Where employers have only one or two opportunities, the role of the intermediary steps in. There will be a quality assurance process for their procurement. I understand that yesterday Movement to Work and the Prince’s Trust were gearing up to fulfil this role. We will make sure that the best possible people are taking part as intermediaries.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend on this excellent scheme and the speed with which she has put it in place. I understand why it has been necessary to focus on people who will give an opportunity to a batch of youngsters, but the real hope will be small businesses that can help one or two. Once the scheme is up and running, will she consider the ways in which small employers can engage directly? Will she also recognise that the sooner Britain gets back to work the better, because many of these young people will need support and guidance in the workplace? Does she think there are enough work coaches in place to maintain the scheme?
I can assure all noble Lords that, as the Kickstart Scheme is implemented and progresses, it will be kept under constant review. If the noble Lord, or any Member of your Lordships’ House, has some idea about how it could be amended for the better, my door is always open to receive those. We are doubling the number of our work coaches. We will make sure that there are ample people to offer support on the journey. I could not agree more: the sooner we are back to work the better. Young people will receive the support they need to ensure that they make a good transition from Kickstart to work.
My Lords, I welcome the proposed Kickstart programme, although I would have liked to see apprenticeships and some graduate programmes extended; this remains a glaring gap. I steered the Labour Government’s first mentoring project, the People into Management Network, for three years. It primarily targeted young Asian women, undergraduates and graduates, supporting over 500 young people with 100 leading organisations, including Microsoft, the Foreign Office, the police and others. 10 Downing Street itself provided placements, mentoring and ongoing support for three months, for a comprehensive and impactful placement experience. I am glad to hear that prolonged coaching and support will be available. Will the Minister take the opportunity to meet me and other noble Lords interested in discussing how to improve the programme?
My Lords, my door is open and I would be very happy to meet noble Lords to discuss this if it helps them. If I may, I will build on a point that the noble Baroness made. With our plans for jobs, we are doubling the work coaches and putting £2 billion into Kickstart, and there will be no cap on places. We have expanded the youth offer, we are expanding the work and health programme, we are expanding the sector-based academies, and we have put an extra £40 million in for additional capacity for an online job-finding support scheme. I am very proud of what my Government are doing to make sure we help as many people as possible.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, the hybrid proceeding will now begin. Some Members are here in the Chamber, respecting social distancing; others are participating remotely, but all Members will be treated equally. If the capacity of the Chamber is exceeded, I will immediately adjourn the House.
The House is to be in Committee on the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill. I will call Members to speak in the order listed in the annexe to today’s list. Members are not permitted to intervene spontaneously; the Chair calls each speaker. Interventions during speeches or “before the noble Lord sits down” are not permitted. During the debate on each group, I will invite Members, including Members in the Chamber, to email the clerk if they wish to speak after the Minister. I will call Members to speak in order of request and will call the Minister to reply.
The groupings are binding and it will not be possible to degroup any amendment for separate debate. A Member intending to press an amendment already debated to a Division should give notice in the debate. Leave should be given to withdraw amendments. When putting the Question, I will collect voices in the Chamber only. If a Member taking part remotely intends to trigger a Division, they should make this clear when speaking on the group. We will now begin.
Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill
Committee (1st Day)
Relevant document: 11th Report from the Constitution Committee
Clause 1: Repeal of the main retained EU law relating to free movement etc.
1: Clause 1, page 1, line 9, at end insert—
“(2) Within six months of this section coming into force, the Secretary of State must lay a report before Parliament on how the provisions under Schedule 1 are to be enforced.”
My Lords, I rise to speak to Amendment 1 in my name and that of the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington. I start by thanking my noble friend the Minister and her team for the briefing sessions arranged since Second Reading and the substantial package of materials circulated last week, including some illustrative statutory instruments, which I always find helpful in understanding how Bills will work. We will come on to those in later groups.
I know from all the legislation that I have made as a civil servant and as a Minister, and complied with as a businesswoman and a citizen, that how a new law is enforced and the resources devoted to it are almost as important as the law itself. Our amendment, the first in this group, is a probing one designed to elicit detailed information on enforcement ahead of Report. I note that there is very little in the Bill, no doubt because the enforcement provisions, penalties, powers of entry and enforcement officers responsible sit in existing legislation, but we need a road map. We need to know as much as possible now and, failing that, we need a public report to Parliament within six months, as stated in my amendment—the way the excellent Bill clerks thought that we could ensure the provision of adequate information.
As discussed at Second Reading, my general approach is that government policy should align itself more closely with the majority of public opinion, which has consistently held over many decades that more rigorous controls are needed and that the rules should be enforced fairly and firmly. This was shown unequivocally in the Brexit referendum.
There are a number of troubling issues with enforcement implications. The number of migrants seeking ever more novel ways to get into the UK illegally is growing. Last week, it was reported that a record 416 migrants exploited fine weather to make the crossing from France to England in one day, arriving on beaches all along the south coast. Immigration law can be enforced by tightening border controls or by deporting those without a right to remain in our country, yet we see repeated reports of the failure of government steps to remove migrants who have already sought asylum elsewhere or have no right to remain for other reasons. Last week, a charter flight took off for Spain that was meant to carry 20 such migrants; in the event, only 11 boarded the plane, after late legal challenges. The week before, the Government abandoned a similar flight with 23 migrants on board, after last-minute legal action. Many thousands are attracted to dangerous ways of entering the UK, because the authorities are known to be useless at enforcing the law.
We have passed many laws and regulations in recent years, including in 2014—when I had the pleasure of supporting the then Home Office Minister, my noble friend Lord Taylor of Holbeach—but enforcement has been weak. As a result, businesses, banks and landlords play a big part in policing the rules at very considerable cost to themselves—as I remember well from Tesco. Yet immigration continues to increase. There are large numbers here illegally, both putting pressure on our public services and housing and risking ill treatment and exploitation—for example, in modern slavery or in dangerous low-paid working environments.
The Bill focuses on the EEA and Switzerland, and migrants arriving from those countries are not exempt from the problems that I highlighted. There is never-ending pressure on the EU’s southern and eastern borders, and the growth of hotspots of deprivation in EU urban centres. This phenomenon, most shockingly shown by the queues across Europe a few years ago, helped to bring us Brexit. The Bill must provide the powers we need to tackle these issues properly or we will never be forgiven.
Against this background, I have some questions. First, where are the enforcement provisions that will apply to the Bill and regulations made under it? What are the fines and criminal sanctions that apply and to whom? Secondly, the Bill contains powers to amend primary legislation elsewhere. Can that include enforcement provisions and how would such powers be limited? Thirdly, what are the enforcement authorities—the Border Force, the police, local authorities, the Home Office or the DWP?
Fourthly, what resources are available for enforcement and how much will they be increased? For example, the UK points-based immigration system, set out in CP 258 and at the useful briefing arranged by my noble friend the Minister, requires a huge new administrative structure post Brexit and an ESTA-style system involving millions of individuals every week. According to the department’s interesting impact assessment—thank you to the Home Office for doing one, by the way—there were 142.8 million passenger arrivals in 2018. That included nearly 41 million from the EU and 20.5 million non-EEA citizens. That necessitates a lot of checking. Add to that the pressure on our authorities of the illegal attempts I described earlier, the complications of Covid and post-Brexit trade, and you have a case for much more resource.
Fifthly, what scope is there for the use of technology to ease the obvious pressures on our enforcement? Does that also have downsides that have been anticipated?
Finally, will the Minister take another look at the economics of deportation flights? At Second Reading, I suggested the Government take advantage of the current market to buy some small planes for this purpose. Having some experience in this area, I was not happy with the response in the Minister’s letter. Given the failure rate and the apparent ability of lawyers to delay deportation on flimsy grounds, I am sure it would be cheaper, in the longer term, than charter flights. I am clear that, given media coverage and public concern, the public would not put up with the use of scheduled or mixed flights for that purpose. This approach would generate more confidence, and we need that. I urge the department to work with the Treasury if necessary to do a proper cost-benefit analysis, rather than applying some narrow procurement mantra.
In conclusion, I support Clause 1. However, we need to be clear about the rules for enforcement and entry. The other amendments in this group cover other aspects, and I look forward to colleagues making the case for these, although I must admit to reservations about some of them.
My Lords, in following the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, I agree with her that we need to tackle modern slavery and exploitation in the UK and that this is something the Government need to properly fund and prioritise, focusing on the exploiters, not the victims. I am, however, speaking in direct opposition to her statement as I am opposing Clause 1.
Today marks another step in the robbing of rights from millions of Britons that they were born with and the removal of rights for future generations. Clause 1 is a key step by which freedom of movement for Britons and to Britain ends. I believe we should not allow the destruction of rights and freedoms for Britons to pass unmarked, which is why I have put down my intention to oppose Clause 1 standing part of the Bill.
As I did that, I was thinking back a couple of years to a rally in the centre of Brussels, held in ankle-deep snow, where I heard from lots of Britons who had come from across the continent to talk about how freedom of movement had changed and improved their lives. In particular, I think of a woman who, when young, had upped sticks when her life in the UK had not worked out, moved to several European countries over the years, built a couple of different careers and made a full, interesting, varied life for herself. She came from a very poor area of England and from a family with few financial resources. But she had bought a cheap coach ticket, shifted across a continent and found opportunities, interesting experiences and a comfortable place for herself in the world.
The wealthy have always been able to do this and, no doubt, will always be able to. Many an aristocrat set out on the Grand Tour and, by choice, never came home. Many a black sheep from a wealthy family snuck off to the continent and rebuilt their life away from scandal. The arrival of freedom of movement meant the chance for everybody to exercise that freedom to seek the opportunities, the experiences, the enhancements of life that change can bring and the chance to meet new and different people, learn a new language and find a different culture, environment and way of life.
Making that opportunity available to all was a huge step towards balancing inequality, and now it is being wiped out. All our lives are much poorer with the loss of freedom of movement. Of course, it has also been a safety net. British builders escaping the deprivations of 1970s Britain in Germany became a stereotype, but it was a fact. In our shock-ridden, insecure and unstable world, how vital might that right have been to many in the future?
As a noble and learned Lord pointed out to me when I was discussing my intention with him, I do not have the power to simply restore that movement right for Britons. That right is granted by other states under EU membership, which we have now lost, and all those rights will go when we end the transition period at the end of this year. These are rights, incidentally, that quite a number of Members of the House of Lords have availed themselves of. Freedom of movement exercised before the end of December will continue, unless by tearing up the withdrawal agreement signed just eight months ago, as was being threatened this morning, Boris Johnson puts into question the rights of the 1.3 million Britons who thought they were secure through their existing residence in the EU. What I am proposing would keep the rights of citizens from EU states in the UK. But the principle of reciprocation is strong, and we could, in accepting these rights, expect that reciprocation.
Moving countries is something that many people will never consider. My aim will always be for a world where no one is forced to leave their home by poverty, war, discrimination or environmental crises. But there are always people for whom this is an exciting idea: for some, the possibility of escape is attractive, and for others, the possibility of a fresh start they cannot find in their birthplace is essential.
We are also denying ourselves the talents, skills and energy of people from across the continent, who, without free movement, will not have the same opportunities their elders enjoyed. I am sorry about that too.
When young British people ask me what I did to keep their freedoms and opportunities, I will be able to say I did my best to defend them. I ask Members of your Lordships’ House: how would you answer that question? I am not going to ask Members to put their votes on the line today, but I intend to in the future.
My Lords, that was indeed a passionate speech.
When I was a first-year law student at Hertford College, Oxford, we learned that apparently the Roman Emperor Caligula ordered that laws should be displayed in small letters as high up as possible to make it difficult for people to know their legal rights and obligations. Amendment 3 focuses attention on an extraordinary provision in this Bill—paragraph 4(2) of Schedule 1—which, if enacted, will make it impossible for people today to understand their legal rights and obligations.
Paragraph 4 is concerned with the EU regulation on free movement of workers. Paragraph 4(1) is a model of clarity; it says that Article 1 of the regulation “is omitted”. However, paragraph 4(2) displays the parliamentary draftsman at his or her most coy. It is so extraordinary that it must be read out:
“The other provisions of the Workers Regulation cease to apply so far as—
(a) they are inconsistent with any provision made by or under the Immigration Acts (including, and as amended by, this Act), or
(b) they are otherwise capable of affecting the interpretation, application or operation of any such provision.”
It is simply not acceptable that when people want to know whether a provision of an EU regulation continues to apply, they must ask themselves whether the provision is
“capable of affecting the interpretation, application or operation"
of a provision of the immigration Acts. This is drafting so opaque that it puts a brick wall between the individual and the law which applies to him or her. It is drafting so lazy that it is comatose. The same woeful drafting technique also appears in paragraph 6(1) of Schedule 1, a provision addressed in Amendments 4 and 5 in this group tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, which I support. If the Government want to ensure that provisions of a regulation cease to apply, they should say so with clarity.
Amendment 3 is in my name, and in the names of two other members of your Lordships’ Constitution Committee, the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Bolton, our chair, and the noble Lord, Lord Beith. The Constitution Committee’s report, published last week, drew attention to paragraph 4(2) of Schedule 1 as unacceptably vague and inevitably productive of legal uncertainty. We quoted the evidence given to the Commons Public Bill Committee by Adrian Berry, the barrister chair of the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association. He said of this provision:
“You need to make better laws. Make it certain and put on the face of the Bill those things that you think are going to be disapplied because they are inconsistent with immigration provisions.”—[Official Report, Commons, Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill Committee, 9/6/20; col. 52.]
I agree. Basic standards of legislative drafting need to be upheld. Paragraph 4(2) of Schedule 1 is way below what is acceptable. I can think of no precedent for such a provision.
I hope that the Minister says that she understands the objection to this provision and that she will bring forward a suitable amendment on Report. I give due warning that if the Government do not address this concern, and if other noble Lords share my concern, I will return to this topic on Report.
My Lords, I support the amendment and the arguments advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick. I apologise if the Committee starts its debate on another report from the Constitution Committee before this section is concluded.
In many respects this is a skeleton Bill, and in this area it changes significant amounts of primary legislation into secondary legislation, therefore making it open to less effective parliamentary scrutiny when powers are used. If something needs to be changed because of inconsistency, then the face of the Bill is the place to put it, but here we are with the concept of inconsistency so subjective and vague that it is difficult to imagine how a court would interpret it. Is
“otherwise capable of affecting the interpretation, application or operation of any such provision”
restricted to precluding the operation of the Act, or does it extend to casting doubt on provisions in this Act? What is it supposed to mean?
In our report on Brexit legislation, the Constitution Committee said that
“delegated powers should be sought only when their use can be clearly anticipated and defined”,
yet in this Bill we get terms such as “appropriate”, “in connection with” and the ones which I have just quoted. It is an unsatisfactory way of drafting, and I am bound to wonder what instructions were given to the parliamentary draftsmen when they worked on this section.
The Constitution Committee has had quite a bit of discussion over the last couple of years about the drafting of legislation and the circumstances in which parliamentary draftsmen should say, “No, this is not a way in which we write laws, this is not acceptable”, and if a dispute arises, then not only departmental Ministers but also law officers should be involved in defending the basic principles of law. Having looked at these provisions, which I hope the Government will find a way to remove, we concluded that
“they risk making a complex area of the law even more difficult to navigate and understand for practitioners and individuals alike”,
and that they threaten to
“frustrate essential ingredients of the rule of law.”
These seem to me to be compelling arguments for the Government to have more thought on this issue.
My Lords, the proposed new clause in Amendment 60, which has cross-party support and is sponsored by the noble Baronesses, Lady Fookes, Lady Garden of Frognal, and Lady Morris of Yardley, is largely self-explanatory. If accepted, it would continue allowing minors to travel from the European Union, other European Economic Area states and Switzerland to the UK on identity cards rather than passports beyond 31 December 2020.
Large numbers of junior nationals from these jurisdictions travel to the UK every year for school exchange visits, English language courses, adventure holidays and a range of sporting and cultural activities. Last year over 150,000 European Economic Area juniors travelled to the UK for English language courses alone, many of them travelling in groups for study programmes that lasted for less than two weeks. This is an invaluable cultural and educational exchange that builds friendships and fosters good will between the UK and other nations. Most of these students currently travel on identity cards. Many do not own passports but travel freely on identity cards throughout the EU and EEA states with no need for passports.
A survey last year by English UK, the trade association for English schools, showed that, in 2019, 90% of under-18 EU students who came to this country did so on an identity card to study at colleges accredited by the British Council, an organisation on which I served as a deputy chair for six years. The parents of these under-18s do not want to go through additional bureaucracy or incur the cost of getting a passport, having saved for the cost of the trip itself. Furthermore, if just one junior due to travel in a school exchange group was without a passport, the viability of the whole visit could be put in jeopardy. If this travel on identity cards ceases, the UK will lose out to other countries and its position as a popular destination could decline. This new clause would help to rectify the situation and sustain the UK’s position as a popular destination. I emphasise that the proposed extension of identity card-based entry for under-18s coming to the UK for a single stay of no longer than 30 days in any calendar year would mean that this concession would be available only to those presenting little or no border security issues or risk of abuse.
Some may object that allowing the continuation of ID card travel presents the UK with an unacceptable security risk. EU citizens with settled status will be allowed to continue to travel on ID cards, so why not children coming for short-stay trips, largely travelling in large managed groups?
Furthermore, the EU passed a regulation last year to increase the security of ID cards issued in EU states. The regulation requires that within two years of June 2019, all new ID cards need to be machine-readable biometric cards. Existing cards will be phased out by 2023 if they are not machine readable. This will bring the security features of ID cards into line with those of passports.
As this small exception would be a continuation of an existing procedure, I do not believe it would be very complex to administer. If the clause is accepted, it will be welcomed by our European partners as a significant gesture of good will. It is also worth noting that Iceland, Norway and Switzerland allow travel for EU nationals on an ID card, so I urge the Government to accept this amendment.
This is rather a mixed bag of amendments. I would like to return to Amendment 1, on enforcement; a very useful amendment proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe. As she so clearly described, enforcement has long been one of the weakest points in our immigration system. Indeed, enforced returns have been in steady decline for years. They fell from 16,000 in 2010 to just under 7,000 in 2020—that is more than half—and that was the lowest level since records began. Voluntary returns have also fallen since 2015. Partly as a result of these failures, we now have 90,000 immigration offenders living in the community; that is somewhat more than the size of the British Army. Furthermore, more than half of them—about 55,000—no longer even bother to report to the Home Office as they are supposed to do: they have simply disappeared.
I shall make three brief suggestions about how this could be tackled. First, we should adopt a much tougher approach towards those countries that take an unreasonable attitude to taking back their own citizens—India, Pakistan and Iran come to mind, but there are a number of others. As noble Lords will know, illegal immigrants frequently destroy their documents, and these countries usually refuse to accept the biometric identity documents that the British Government produce for them. I think that our willingness to issue visas for the UK should take this attitude into account.
Secondly, we also need to retain—indeed, restore—the detained fast-track system for asylum claims that are obviously very weak. It was very effective for some years, but was quietly dropped by the Government quite recently after several years in a legal morass. Thirdly, we should be much more effective in enforcing the laws on illegal working. It is clear that this is a major pull factor for illegal immigration.
Finally, a particular difficulty facing the new immigration system is that of preventing EU visitors and other non-visa nationals working while in this country. A report to Parliament on enforcement, as proposed in this amendment, would be a valuable first step.
The noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Bolton, has withdrawn from the debate, so I call the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford.
My Lords, I very much regret the end of free movement rights. This has often been presented as a one-way system, as if it applied only to nationals of other EEA countries inward to the UK, but it has of course been a two-way system, and something over 1 million UK citizens have taken advantage of their free movement rights to live, work and settle in other EU and EEA countries. When I was an MEP, I was proud to work on the 2004 citizens’ rights directive, which is often called the free movement directive. We did not get everything we wanted, as the European Parliament did not have quite the rights over legislation that it has today. However, it allowed lots of people who were not particularly well off to take advantage of EU rights to move, live and work abroad—it was democratised, if you like.
I fear that there could well be resentment in future, as divisions appear between those who retain a right to move around and those who do not. I also think that some British citizens who currently enjoy EU free movement rights may not fully have taken on board what is about to hit them. When I talk about divisions, for instance, there are those who will be able to get an Irish passport. I declare an interest here: apparently—I did not realise this until a few years ago—I am already an Irish citizen because my mother was born in Dublin. I have not yet got round to applying for the passport. I put it off partly in the hope that somehow Brexit would be averted, and also because I feel a little sheepish about my right to it. But I have not had to apply for Irish citizenship, as it has sort of fallen out of the sky, courtesy of my mother—or her mother, I should say.
There will also be people with means who will be able to move abroad. We know that it is possible to buy so-called golden passports in some EU countries. There are also investor visas. One way or another, it is not going to be the rich who will be affected by the grab of free movement rights.
This Bill is largely about the future of EU and EEA citizens in the UK and them coming under immigration control, but as the organisation British in Europe so splendidly details, we must remember the difficulties for UK citizens in EEA countries.
Reference has been made to Amendments 4 and 5, which my noble friend Lady Hamwee will probably talk about. The noble Lord, Lord Pannick, talked about Amendment 3. These amendments are similar in that they are objecting to wording about powers,
“capable of affecting the interpretation, application or operation of any provision … under the Immigration Acts … or … capable of affecting the exercise of functions”.
The two committees that have very helpfully reported to us—the Constitution Committee and the Delegated Powers Committee—have pointed out the legal complexity of immigration law. It is a complicated policy area. I think it was the Constitution Committee that said,
“the complexity of law had developed to the point that it was a serious threat to the ability of lawyers and judges to apply it consistently—not to mention raising rule-of-law concerns as to the ability of the general public to understand the law to which they are subject.”
This is the system into which we are catapulting EEA citizens who, up to now, have enjoyed the protection of EU law. I hope they continue to enjoy the complete protection of the withdrawal agreement, but noises off in the last 24 hours have not reassured people of the Government’s commitment to upholding all the provisions of the agreement.
This is a complex area. I know we are going to talk about the Immigration Rules on a later amendment but, as this Bill does not set out the domestic immigration framework that will apply to EEA citizens, there is understandable nervousness. One of the things that people are worried about is a retrospective demand to show private health insurance—the famous “comprehensive sickness insurance”. The Minister will know that it is interpreted by the European Commission—and was always understood when we were legislating on the citizens’ rights directive—that in a country such as the UK, which has a national health service, free at the point of delivery, the right to use the NHS is the comprehensive sickness insurance for people paying tax and national insurance. They should not be required to have private health insurance. There is a lot of worry that when people come to apply for citizenship the Government will say, “Show us that you had private health insurance all the time that you have been resident in the UK.” Perhaps the Minister will be able to reassure me on that point.
Colleagues in my party and, indeed, people in other parties believe that there should be an automatic system instead of the EU settlement scheme, which is an application system. A letter went to the Prime Minister yesterday from representatives of five parties, including my friend in the other place Alistair Carmichael MP, urging the Government, even at this stage, to replace the settled status process with an automatic right to stay for EU citizens, guaranteed in primary legislation, as a declaratory system. It is something that we have persistently asked for and will not stop asking for. I see that the Minister looks dismayed.
One group—I think it was the Law Society of Scotland—raised an interesting question. Perhaps the Minister can clarify this. It asked whether Clause 1 is necessary in the light of powers in the EU withdrawal Act 2018 for Ministers to repeal retained EU law. I would be grateful for her guidance on that subject.
Finally, I thoroughly support Amendment 61 on EEA citizens having access to eGates, which the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, will speak to.
My Lords, before I turn to Amendment 60 to which I have added my name, can I say, as a member of the Constitution Committee and a former chairman of the Delegated Powers Committee, I agree wholeheartedly with the searing criticism from the noble Lords, Lord Pannick and Lord Beith? I am appalled that we should start to have laws that are incomprehensible. It might be meat and drink for the satirist, but it should be no part of our arrangements.
By contrast, the amendment to which I have added my name, that of the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, is clear, straightforward and simple to understand. The noble Baroness gave a very good account of it and its intentions so I will not repeat them now for lack of time, but I want to make a serious point. If young people—minors—are not able to come to this country without a full passport, it is unlikely, when things return to normal, that many of them will come at all. They are far more likely to go to some other English-speaking country—one thinks immediately of the Republic of Ireland or even Malta. One might even think of the Netherlands, where it seems to me that they sometimes speak English better than we do.
Be that as it may, this is a very real worry. It is bad enough that young people have suddenly stopped coming over to schools and organisations as a result of Covid-19. Such organisations are in dire straits and we do not want to put some ghastly obstacle in their way as things gradually return to normal. I hope that my noble friend the Minister will look carefully at this to see if we can simply have the identity cards, which are used at the present time and are simple and easy to use. They would be using only those that are properly instituted by the various countries of the EEA and Switzerland.
There is a further problem, looking forward. Many people first come to this country as a youngster on an exchange. Very often they will return, perhaps for higher or further education. We do not want to cut that off at the beginning. That would be extremely short-sighted.
Some areas of the country have a number of language schools. I am thinking of where I live in East Sussex where, within quite a small area of Hastings, St Leonards and around, there are three notable language schools. The same could be said of the constituency in Plymouth of which I had the honour to be the MP. If one looks round at some of the seaside resorts, one will find a good many more there too.
This is a useful, small part of the major issues of which this Bill is party, but I believe it is very important and I hope that my noble friend will be inclined to accept the amendment.
My Lords, along with the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, I support Amendment 60, which the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, spoke to so ably. It is a good thing for young people to come over to learn English here or to have adventure holidays or to do an exchange. We can all remember it if we had that opportunity. Those who, like me, were teachers, knew the benefit for children, and the children and grandchildren of many of us have taken this opportunity.
I cannot think of one reason why we would want to make it more difficult for these things to continue. It is one of those things that we can all agree on—it is what we would want for young people, whether they are our own children or somebody else’s. It is not just meeting people and learning the language, there is something about it that, perhaps, you only realise as you get older. The seeds that you sow in those early years, culturally and in terms of understanding, stay with you for life. Even if you do not come back to university in the United Kingdom in a few years’ time, in your heart you remain friends with somewhere you have been as a young person. I had an opportunity to be an exchange student in America when I was doing my teacher training. It has had a huge effect on me throughout my life. There is an affection, a loyalty and an understanding that I have never lost. Why would we want to make it difficult in the future for more children to have an opportunity like that?
There is a problem with the Bill. I do not think it is intentional, but an unintended consequence of the rules and regulations. It is not just a few young people who would be affected; most young people in this group travel with identity cards rather than passports, and that certainly makes it easier for the group organisers. If a card is lost, it is easier to replace it when you are abroad than it is to replace a passport. Quite simply, it is an extra cost, and parents will have choices—there are English-speaking nations other than ours that their children could visit. Therefore, it will make a difference. Schools are already trying to recruit for next year and they will be put at a disadvantage because we are now putting a further barrier in the way.
The noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, outlined the solution very clearly. Along with people who are here with European Union settlement status, for the next few years—at least, while we think this through—there should be the opportunity for people to make this kind of journey, restricted to 30 days once a year and very often to language schools approved by the British Council, with an identity card, rather than putting a barrier in their way and making them have a passport if they make such a journey.
My Lords, having been reprieved from the Woolsack, I rise to speak on Amendment 60, to which I have added my name and which was so ably introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, and to which the noble Baronesses, Lady Fookes and Lady Morris, have also spoken persuasively.
In the post-Brexit landscape, preserving good relations with our EU neighbours is of the utmost importance. Of course, freedom of movement is ending but that does not mean that we need to create unnecessary barriers to cultural exchange and destroy all the good will and soft power benefits created by school exchange visits, English language study programmes, sports, culture, leisure holidays and the like.
As someone who has covered, among other policy areas, education, rural affairs and tourism, either from the Opposition Front Bench or as a coalition Minister and Whip—we were multitalented in coalition—I can certainly attest to the important educational role played by school exchanges and the opportunities they afford our children to experience other cultures, as well as the economic contribution that the English language teaching sector makes to, for instance, rural and seaside communities here in the UK. Equally, the sector plays an important export role, as evidenced by its membership of the Education Sector Advisory Group, run out of the Department for International Trade.
As a linguist who studied French and Spanish at university before going on to teach both languages here and in Germany, I know the value of spending time in the country of the language being learned—it really is the best way to do so. I was a child in France and a student in Spain, and I lived in Germany with my RAF husband, where, as a French and Spanish speaker, I managed to get a job teaching in a German school, so I learned quite a lot of German as well. I fully agree with some of the other arguments that have been made in support of this proposed new clause. They are also familiar to me as a co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary University Group and a vice-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Modern Languages.
As has been mentioned, many Europeans under the age of 18 do not own passports and their parents will find it expensive, cumbersome and unnecessary, in the ordinary run of things, to obtain them. If these trips do not go ahead because one or more of the children in a group does not possess a passport, that means that UK teenagers are likely to miss out too. School exchanges are just that—reciprocal exchanges. If schoolchildren from Europe cannot travel here for lack of a passport, ours are unlikely to be hosted by their counterparts in France, Germany, Belgium, Spain or other countries.
Currently, nearly 40% of UK children in our secondary schools take part in at least one international exchange visit during their school careers. This rises to nearly 80% of teenagers at independent schools in the UK. Therefore, while privately educated children from the independent sector may go on exchanges to wealthier parts of Europe, where parents may have less financial difficulty in obtaining a passport for their children to come to the UK, pupils in state schools could be very badly affected by this.
The stated aim of the Government is to boost these sorts of trips for all British schoolchildren, given the life-changing experiences and academic opportunities that they can afford them. However, the Government can hardly be said to be promoting this if one of their first acts is to place barriers in the way of under-18s from the European mainland coming here. A simple amendment to the Bill, in the form of this proposed new clause, allowing these children to continue to come to the UK on their national identity cards for short visits, would resolve this issue. As a former member of the EU Sub-Committee on Home Affairs in this place, I too look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say. This amendment will do the Government no harm and will generate a great deal of international good will.
My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Baroness. I associate myself with comments made during this debate by the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, and my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe, and I would like to ask a couple of questions in this regard.
If the purpose of the Bill is to repeal EU law on the free movement of people and if the provisions are not already enshrined in retained EU law elsewhere, can my noble friend the Minister take this opportunity to explain why, as has already been mentioned, Clause 1 is required? Like others, I would like to say how much I benefited from the free movement provisions—which have been in place since 1973—as a student and then as a stagiaire in the European Commission. I went on to practise European Union law before becoming an adviser to, and eventually being elected to, the European Parliament.
I come to my main concern with Clause 1. Can my noble friend put my mind at rest that, in repealing EU law on the free movement of workers from the EEA and Switzerland, we will still have access to a constant supply of labour in essential services such as health and social care? I would also like to add food production, farming, and vegetable and fruit growing. I know that the amendments failed in the other place, but I hope that my noble friend will look very carefully at this with fresh eyes.
It is also extremely important to ensure that those whom we welcome from the EEA and Switzerland after 1 January 2021 are made to feel welcome and are employed and given access on exactly the same basis as UK nationals. In this regard, will my noble friend confirm that migrants will continue to be employed on the same basis as UK nationals? Will the principle that has existed to date of non-discrimination on the grounds of nationality still apply, so that no employer can discriminate between a UK national and an EEA or Swiss national who might find employment in this regard?
I am conscious that there have already been a couple of very unfortunate cases of Covid-19 outbreaks in food processing plants, partly due to the fact that the working environment is very cold but also partly because, by necessity, the employees probably sit very close to each other. We will obviously need to revisit many of these conditions going forward, but will the principle of non-discrimination on the grounds of nationality still apply to the Bill and other provisions?
Given my background, I have some sympathy with those who have put their names to and supported Amendment 60, and I will listen very carefully to what my noble friend says in replying to that debate.
I support the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, who spoke to his amendment. I regret the lack of transparency and what appears to be very poor drafting, and, again, will listen very carefully to what my noble friend says in summing up on that. However, as regards this amendment, those are the questions I would like to put to my noble friend at this stage.
My Lords, I strongly support what was said so authoritatively about Amendment 3 by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, and the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, supported by the noble Lord, Lord Beith, and the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes. We need to hear what our Constitution Committee has said, and I hope the Minister will tell us that the Government will do this.
My purpose is to say a few brief words on Amendment 61 in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. Before I do so, I want to say a quick word on the wider context. Admirable though the quality of this debate is, I cannot help feeling that we are fiddling while Rome burns. In Downing Street, it seems that the Government are planning to take powers in the internal market Bill to override certain provisions of the withdrawal agreement—in particular, Articles 5 and 10 of the Irish protocol. Tearing up ratified treaties is what rogue states do; sanctions usually follow. If such a proposal were put to us, I would expect us to examine it particularly stringently. I cannot recall any precedent in UK diplomatic history. What we are doing today is important, but what we might have to do then would be historic.
Turning to Amendment 61, it seems to me that it is either completely unnecessary or absolutely essential. I hope the Minister will be able to assure us that it is unnecessary because the Government have no intention of making our closest neighbours stand in a queue at the frontier. If she cannot make this assurance, we must surely ask the Government to think again.
It seems highly likely that, for the next few years, the relationship with the EU will become damagingly rebarbative. That would, of course, become a racing certainty if we tore up the withdrawal agreement, but even if we do not, the disruption, the economic damage and the inevitable frontier friction—deal or no deal—is likely to drip poison into the relationship for some time to come. So we should be careful about choosing to add insult to injury. We have left the EU, but we do not need to leave Europe. If the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, is right to detect a risk, we would be right to support her Amendment 61.
My Lords, I have Amendment 61 in this group, and I am grateful for the support that it is receiving. Clearly, the Government say that EU citizens will be allowed to continue to use e-passport gates at airports after the end of the transition period, but that is the problem. From what I can see, as a result of leaving the European Union, far from ending free movement of people, the Government are effectively opening it up to the citizens of more countries outside of the European Union, the EEA and Switzerland.
I must make it clear that, like the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, and my noble friend Lady Ludford, I am in favour of free movement. The point I am making is that lack of enforcement means that, in practice, free movement will not end at the end of the transition period.
EU, EEA and Swiss nationals have been able to use the e-passport gates at UK airports because, under European Union freedom of movement rules, they have been entitled to come to the UK without restriction. With the UK’s imminent departure from the EU, and the Government’s commitment to ending preferential immigration from the EU, the Government were faced with turmoil at the UK border if EU, EEA and Swiss nationals were not able to use the e-passport gates but had to be manually checked by Border Force staff; the queues for non-EU passport holders were already verging on the unacceptably long. Rather than remove the ability of EU citizens to use e-passport gates, the Government extended their use to citizens of Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea and the United States of America, thereby delivering on their promise not to give EU citizens preferential immigration rights, as these are now shared with the citizens of some non-EU countries.
Continued use of the e-passport gates means that, at the end of the transition period, and as set out in documentation from the Government, EU citizens will be able to spend up to six months in the UK with no visa and no stamp in their passport, and with no questioning of the purpose of their visit, how long they intend to stay, or how they are going to sustain themselves financially during their time in the United Kingdom. As far as I know, there is no way of checking whether they have left the UK before the six months expires—or gone to Lille for the day at the end of that time and then stayed here for another six months.
The Government may reply that these people will not be able to work or continue to live in the UK because of the hostile environment that they have created for those who plan to live and work in the UK illegally. Under the hostile environment strategy championed by the former Prime Minister, Theresa May, when she was Home Secretary, the onus has been put on landlords, banks, employers and even hospital staff to check the immigration status of those with whom they come into contact. However, according to a report in the Times on 3 September, an analysis of Home Office data carried out by the Institute for Public Policy Research found that these measures do not appear to be working.
The IPPR analysis comes up with different numbers from those given this afternoon by the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington, but it paints a similar picture. According to the report in the Times, since 2015, the number of undocumented migrants leaving the UK voluntarily has fallen from about 4,000 to 2,000 a year, and the number of controlled returns supervised by the Home Office fell from about 3,000 to less than 1,000. Research cited by the National Audit Office puts the number of people in the UK with no legal right to remain at more than a million.
Let us take the right to rent as an example: can an EU citizen or a citizen from one of the other B5JSSK countries—those who are allowed to use the e-passport gates—rent a property? Noble Lords might think not, but, in A Short Guide on Right to Rent, the Home Office advises that landlords can establish a B5JSSK national’s right to rent by checking their passport—which will of course have no stamp to show when they entered the UK—together with evidence of the date they last travelled to or entered the UK. What happened to the solely digital system for proving immigration status? This evidence might be a boarding pass or an airline, rail or boat ticket, a booking confirmation, or
“Any other documentary evidence which establishes the date of arrival in the UK in the last six months.”
The Home Office guidance also confirms that, although visitors have only six months’ leave to remain in the UK, landlords who have conducted these right-to-rent checks correctly will obtain a statutory excuse against a civil penalty for 12 months from the date of the check.
So after the transition period ends, EU citizens can rent a property for six months from the date shown on any boarding pass or airline, rail or boat ticket they present to a landlord, who can rent the property to them for up to 12 months without fear of any penalty—a day trip to Lille on the Eurostar would provide new evidence of entry into the UK within the past six months. In fact, as long as someone has a ticket or a boarding pass, they may not even have to make the journey.
I asked at Second Reading how the Government will ensure that EU citizens who use e-passport gates at UK airports leave after six months, and ensure that, as the Government have promised, they cannot
“in effect live in the UK by means of repeat continuous visits.”
After repeatedly asking for a response, last Thursday I finally received an email; I am grateful to the Minister for that, although a letter copied to others who spoke at Second Reading, with a copy placed in the Library, would be usual. The email says, among other things, that “we are satisfied” that the use of e-passport gates
“has been implemented in a way that will still allow the Home Office and these nationals”
—that is, B5JSSK nationals—
“to continue to prove their status in the UK, as we use various data sources to confirm time spent in the UK, not just date stamps, and we are able to confirm their status in the UK if needed.”
My understanding is that, before they were allowed to use e-passport gates, about 1,600 United States of America citizens a year were refused entry to the UK by UK Border Force officials, mainly on the basis of the interview conducted at the border, where, among other things, the Border Force official was not satisfied that the passenger would leave the UK at the end of their permitted visit.
I understand that e-passport gates will deny entry only if an alert has been placed on the system against the passenger prior to their arrival in the UK. EU citizens seeking to live and work in the UK illegally are extremely unlikely to have an alert against their name. What data sources are the Home Office relying on to ensure that EU citizens leave before the end of their six-month permitted visit? I understand that the National Border Targeting Centre screens incoming passengers, but that is not linked to passengers leaving the UK. If their systems do not detect—if indeed they can—that the EU citizen has not left the UK, what systems will the Government use to find that EU citizen among the 66 million residents and the estimated 1 million who are already illegally in the UK?
Rather than taking back control of our borders by ending free movement of people from the EU, the Government have effectively opened up free movement by adding citizens from seven more countries to the citizens of the EU member states, EEA countries and Switzerland who have unrestricted entry to the UK.
The analysis by the IPPR and the examples I have given suggest that it would be very difficult if not impossible to ensure that, once in the UK, they leave again. Apparently, the end of so-called uncontrolled immigration from the EU, itself a fallacy, was a major if not a potentially deciding factor in the referendum on our continued membership of the European Union. If leavers believe the UK is taking back control of its borders at the end of the transition period, the evidence suggests they have been misled.
The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, has raised pertinent points on which we look forward to hearing from the Minister. Like so many of the groups when we are in Committee, this is a massive catch-all group, and I sympathise with the Minister for having to cover so many bases at the end.
I completely sympathise with the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, in not wanting Clause 1, but we are a revising Chamber and have to take for granted that this broad power is going to be taken because it is consequential on us leaving the EU. The issue for us is what its specific and defined consequences will be. All the issues raised so far seem to be valid ones that we would wish to return to on Report if the Minister cannot give us sufficient assurance. On Amendment 60, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, I agree with everything that my noble friend Lady Morris said: it is vital we do not do anything to imperil the free exchange of students and young people in and out of the country. I cannot believe it is in the mind of the Government for that to happen. If this simple change in Amendment 60 can safeguard that, we should surely make that possible.
The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, and others have spoken powerfully about Amendment 61. The points made by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, about the legal abuse involved in Schedule 1 were also very well made. Could I ask the Minister more about the consequences for British citizens when seeking to exercise their existing EU rights on the continent? One of the problems of legislating on this issue in real time is that it is not always clear to the House what we know and what we do not, and that will be important when we come to Report.
The big issue when we leave the EU is that the rights we take away from EU citizens are liable to be taken away from British citizens in respect of travel, work and study on the continent. As the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, said, these are essentially reciprocal rights. It is hard to think that if we take the rights away from fellow EU citizens, they will not be taken away from us. The question is, what exactly are we taking away? The single biggest source of the exercise of these rights by UK citizens is those who want to travel as tourists and those who want to study, live or work on the continent. On the biggest group—those who travel—I want to ask the Minister if my understanding is correct because it will have some bearing on where we go on Report. My understanding at present is that for travel from 1 January 2021 no visa, or visa equivalents such as an ESTA, will be required for what are defined as short trips to the EU. Short trips are defined as 90 days in any 180-day period. I assume that that would be reciprocal. However, I quote from the Government website on changes from 1 January:
“You may need a visa or permit to stay for longer, to work or study, or for business travel.”
Therefore, under the current withdrawal agreement—that said, almost everyone is concerned that this could all be thrown up in the air—is there agreement that visas will not be imposed on EU citizens coming here, or vice versa for short, tourist-related trips, but it is entirely open as to what will happen about visas or permits required for longer stays or for work, study or business travel? If I have got that right, what is the regime likely to be for working longer periods and business travel, which is of huge consequence to us?
Just as the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, said, we are legislating in the dark for the withdrawal of many rights of EU citizens coming here, it is also true that we are legislating in the dark for the rights that we are going to be taking away from UK citizens that they can currently exercise in respect of their travel and legitimate business on the continent. That is not sufficiently appreciated. Could the Minister confirm the situation? What is definitely agreed? My understanding is that short trips will definitely not be covered by visas or ESTAs. Also, what is the situation for other forms of travel, work and study, including business travel?
It may seem an unlikely alliance but I agree entirely with the noble Lord, Lord Green, and the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, about the integrity of the immigration system. There cannot be any doubt that one of the things that causes most public concern about extending the rights of people to come here is the fear that those rights will be abused. In principle, their concern about the implementation of Clause 1 is well-founded, and it does not apply to policing and monitoring of the immigration system just for EU countries, but for other countries. This amendment, which is just a probing amendment, asks for a report after 90 days on what progress Government are making and their policy on security.
As our legislative stages are a process of mutual learning, I wonder whether I could put the debate back to the noble Broness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, and the noble Lord, Lord Green—particularly to the noble Lord, who is probably one of the greatest experts in the country on the detailed working of the immigration system. I can see the Minister is smiling; the noble Lord creates a great deal of work for her and others. I do not begrudge that: it is the job of people in this House and in interest groups and policy groups to see that we are well-informed. It would be useful for us to know, if they want to retable this amendment on Report, what specific changes and improvement to the policing of the immigration system they think Parliament should be considering. The noble Lord referred to recent changes to the policing and detaining of asylum seekers and illegal migrants. It would be useful for us to know what they would wish to do and see the Government report on within 90 days. That might get a more fine-grained debate on Report on what further steps we should take to police the immigration system.
Although the Bill is partly to do with EU withdrawal, it is also an opportunity to legislate on immigration issues more widely. We should not lose the opportunity to see that the system is as robust as it could be. Unless it is robust, what the noble Lord, Lord Green, raised in his important Second Reading speech may happen: the fear that we could find that, in the guise of taking back control, we have lost significant further control over the immigration system—the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, in this respect were well made. If that were to happen, the great British public would feel a deeper sense of betrayal than there is now about the whole way the immigration system is managed.
My Lords, we on these Benches—I am on them virtually—make no bones about how much we oppose the ending of free movement. That includes both welcoming EEA citizens—the collective term which includes the Swiss for this purpose—and their families to live and work in the UK, and the equal and opposite right for British citizens in the EU. For myself, it offends my politics, my emotions, my values, my logic and, you might say, my whole outlook on life. However, I will endeavour to keep my remarks within the scope of the Bill and not to seek to reopen what has irreversibly been decided—although “irreversible” may have gained a new definition overnight—nor do I want to make a Second Reading speech.
What is relevant is that the Bill does not set out what will be in place of the current arrangements. Like the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, I am with the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, regarding the importance of the integrity of the system. We might want different systems, but what we have should be robust.
The noble Baroness and the noble Lord spoke in terms of enforcement—a term used in the amendment. I prefer to talk in more inclusive rather than exclusive terms. She talked about so many of the issues that we are addressing now, or failing to address. One must use the opportunity to say that the best way to address them is to create safe and legal routes to the UK. I do not want to divert on to the wider question of those who seek sanctuary, but I have to disagree with her approach and some of the language that she used.
By no means all of the new, much-heralded immigration system which will apply to EU citizens is yet in the public domain. The noble Lord, Lord Adonis, referred to UK citizens in the EU; he may see that Amendment 23, which we will come to later, may give us more of an opportunity to discuss their position. When the system is in the public domain, however, we will not be able to rely on it in the same way as we can rely on primary legislation because of the flexibility—would that be a polite word?—provided by the Bill. So much of our system is contained in rules which Parliament cannot realistically amend, and indeed often it takes an awful lot of background knowledge and experience, application and concentration to understand those rules. It is no wonder that the Government had some years ago to require a particular level of expertise to advise on immigration. The rules are difficult for most of us—other noble Lords may say that they waltz through them with no difficulty; I do not—and they are often impenetrable to those directly affected. I have too often heard Ministers say, “It is on GOV.UK.” That is not everyone’s bedtime reading. Indeed, however detailed the rules and however much they flesh out the Bill, it remains a skeleton.
My noble friend Lady Ludford and I have three amendments in this group, all to Schedule 1. The noble Lord, Lord Pannick, referred to the coy but comatose draftsman—I may use that term on other occasions—and my noble friend Lord Beith asked an important question about what instructions had been given to the draftsmen and draftswomen. After all, the responsibility lies with Ministers.
Amendments 4 and 5 take out some of the most offensive words in Schedule 1, which I do not think I need to read into the record again, as others have referred to them. They are wide and imprecise; there are references to “application or operation of” provisions, and
“otherwise capable of affecting the exercise of functions in connection with immigration.”
If any of your Lordships on Opposition Benches were to produce amendments using that sort of terminology, we would quite rapidly be shot down, and rightly so, by the Government Front Bench.
A lot of functions are connected with immigration, and we will come on later to employment, renting property —the rest of the hostile environment. There are also all sorts of functions which I would accept are necessary but which I would not want brought within the repeal of
“rights, powers, liabilities, obligations, restrictions, remedies and procedures”,
to which Section 1 applies.
Amendment 6 in our names would add words to the schedule by not applying it to rights which do not arise under an EU directive. Directives which do not relate to immigration include, in our view: the protection for victims of trafficking in the anti-trafficking directive—there is an amendment specifically on that—the protection for asylum seekers in the reception conditions directive 2013/33, and the protection for victims of crime in the EU victims’ rights directive 2012/29. We do not suggest that we believe that these protections are at risk, but we do not know. If the Bill remains as it is when it becomes an Act, the only way to know for certain is to test the matter in the courts. The noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, was critical in the context of removals from this country of applications to the courts. However, that is what they are there for, and they are applying law that has been made by Parliament, or by Ministers subject to the rather inadequate scrutiny that parliamentarians are able to give them.
On Amendment 6—this is something that has been identified by the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association; the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, mentioned the comments on the Bill by its chair, Adrian Berry—the protections are potentially at risk as what the association describes as “collateral damage”. We hope that they do not fall within the scope of the Bill, but I think it is a matter for the Government to explain what the position is. This is all about the lack of clarity, the bad rule-making, to which other noble Lords have referred, all offensive to the rule of law.
To return to the first amendment in this group, I welcome reports to Parliament and parliamentary scrutiny. I am hesitant to criticise or comment on the wording of the clause, having learned from the noble Baroness that the clerks were involved in crafting it, but I am not sure that the provisions of Schedule 1 are correctly described as enforceable. A provision within six months would take us beyond the end of the year. However, I should not carp about that sort of detail because, whatever the language, I understand that the supporters of Amendment 1 are seeking to ensure that free movement ends and that Parliament is told how. We have made our views about the first part of that very clear.
Before I finish, I want to mention the amendment by the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar. I thought the points made by noble Lords were very telling regarding the reference to soft power. I was reminded of listening to the European Union Youth Orchestra a couple of years ago in Edinburgh. That was a very special experience and it rather goes to why we are so distressed by what we are having to go along with in the Bill.
I think I have said enough not to have to refer specifically to our opposition to Amendment 1.
My Lords, this group of amendments seeks to address the issue of the lack of clarity in the Bill, not least in Schedule 1. I am sure we have reached the stage now where noble Lords want to hear the Government’s response. I wish to comment briefly on three of the amendments in this group, although all of them raise issues of significance, as my noble friend Lord Adonis has said. That has become clear from noble Lords’ contributions, even though noble Lords have not all been coming from the same direction.
Three days ago, we were sent a letter from the Government sharing illustrative drafts of regulations that they propose to make under the powers in Clause 4 of the Bill. One wonders why at least some of the terms of these draft regulations could not now be or already have been incorporated in the Bill and thus be open to proper parliamentary scrutiny.
Schedule 1 revokes Article 1 of the EU workers regulation, which provides freedom-of-movement rights. Paragraph 4(2) of that schedule provides that other parts of the workers regulation cease to apply so far as they are
“inconsistent with any provision made by or under the Immigration Acts”
“capable of affecting the interpretation, application or operation of any such provision”.
This is a very broad drafting. Amendment 3, to which the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, spoke with his usual considerable authority, would remove paragraph 4(2), as it is so broad and lacks clarity. We share the concern that that amendment seeks to address.
No doubt the Minister, in giving the Government’s reply, will be giving a pretty comprehensive list of examples of how and why, in the Government’s view, other parts of the workers regulation might credibly become, first, inconsistent with provisions made by the Immigration Acts and, secondly, capable of affecting provisions made by or under the Immigration Acts.
My name is attached to Amendments 4 and 5, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, has already spoken. Alongside those specifically repealed, Schedule 1 provides that other EU-derived rights and powers cease to be recognised and available in domestic law so far as they are
“inconsistent with, or are otherwise capable of affecting the interpretation, application or operation of, any provision made by or under the Immigration Acts … or … they are otherwise capable of affecting the exercise of functions in connection with immigration.”
“Capable of affecting” in particular is very subjective and generalised wording that could be interpreted to cover a multitude of circumstances and situations.
Amendments 4 and 5 would tighten up the wording to a degree, so that only parts of the EU-derived rights that are inconsistent with provisions made by or under the Immigration Acts can cease to be recognised or available under domestic law. Once again, these two amendments provide the Government with an opportunity in their response to persuade the House, through a clear explanation of the specific circumstances in which the power would be applied, that the wording in paragraph 6(1) of Schedule 1 is not in reality catch-all wording enabling the Government to do whatever they want without further full parliamentary scrutiny in relation to the recognition and availability in domestic law of EU-derived rights, powers, liabilities, obligations, restrictions, remedies and procedures related to immigration.
As has been said, our Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee and our Constitution Committee have expressed themselves in pithy and forthright terms about the sweeping powers that the Government are seeking to grab under this Bill. We await the Government’s response to this group of amendments with interest.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe, supported by the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington, for her thoughtful amendment. I understand noble Lords’ concern about the repeal of EU law relating to free movement set out in Schedule 1 and how that will be enforced. Before I address that, I want to pick up a question from my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering, who wanted confirmation that the Bill was non-discriminatory. The whole point of this immigration Bill is that the whole world is treated the same, so I can confirm that.
Schedule 1 sets out a list of measures to be repealed in relation to ending free movement for EU, EEA and Swiss citizens, with the intention that both EEA citizens and their family members will fall within the scope of the Immigration Act 1971 and become subject to the UK’s immigration control—for ease of reference, I will refer to this group as “EEA citizens” during the committee debates. This will create a level playing field for EEA and non-EEA citizens. Those EEA citizens and their family members who arrive here after the end of the transition period from January 2021 must have leave to enter or remain. The Government want EEA citizens who are resident in the UK before that date, and who wish to do so, to stay, and our focus has been on helping them to apply for that status. They can apply online for the EU settlement scheme free of charge. As of 31 July, we have received 3.8 million applications, with plenty of time until the deadline of 30 June 2021.
In order to protect those living in the UK before the end of the transition period, we propose to use the power under Section 7 of the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020 to save free movement rights otherwise repealed by Clause 1 of the Bill and Schedule 1 so that those EEA citizens and their eligible family members resident by the end of 2020 but who have not yet applied to the settlement scheme will continue to be treated the same until 30 June next year. This will ensure that they are able to apply to the EU settlement scheme by the deadline and retain their existing rights in the meantime. This includes pending the decision on their application after that deadline and pending the outcome of an appeal against any decision to refuse status under the EU settlement scheme.
During this grace period, immigration officers who encounter EEA citizens who are still able to apply under the EU settlement scheme will not take any enforcement action but may encourage them to apply by the deadline. Furthermore, we have always been clear that where EEA citizens and their family members have reasonable grounds for missing the deadline, they will be given a further opportunity to apply. We will take a flexible and pragmatic approach to this, and those who need it will be supported through the application process.
Ultimately, however, we are aiming to reach the position where EEA citizens who do not qualify for leave are treated in the same way as non-EEA citizens. As such, if they require leave to enter or remain in the UK but do not have that leave, they will be liable to the same sanctions and enforcement measures. These enforcement provisions are set out in the Immigration Acts and my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe has mentioned that those cover the rights of access to work, renting property and banking services. It would take a long time for me to list all the relevant provisions here, but I would be happy to write to my noble friend to set those out.
In response to my noble friend’s question on whether this Bill can be used to amend the legislation, I do not think this is the right Bill in which to make any changes to enforcement provisions, which would need to cover both EEA and non-EEA citizens because it is limited to immigration changes as a result of EU exit. However, we are actively exploring legislative options to ensure that key elements of our immigration system, including around enforcement, can be tightened up. This work is at an early stage.
My noble friend also asked me about who the enforcement authorities are. They are primarily those of the Home Office Border Force and immigration enforcement, working in partnership with the police and other government departments, including the DWP, HMRC and the Ministry of Justice.
With regard to my noble friend’s question about available resources for enforcement using technology and the economics of charter flights, which she was right to ask, planning is under way to factor in the requirements of the new points-based system and ensure that all aspects of operational resourcing, recruitment and training are fully delivered. These plans include the redeployment and/or recruitment of new staff where appropriate to deal with applications from EEA citizens. Part of our long-term vision has always been to make better use of digital technology and greater automation to improve the passenger experience while maintaining security at the border.
In terms of staffing, we will always ensure that the Border Force has the resources and the workforce needed to keep the border secure. We will also introduce electronic travel authorisations—or ETAs—for visitors and passengers transiting through the UK who do not currently need a visa for short stays or who do not already have an immigration status prior to travelling. I hope that answers the question of the noble Lord, Lord Adonis. This will allow security checks to be conducted and more informed decisions to be taken on information obtained at an earlier stage as to whether individuals should be allowed to travel to the UK. Therefore, the ETA scheme will add an additional security measure while also providing individuals with more assurance at an earlier point in their time about their ability to travel. The noble Lord also asked about longer-term visit visas for EU citizens, and he is right. Arrangements for longer visas will be set out in the Immigration Rules for people coming to the UK.
On my noble friend’s question about charter flights, the majority of returns take place on commercially scheduled flights. Where a chartered flight is required, the Home Office procures the use of chartered aircraft through a broker to ensure competitive pricing and access to different aircraft and contractors depending on the requirements of the operation. We think that this blended approach provides the best value for money for the taxpayer. However, I will take her point back and ensure that it is made. I also assure noble Lords that the Home Office will be updating its published enforcement policy with regards to EEA citizens at the end of the transition period.
The noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington, pressed that point about enforcing laws on illegal working, as did my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe. The overarching ambition of the illegal working strategy to tackle illegal working is to work with businesses to deny access to the labour market and encourage and ensure compliance. The illegal working strategy is intelligence-led and it focuses on three main areas: deterring illegal migration, safeguarding the vulnerable and protecting the UK economy,
The further report this amendment requires is unnecessary because policy guidance on enforcement is already published on the GOV.UK website. I can hear the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, virtually moaning from behind the screen on referring her to the website. However, I am sure noble Lords will join me in encouraging all those who are eligible to apply before the deadline expires next June. On that note, I hope that my noble friend will withdraw her amendment.
I turn now to the opposition of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, in total to Clause 1. The clause introduces the first schedule to the Bill, which contains a list of measures to be repealed in relation to the end of free movement and related issues. Noble Lords have asked whether it is needed at all. It fulfils a purely mechanistic function to introduce the schedule. Without Clause 1, we cannot deliver on the will of the people in the 2016 referendum result; we cannot end free movement without repealing Section 7 of the Immigration Act 1988.
In line with long-established practice, the detail of this future system will be set out in the Immigration Rules rather than in this Bill and it will be in place from January 2021. It is of paramount importance that, as an independent sovereign state, the UK must have the ability to forge its own immigration policy and depart from EU law. The people of the UK gave us the mandate to end free movement when they voted to leave the EU and the Government gave a commitment in their manifesto to deliver on that mandate. The people are now expecting us to uphold that commitment; Clause 1 is essential to doing so and this House should not stand in the way of delivering what is a priority for the people of this country. I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, withdraws her opposition to Clause 1.
I turn now to Amendments 3 to 6. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, for speaking to their amendments. Their purpose is to retain rights derived directly from EU law after the end of the transition period. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, that, unlike Caligula, I am not going to put the law up at a height and in small writing so that people cannot read it.
However, I know that the noble Lord has an issue with paragraph 4(2) of Part 2 of Schedule 1 to the Bill, which disapplies directly effective provisions of the workers regulation where they are capable of altering the interpretation, application or operation of any part of the Immigration Acts. His amendment seeks to remove this paragraph, meaning that provisions within the workers regulation, which may be inconsistent with those in the Immigration Acts, will continue to apply.
For example, as we set out in the Explanatory Memorandum to the Bill, article 10 notes:
“The children of a national of a Member State who is or has been employed in the territory of another Member State shall be admitted to that State’s general educational, apprenticeship and vocational training courses under the same conditions as the nationals of that State, if such children are residing in its territory. Member States shall encourage all efforts to enable such children to attend these courses under the best possible conditions.”
If the noble Lord’s amendment were accepted, it would permit an EEA citizen to claim a right of residence here if their child was in education here. It does not support the ending of free movement.
Paragraph 4(2) of Schedule 1 does not prevent the child of an EEA citizen who is legally resident and employed in the UK being able to rely on article 10 to access UK education on the same conditions as a British citizen. This remains unchanged by the Bill as it relates to education and not immigration. However, I note the noble Lord’s criticisms and will arrange a meeting before Report with noble Lords on this provision so that we can perhaps go through it more fully.
Paragraph 6(1) of Schedule 1 disapplies directly effective rights under EU law to the extent that they conflict with domestic immigration law or immigration functions. The amendments of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, would instead allow directly effective rights to be retained in an immigration context. Directly effective rights are rights conferred on individuals in EU law that can be relied on in national courts, even without national legislation transposing them.
The European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 incorporates EU law into UK domestic law at the end of the transition period. It incorporates directly effective rights deriving from EU directives and treaties. If no action is taken to curtail those rights, they will continue to apply and be available in UK law after the transition period. EEA citizens could then attempt to rely on those rights to resurrect provisions of EU free movement law which had otherwise been repealed by the rest of this Bill.
I mentioned in response to the opposition of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, to Clause 1 the importance of the UK having the ability to forge its own immigration policy, independent of EU law. The Government are committed to delivering the people’s priority of ending free movement; terminating directly effective rights for immigration purposes is an essential part of that.
The purpose of paragraph 4(2) of Schedule 1 is to protect the new law the Bill outlines from being affected by any directly effective EU law not being repealed by this Bill. The paragraph ensures that the provisions of the Bill take effect as drafted, are not subject to interpretation and are clear. To remove this provision and potentially have the Immigration Acts operating in parallel with retained EU law, in so far as it is contained within the workers regulation, would have the opposite effect to the stated intention of the noble Lord, Lord Pannick. It would cause confusion in how the Immigration Acts operate and would allow EU law to continue to affect our immigration policy. We cannot allow that to happen.
In turning to the amendments proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, I note that the drafting of paragraph 6(1) of Schedule 1 ensures that nothing is missed that might mean free movement was only partially repealed. The noble Baroness proposes that we do not disapply directly effective rights deriving from EU directives. That would mean that all the rights conferred by the EU’s 2004 free movement directive—to enter and reside without leave and to be accompanied by family members—would continue even after the UK’s implementing legislation had been repealed. This would again lead to confusion and incoherence and would frustrate the will of the British people that EU free movement be ended, safely but completely.
Schedule 1 does not disapply directly effective rights in their entirety. Some, such as the right to equal treatment in the field of employment, as mentioned by my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering, range more widely than immigration policy; they are disapplied only to the extent that they impact immigration laws or functions. With these reassurances, I hope noble Lords who have tabled these amendments will withdraw or not move them.
I move on to Amendment 60 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, supported by my noble friend Lady Fookes and the noble Baronesses, Lady Morris of Yardley and Lady Garden of Frognal. I thank the noble Baroness for her amendment, which, in light of the Government’s published intention to phase out the use of national identity cards for travel to the UK in 2021, seeks to encourage EEA minors to choose the UK for their English language studies by enabling them to travel here once a year using a national identity card. I note the concern of the noble Baroness, echoed today, that we might lose such students to Ireland or Malta.
We fully recognise the concerns of English language schools and acknowledge that they will have been exacerbated by the impact of coronavirus on travel, tourism and education this year. EEA students with status under the EU settlement scheme will be able to use their national identity card to enter the UK until at least 31 December 2025. However, it is our intention that all other EEA students should in future be treated like students from the rest of the world; they will be able to come either under the visitor route or as a student. We have, however, left the EU and it would not be appropriate for EEA students to be given the right of entry on production of an identity card that this amendment would confer.
Passports are required for travel to most countries outside the EU and are typically valid for between five and 10 years and priced accordingly, so should not be considered an uncommon or short-term investment. I also highlight that students of other nationalities, including those from the UK and from EU member states where ID cards are not available, must have a passport if they wish to travel abroad.
One alternative suggestion put forward by the noble Baroness at Second Reading was to create a passport-free joint travel document which could be used by a group of students travelling together with a group leader. The noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Yardley, alluded to that today. I am happy to report that such a document already exists in the form of the Council of Europe collective passport, which is a very good way for an organised group of young people to make a trip between certain European countries. While they are not widely used, the ratifying countries have the option to issue them.
The noble Baroness suggested that such a document would minimise delays at the border. However, for those eligible to use them, the fastest way to enter the UK is by using our e-gates. Following the end of the transition period, although we will keep our position under review, it is our intention that EEA citizens will continue to be able to seek entry to the UK using our e-gates—including 12 to 17 year-olds when accompanied by an adult—but only when travelling on a biometric passport.
The proposed amendment from the noble Baroness would also require an additional assessment of whether the EEA citizen was the right age and was seeking to enter the UK for the permitted period. That would further prolong the transaction time. Moreover, national identity cards are among the most abused documents detected at the border. Consequently, as well as reflecting our departure from the EU, limiting the use of national identity cards for travel to the UK to those with a retained right to use them under the withdrawal agreements will improve our national security.
Finally, the amendment proposed by the noble Baroness is inappropriate for this Bill because, as drafted, it does not recognise the ability of particular categories of EEA citizens to use their identity cards without restriction until at least 2025 under the terms of the withdrawal agreements. In addition, it would oblige us to treat certain EEA citizens without such rights more generously than others by giving them a right of entry at a time when we are ending free movement rights to align the immigration treatment of EEA and non-EEA citizens.
The noble Baroness also talked about improvements to the standards of ID cards. We recognise that EEA member states are looking to raise the standards of their ID cards, but the less secure documents will still be in circulation for quite a long time. I hope that, with all the explanation I have given, she will feel able not to press her Amendment 60.
I now finally move on to Amendment 61 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, which seeks to ensure that EEA and Swiss nationals continue to have access to e-gates at UK ports. The Government have previously set out that EEA and Swiss nationals may continue to have access to e-gates at the end of the transition period. However, it has also been clear that this policy will be kept under review to ensure that we can run our border in the UK’s best interests. This position was most recently set out in The UK’s Points-based Immigration System: Policy Statement, published in July. Further details of any changes to border control procedures affecting EU citizens will be announced in due course, following the negotiations on the future UK-EU relationship.
Changes to the methods by which non-UK and Irish citizens may be permitted to enter the UK are usually covered by changes to the Immigration (Leave to Enter and Remain) Order 2000. The vires for the 2000 order are derived from Section 3A of the Immigration Act 1971, which allows the Secretary of State to make provision for how leave to enter may be granted. This secondary legislation process has already been used to extend e-gate eligibility, as the noble Lord pointed out, to nationals of Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea and the US.
The existing process of secondary legislation provides the flexibility required to run our border in the national interest, allowing us to respond quickly and appropriately to any changes in risk and threat. Therefore, we do not need to make the proposed change by way of this Bill, and noble Lords can be assured that there are processes available to make such an amendment to the 2000 order before the end of the transition period.
I finally turn to a question from the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, on comprehensive sickness insurance; the Committee will come on to amendments relating to citizenship another day, but I will answer that. It is a requirement, under EU law, for EEA citizens who are students or self-sufficient to hold comprehensive sickness insurance but, if people who were previously here as a student or as self-sufficient lack this, it does not mean that an application will be refused. The British Nationality Act allows for discretion to be applied around this requirement in the special circumstances of a particular case. My officials will examine each application to understand why such a requirement has not been complied with, together with any grounds which can allow us to nevertheless grant an application. Our guidance reflects this, and our application form encourages anyone so affected to provide as much information as possible to allow us to reach a decision.
I am sorry I have gone on for quite a long time, but I hope that noble Lords will not press their amendments.
My Lords, I have received requests to speak after the Minister from the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, and the noble Lord, Lord Pannick.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for her extended explanation. She talked about electronic travel authorisations and referred to The UK’s Points-based Immigration System: Further Details document. As far as ETAs are concerned, that document talks about the “border of the future” and that it is part of a phased programme to 2025. How will EU and EEA citizens using the e-passport gates be stopped from coming in if they have not provided details in advance? If it is not necessary for them to provide details in advance, why are the Government introducing ETAs for EU and EEA citizens up to 2025?
I am sorry to keep repeating this, but I specifically asked the Minister what the various data sources were to confirm time spent in the UK, to ensure that EEA citizens do not stay for more than six months if they use the e-passport gates or to stop them effectively having a continuous six-month rolling period by going out of the UK for a day and coming back again. She has not referred to that. In particular, I asked her what data sources would enable an EU citizen who had not left the UK after six months to be tracked down and, if necessary, deported.
The noble Lord asked about the lead-up to 2025 and the ETA. It is a new immigration system—there will be a pragmatic approach to people coming in and out of this country, because it is a whole new system and will take some time to bed in. The ETA will give both security and certainty on people coming in and out of this country.
In terms of data sets, we obviously now use exit checks; if someone has a visa, it will be on their visa how long they are able to stay. The noble Lord talked about the person who literally went in and out of Lille in one day in order to update their boarding card. He makes a very good point.
This system will take some time to bed in. I will write to the noble Lord about some of the very specific supplementary questions he has asked; I am just giving him the answers that I know off the top of my head. As for sanctions for someone who has not complied, obviously it is easier for someone with a visa, and less easy for someone doing a series of short stays.
I am very sorry to correct the Minister, but she made a statement earlier that was incorrect. In response to my noble friend Lady Bennett, she said of retaining—or not taking away —freedom of movement that it was the will of the people and what the people voted for with their Brexit vote. That is absolutely not true. We voted—I voted—for Brexit for many different reasons, and freedom of movement did not particularly come up as a reason. Quite honestly, none of us understood that the Government were going to make such a shambles of it. We could not have predicted that it could be so badly handled. So please, it is not the will of the people, and it was not what people voted for with Brexit. They voted for a variety of reasons.
My Lords, we did vote to leave the EU, and I do not think anyone can be in any doubt about some of the reasons. People voted for a variety of reasons, but the noble Baroness will totally understand that I am not going to get into a debate about why people did or did not want to leave the EU. I will leave it there.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for her careful response to Amendment 3. It was very thoughtful—not a response off the top of her head. I am also grateful for the offer of a meeting, which I will happily take up.
The Minister gave an example of a provision in the regulations that she said was inconsistent with the Immigration Acts. I accept that there may well be many such provisions. My point is very simple: spell them out in Schedule 1. Do not use this vague language of drafting which means that people cannot identify what their rights and obligations are. My amendment is not designed to keep or remove any particular right; it is simply designed to require the Government to instruct the parliamentary draftsman to produce a provision that implies basic standards of legal certainty. I hope the Minister has noted the substantial concern around the House at this lack of certainty in the drafting of Schedule 1. It is simply not good enough and it needs to be addressed. I look forward to discussing this with the Minister prior to Report.
I totally understand the point that the noble Lord makes about certainty. In addressing this, I should like to meet him, because I totally get what he is saying. He is not being difficult; he is just asking that we lay out the law and provide certainty.
My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate on this catch-all group of amendments. There have been some very high-quality contributions. In particular, I thank my noble friend for her careful and full answers; they have got us off to a good start.
I was rather surprised to hear the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, quoting the insights of the sociopath Caligula. However, I think he—and other noble Lords—made some good points about clarity of drafting and the complexity of immigration law, which makes its fair, efficient and firm enforcement more difficult. It also creates a great deal of work for lawyers. That is not an unvarnished advantage.
The noble Lords, Lord Beith and Lord Rosser, rightly referred to the use of secondary rather than primary legislation, and I am sure we will come back to that when we come to scrutinise Amendment 9.
We heard good support for the two practical amendments on minors visiting the UK using identity cards and on e-gates. The response was a bit disappointing on identity cards, but there were some very good points made about e-gates, and the Minister will obviously answer the more detailed questions on that from the noble Lords, Lord Paddick and Lord Adonis.
The most powerful intervention about robust enforcement was from the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington, whom I call a friend. He made a number of practical suggestions. I am not sure I have heard quite enough about how the Bill will be enforced or its “integrity”, to quote the noble Lord, Lord Adonis. I will talk to the noble Lord, Lord Green, and we may return to the issue on Report, in the same or in some alternative form, because enforcement of the law is very important. For now, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 1 withdrawn.
Clause 1 agreed.
My Lords, we now come to the group beginning with Amendment 2. I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate. Anyone wishing to press this amendment to a Division should make that clear in the debate.
2: After Clause 1, insert the following new Clause—
“Duty to commission an independent review of the social care sector in regard to the effects of section 1
(1) The Secretary of State must commission an independent review of the matters under subsection (3) and lay the report of the review before each House of Parliament within six months of the day on which this Act is passed.(2) The Secretary of State must appoint an independent panel to undertake the review.(3) The review under subsection (1) must consider an assessment of the effects of section 1 on—(a) the social care workforce;(b) the adequacy of public funding for the social care sector;(c) the ability of care sector employers to improve the pay and conditions of their employees; and(d) such other relevant matters as the independent panel deems appropriate.(4) A Minister of the Crown must, no later than six months after the report has been laid before Parliament, make arrangements for a motion relating to the report to be debated and voted on by the House of Commons and the House of Lords.”Member’s explanatory statement
This new Clause would require an independent review of the impact of section 1 of this Act on the social care sectors to be produced and laid before Parliament.
My Lords, I declare an interest as a member of the General Medical Council board.
I want to return to a major theme from Second Reading: the decision of the Home Office to exclude the great majority of care workers from the new health and care visa, as they do not meet either the income or the skills threshold. At Second Reading, the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, justified this by saying that employers had to end what she described as “the easy option” of using migrant labour to undercut our own workforce “for far too long”. She also pointed to the advice of the Migration Advisory Committee, which has maintained that the problems in the care sector are caused by a failure to offer competitive terms and conditions, in itself caused by a failure to have a sustainable funding model—quite.
I certainly do not need reminding of how important skilled care worker jobs are; I want to see more people training and entering the care sector at a decent wage. However, surely it is disingenuous for the Government to call for better wages and conditions, when they have so much influence on the financial health of care services. The Government are the main source of funds for local authorities; they are the direct funder of the National Health Service; and they set the conditions under which the private care market operates. The Home Office, which I have always thought of as being a bit semi-detached, is essentially saying that the Government—of which it is a part—has neglected the care sector over many years. They have been in government for 10 years now and have had a series of reviews, none of which has come to fruition.
Our own House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee reported that, in 2018, 1.4 million older people in England had an unmet care need. It found that publicly funded social care support is shrinking, as diminishing budgets have forced local authorities to limit the numbers of people receiving public funding. Just as demand goes up with the demographics, the funding of social care gets lower and lower in real terms.
When we turn to the workforce, we see a diverse range of nationalities and backgrounds. Some 83% of the workforce is made up of British nationalities, with 7% coming from other EEA countries and 9% from non-EEA countries. As such, the UK is reliant on a fair and balanced immigration system. Overall, however, the social care workforce is already facing a crisis, with more than 120,000 vacancies and a growing level of demand among people who need to access care services. This is a real problem for the future.
We also have the problem that the Government classify social care workers as unskilled. Unskilled? As Mencap points out, their colleagues are trusted every day with people’s lives. They are trained to provide medication, to undertake feeding, to deal with seizures and to administer first aid. They help people manage their finances, their health and their well-being, and they provide emotional support. Unskilled they are not. Yet as Unison has pointed out, many migrant workers are not included in the category of people who have had their visas extended free for a year. Many are struggling to save the large amounts needed for visa renewals.
The Minister says that staff should be paid more. I agree, but is she going to will the means? Will she commit to increasing the level of support to local authorities? Is she willing to see self-funders pay more? If she is, I remind her that if you took the current lifetime pension allowance of £1,073,000 and bought an annuity with it at age 60, you would not have enough to pay the average nursing home fee.
We are in a vicious cycle. After decades of reviews and failed reforms, the level of unmet need in our care system is increasing and the pressure on unpaid carers is growing stronger. The supply of care providers is diminishing and the strain on the care workforce is continuing. And that is before these new immigration controls are imposed at the end of the year.
At Second Reading, the noble Baroness said that she would not be drawn on the details of the long-term social care plan which apparently the Government are still promising to bring forward. She did refer to various sides in the Commons trying to sort a consensus on the way forward, but there is not much sign yet of the Government reaching out, and given the state of the public finances, I would not bet on immediate action in any case. I refer the noble Baroness to the letter in July from the Chancellor to Secretaries of State on the forthcoming comprehensive spending review. From that, it is clear that spending will come under a huge squeeze. It is noticeable that, while the Chancellor said then that he would prioritise the NHS, no mention was made of social care at all.
The argument I put before noble Lords is this. If the Home Office is convinced that the woes of the care sector are entirely down to the sector itself, let it produce the evidence. Let Ministers agree to the quick review that I suggest in my amendment, looking at the funding of the sector and the impact of Clause 1 before shutting off an extremely valuable source of labour for this important but vulnerable part of our society. I beg to move.
My Lords, my noble friend Lady Brinton has her name to the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, which we support. My noble friend is indisposed at present, but I know that she will be here in spirit. I start by saying to the Minister that I will try not to moan. I generally try not to moan. It is reasonable for her to refer a Member of the House to GOV.UK; my point was that most of the public would be bemused by the reference. I think I can see on my screen that she is nodding.
There was enthusiasm for tabling amendments quickly after Second Reading, especially on what were particularly topical issues. A health and social care visa was one such. It remains topical, as does the whole operation of the social care sector, even though it is not in the headlines quite so much. I have spoken about immigration arrangements being in the rules. The scheme set out in our Amendment 47 may not be ideal—I confess I do not think it is—but it is about pinning down the arrangements into primary legislation to make them not too easy to amend.
My noble friend Lady Brinton and I also have our names to Amendment 57, on a social care visa. Many of your Lordships will have direct experience of the work of those in social care and share what the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, has talked of—the importance of proper payment reflecting the level of skill, which is very significant. As it happens, I cannot praise too much someone who recently cared for a close relative. She came from Romania.
The essential core skills are not ones that can be trained into anyone; there are the practical, technical aspects of care, but you cannot train someone to care as part of their personality. They either have it or they do not. That is why so many carers, little supported, are people who look after their spouses, children or parents at home. I mention this because, last time I mentioned care at home, the Minister thought I meant domiciliary care. That is part of the subject matter of the amendment, but I depart from the scope of the Bill for a moment to recognise the dedication and sheer hard work that family members undertake, which is inadequately recognised. Other noble Lords in the debate may know how much, in pounds and pence, that work saves the state.
The noble Baroness, Lady Masham, will explain the importance of her proposal in Amendment 66. I simply say that my noble friend Lady Thomas of Winchester added her name to that amendment, and she is very sorry that she cannot take part in today’s proceedings.
Also in the group is Amendment 82 of the noble Lord, Lord Patel, which I thought was interesting. Some of us leap in; calmer heads propose an analysis of the issue. I suspect that will not preclude some pithy points in support of progressing with analysis.
My Lords, Amendment 66 would provide for the creation of a fast-track health and social care visa for EEA and Swiss nationals who provide personal care for severely disabled people, after the end of free movement. The visa would be limited to EEA and Swiss nationals who, immediately prior to the commencement of Clause 1 and Schedule 1, had the right of free movement into the UK.
Subsection (1) of my proposed new clause says:
“The Secretary of State must provide by regulations made by statutory instrument for the introduction of a fast-track health and social care visa for a relevant person who provides personal care for severely disabled people in the United Kingdom.”
Subsection (2) defines “fast-track” and “relevant person”:
“In this section, ‘fast-track’ means processed by UK Visas and Immigration within three weeks from the day on which the applicant provides their biometric information, and ‘relevant person’ means an EEA or Swiss national who immediately prior to the commencement of section 1 and Schedule 1 had the right of free movement into the United Kingdom.”
The proposed new clause would provide for the introduction of a fast-track health and social care visa for a person who provides personal care for severely disabled people. The visa would be limited to EEA or Swiss nationals who, immediately prior to the commencement of Clause 1 and Schedule 1, had the right of free movement into the UK. This is a probing amendment to see what consideration the Government have given to extending their new health and social care visa to persons who provide personal care for severely disabled people in the United Kingdom.
In July, the Home Secretary and Secretary of State for Health and Social Care announced that a
“new Health and Care Visa will be launched this Summer, creating a new fast-track visa route for eligible health and care professionals and delivering on a key manifesto commitment.”
However, the Government have been criticised for excluding care workers from being able to apply for visas designed to fast-track those coming to the UK to work in the health and care sector.
On 13 July, the Home Office released details of the UK points-based immigration system, which will come into effect from 1 January 2021. Under the new system, the health and care visa will allow people working in eligible occupations, who speak English and have a job offer, to come to the UK. Under this visa route, workers and their families will gain fast-track entry to the UK, with reduced application fees and dedicated support, the Government said. Those who are eligible to apply and their dependants will also be exempt from paying the immigration health surcharge—a move that has been welcomed by doctors. But applicants must meet a salary threshold of £25,600, which is €28,200 or $32,000, to be eligible to apply for the visa, unless they are entering a shortage occupation, such as nursing and medicine. The NHS workers’ union, GMB, said that this threshold would mean that many NHS cleaners, porters and support staff will not qualify for the visa.
The Government have faced a backlash because social care workers are not eligible to apply for the visa, although the Migration Advisory Committee, on whose advice much of the new system is based, recognised the workforce shortage faced by social care in its most recent report and did not recommend that care workers be added to the list of shortage occupations. I cannot understand this. Perhaps the Government can tell us why. Instead, the committee said that it hoped the Government’s forthcoming Green Paper on social care would provide more clarity on the future of the sector in the UK and contain concrete proposals to improve terms and conditions for care workers. Waiting is not acceptable. There is a crisis.
Critics have said that the exclusion of care home staff from a post-Brexit, fast-track visa system for health workers could prove to be an unmitigated disaster and may increase the risk of spreading coronavirus. Professor Martin Green, the chief executive of Care England, which represents the largest private providers, has said that the decision amid the pandemic in which 20,000 people have died in UK care homes has the potential to destabilise the sector even further, with disastrous consequences, confirming that there could be no special treatment for carers coming to the UK from the rest of the world.
The Government have said that they hope that Britons will fill the shortfall of around 20,000 workers, equating to 10% of all posts. Currently, 17% of care jobs are filled by foreign citizens. In the debate on Second Reading, I drew attention to this when I said:
“There is a danger that people who cannot get work of their choice are pushed into doing care work, with such horrifying results as happened at Whorlton Hall near Barnard Castle, Thors Park in Essex and Winterbourne View near Bristol, where patients were abused and bullied. This cruelty was exposed by ‘Panorama’. We must surely try to prevent this sort of thing happening again. I hope the Government will listen before it is too late.” —[Official Report, 22/7/20; col. 2251.]
The health and care visa has been designed to attract the brightest and best from around the world. It has been criticised for excluding front-line care home workers and contractors. It has been pointed out that the minimum salary threshold means that many cleaners, porters and other support staff will not qualify. This will discriminate against severely disabled people living in their own home who need paid carers. The Government are discriminating against any care workers.
Vic Rayner, the executive director of the National Care Forum, has said that in London, where around 38% of care workers are non-British, the policy could be “an unmitigated disaster.” She said:
“We have 122,000 vacancies, growing demand for our services, and then the tap is turned off like this … It is not good news at all. What you need for good care is a stable, skilled and plentiful workforce. And in the context of Covid-19, where you are trying to minimise movement of staff, any shortages might increase movement of staff and use of agency staff, which we are trying to avoid.”
Robin Hall, the secretary of the Hampshire Care Association, has said that a shallower pool from which to recruit could drive up wages, which, without greater public funding, would mean fewer staff employed per resident. She said:
“That will damage the quality of care we can deliver … You also may have to get less choosy about who you employ, and that’s a dreadful thought. A lot of our EU staff are highly skilled. They are smart, articulate and speak three or four languages. We don’t get that quality of applicants from the UK because of the status the profession has.’”
With the advances in medical treatment made over the years, many severely disabled people are living in the community in their own home. Many of them need live-in or daily carers. We also have an increasing elderly population. A bright young man called David who broke his neck in a rugby accident and was paralysed from the neck down had been cared for by his mother. As she got older, her arthritis became worse. David was fearful that he might end up in a care home, which was something he could not accept. David lived in a comfortable bungalow with a garden and a lily pond. One day he was found drowned in that pond. In desperation, he had driven his electric wheelchair into it to end his life. Surely we do not want more cases like that.
Good care workers who work in people’s homes must be dedicated to the job, get satisfaction from it, be honest, skilled, compassionate and flexible. Caring for severely disabled people is not for everyone, but those who undertake these positions are special and they should be valued, not treated as “also rans”.
I look forward to hearing the Minister’s comments on Amendment 66, and I hope that it will be taken seriously.
My Lords, before I speak to my Amendment 82, I want to support strongly the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, who spoke with his usual passion when presenting his amendment. I hope the Minister will respond to that.
Amendment 82 can be taken in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has highlighted the exceptional contribution and sacrifice made by our health and social care workers every day in protecting and caring for people in the community. It has also made clear how much we depend on our international workforce. Around 29% of doctors working in NHS hospitals and almost 14% of healthcare workers overall in the United Kingdom are from overseas. International workers account for approximately one-sixth of care workers in England.
The pandemic has had a profound impact on all aspects of our health services, but I draw the attention of the House to its impact on the all-too-often overlooked sector of social care. Between March and July this year, there were 30,500 excess deaths among care home residents as well as 4,500 excess deaths among people receiving care in their home. Figures from the Office for National Statistics also show that social care workers are among the occupational groups at the highest risk of Covid-19 mortality. The United Kingdom recorded the second highest number of deaths among healthcare workers in the world, second only to Russia, and a significant number of those deaths were among social care workers. These figures highlight the immense sacrifice and heartbreak that these workers have faced while trying to do their job in a system that was already overstretched. The vital contribution they make to the health system has been overlooked and undervalued for too long.
Adult social care is facing stark recruitment and retention challenges, with an estimated 122,000 vacancies, while the demand for social care workers is expected to rise in line with the UK’s ageing population. The CQC’s State of Care report concludes that workforce shortages in adult social care are
“affected by the lack of value given to social care by society and disproportionate levels of pay.”
The pandemic should serve as a wake-up call that we need to value our social care workforce more. In a sector where one in six of the workers is from overseas, any changes to the UK immigration system that could deter or prevent those who want to work in this country are of deep concern. There is a risk of significant implications for the staffing of health and social care services, as well as the quality of care and patient safety in the future. While measures to help recruit doctors to the NHS, including the fast-track NHS visa, are welcome, the lack of any route into the UK for social care professionals is extremely concerning. The average salary for a care worker in England is between £16,400 and £18,400, which means that individuals would fail to meet even the lower salary threshold of £20,480 to enable them to trade points to be eligible to work in the United Kingdom.
The current proposals for new immigration controls risk exacerbating the current social work workforce shortages and, as a result, putting some of the most vulnerable members of our society at risk, as already mentioned. Social care staff play an integral role in the efficient and safe running of the health service, and it is vital that any future immigration system recognises this. We owe our overseas health and social care staff a huge debt of gratitude. We should do all we can to keep these dedicated workers and ensure that there are no barriers to future recruitment.
It is important to grow our domestic workforce to help to meet workforce challenges, and to improve working conditions, pay and training as part of that. However, we must also provide an entry route for overseas staff who want to join such a vital part of a healthcare system that would struggle to cope without them. There is a consensus across healthcare organisations, as well as growing support for the idea from parliamentarians right across the political spectrum, that social care needs a long-term, sustainable solution that includes better funding. In the short to medium term, the immigration system must include a migratory route that meets the needs of the social care sector, which is facing severe challenges. We now need the political will to act and reverse this public policy omission.
I therefore hope that my amendment will be supported. It is supported from outside very strongly—by the Royal College of Nursing, the British Medical Association, UNISON, Independent Age and the Royal College of Physicians. It places a duty on the Government to report on migratory options for health and social care workers ineligible for the skilled-worker route.
The amendment would require the Secretary of State to lay before Parliament a report setting out in detail the options for overseas workers excluded from the skilled-worker scheme, within a period of 30 days beginning on the day on which this Bill is passed. It would need to specify a migratory route for care workers, home workers and healthcare support workers. It is time we recognised the vast contribution of the social care workforce to our community. Showing that there is a migratory route into the UK for them would be a step towards achieving this. They have demonstrated that in low-paid jobs they provide good social care, and even die for us, as shown by Covid-19.
I had not indicated that I intend to divide the Committee today, but I look forward to the Minister’s response and I will reserve my judgment. All I can say is that the support for this amendment outside and from all sides is immense, and I hope the Minister will respond to that.
My Lords, I shall speak in favour of my Amendment 93. It is obvious that many of the amendments in this group are heading towards the same sort of thing, which is protection for people of all kinds as well as holding the Government to account for what they do. I support several of the amendments that have been spoken to, and I have been moved by some of the speeches from noble Lords.
My amendment is supported by over 50 organisations from all the devolved nations, including the Health and Social Care Alliance Scotland, Macmillan Cancer Support, UNISON and the Association of Camphill Communities. Amendment 93 would require an independent evaluation of the impact of the effects of the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill on the health and social care sectors across the UK. This would be made after consulting the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, the Scottish Ministers, the Welsh Ministers, the relevant Northern Ireland department, service providers, those requiring health and social care services and others. One would hope that this would be automatic with any measure that a Government introduce as they really need to know whether it is working or not.
Proposed new subsection (1) would require the Secretary of State to lay a copy of the report before both Houses of Parliament no later than one year after this Bill is passed. Proposed new subsection (8) would require a Minister of the Crown to make arrangements not later than six months after the report has been laid before Parliament, for the report to be debated and voted on in both Houses.
My amendment is necessary to safeguard the interests of the many people who rely on the contribution of EU citizens and non-EU citizens for the provision of health and social care across the four nations. This of course includes disabled people, children and young people, older people, unpaid carers and those with long-term health conditions. I should perhaps declare an interest in that I am getting older and this might apply to me in a decade or two.
Prior to the UK leaving the EU, a number of studies had highlighted the significant adverse impact of Brexit on the health and social care sectors across the UK. These studies, and the initial information about the points-based immigration system provided in the Home Office’s policy paper, The UK’s Point-based Immigration System: Policy Statement, suggest that the ending of freedom of movement and the introduction of a points-based immigration system will potentially have a major adverse impact on the health and social care sectors across the UK. I think every speech so far has highlighted that fact.
The proposed independent evaluation that would be introduced by Amendment 93 could play a key role in supporting the health and social care sectors across the UK, helping them to address a range of concern about the proposals. These include concerns that many health and social care workers from other European countries, and from non-European countries, would not meet the proposed income threshold under this system, and that the requirement to have a job offer is unnecessarily restrictive, and will create addition administrative burdens and cost for health and social care organisations trying to recruit staff from abroad. As we have heard, there is a lack of recognition of health and social care specific skills, experience and professional qualifications in the proposed points-based system. As a result, it does not recognise the skills and experience of the workers from across the EU, and from non-EU countries, to enrich health and social care support and services here. Nor does it value the sector and its growing importance as a result of demographic changes.
There is much wrong with the Government’s immigration policy, but health and social care will feel a particularly brutal impact. This independent analysis is required so that the Government can think properly about the needs of health and social care and develop policy accordingly.
My Lords, I declare my interest as chair of the National Mental Capacity Forum. I speak to Amendments 2 and 66, to which I have added my name, and I strongly support Amendment 82, tabled by my noble friend Lord Patel.
The current proposals will exclude a group of workers we desperately need: carers for those with physical and/or mental disabilities, especially, as my noble friend Lady Masham highlighted, those with spinal injuries and similar severe physical constraints, and those with severe impairments of mental capacity for a wide variety of reasons. Many of these people are at a high risk of Covid and some will have been on the official shielding list. They wish to remain in their own homes and need care around the clock. For them, a live-in carer is the best option, but the annual salary of such a carer will fall below the level to accrue points in the system. That workforce just does not exist here. UK residents are not coming forward to train as live-in domiciliary carers.
Those carers already here are fearful that they will not obtain leave to remain. UNISON is calling for key workers to remain here and be eligible for NHS care—that is, to be exempt from the “no recourse to public funds” criteria—during the pandemic. Around 17% of the social care workforce is made up of migrant workers, with 115,000 European nationals and 134,000 non-EU nationals.
Vacancy rates in the care sector now stand at 6.5% in England, and 38% of care agencies report vacancies. In related sectors—sectors that support front-line, hands-on care workers—29% of hospital doctors in the NHS and 12% of healthcare workers overall are from overseas. Austerity has led to local authority spending on adult social care shrinking by 7% per person in the past decade. Price is by far the most dominant factor in decisions on care commissioning. Councils have tightened eligibility thresholds in recent years, meaning that at least 1.5 million elderly and disabled people have unmet care needs.
The sector was already in crisis before Covid-19. The problem will not be solved by rising unemployment: significant skills are needed to deliver high-quality care. Good care is complex; bad care kills. Just because care work is low paid and badly undervalued does not mean that it is low skilled. While staffing shortages and recruitment problems in the sector require a holistic solution, it is disingenuous for the Government to call for better wages and conditions in sectors left out of their new immigration plans. The criteria for the points system include the threshold of £20,480 for those with additional tradable points, such as an occupation on the shortage occupation list, and a fast-track NHS visa for applicants with a job offer who speak English and are trained to a recognised standard. [Inaudible]—workforce meets even these criteria. Others in low-paid health and social care sectors, such as clinical scientists, lab and theatre technicians, porters and cleaners, many of whom are EU nationals or from elsewhere overseas, play an integral role in the efficient and safe running of the health and care services, yet none of them would fit these criteria. I fear that the rhetoric of cutting immigration is being driven forward, ignoring the devastating effect on the NHS and social care sectors, despite all the nice words about how these people have coped and saved lives while themselves at risk during Covid.
Warning after warning has shown how the NHS and care sectors will collapse without their overseas workers. That is why there is a need for a fast-track category health and social care visa, as outlined by my noble friend Lady Masham, and an urgent need for the criteria to be looked at independently, as proposed in Amendment 2.
We cannot put our heads in the sand and think that unemployment will miraculously and rapidly create a workforce of skilled, low-paid carers to look after those with complex needs, and that vacancies will evaporate. They will not. I believe that we will be coming back to these issues at Report, and dividing the House.
My Lords, I speak in support of Amendment 47, to which I added my name, but I also strongly support other amendments in the group, particularly that of my noble friend Lord Patel, who spoke powerfully in favour of making sure that we do not create barriers preventing health and social care staff coming to this country. I do not want to duplicate what others have said, so I will speak briefly about the difficulties we have in recruiting staff over here, which others have certainly emphasised.
The NHS employs half a million staff and has 100,000 vacancies reported by trusts, many of them among low-paid workers. This figure is projected to rise over the coming years, rather than diminish. Our problems will become pretty well impossible to manage unless we do something about it.
We want more support staff employed in primary care. This has been a policy goal for a long time and the NHS long-term plan continues to reflect this ambition, but the number of support staff working in community services has continued to fall, and I expect it to continue to do so. GP surgeries are desperate to appoint support staff but cannot do so. As others have said strongly, a similar picture applies to the social care sector, where we have 8,632 vacancies, according to the latest available data—surely unsustainable, as the number of elderly people needing care rises relentlessly, not to mention, as others have, the many people with disabilities and a range of problems.
The NHS Long Term Plan acknowledges that international recruitment will continue to be vital in the short to medium term if we are to deal with our staff shortages. This is being constrained, says a report by the Health Foundation, by immigration policies. Surely the Government need to pay attention to that, and I hope the Minister will respond to that point. Immigration policies are really causing problems for our health and social care services. Instead of imposing barriers to EEA and Swiss entrants, would it not be better for Ministers to concentrate on reducing barriers to well-qualified migrants with good English from the rest of the world? Amendment 47 is key, as are the other amendments in this group, if we are to improve our health and social care staffing or to avoid a serious drop in the quality and availability of these crucial services. I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I support all the amendments in this group. I have added my name to Amendments 47 and 66, but the intentions and sentiments already expressed so well by many noble Lords are ones that I fully endorse. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, the noble Baronesses, Lady Hamwee and Lady Masham, and other noble Lords for the excellent way in which they have explained the urgent need for measures in the Bill that specifically address the shortage of social care staff. I implore my noble friend on the Front Bench, who I know cares about this issue as much as so many of us around the House, to take back to the department the strength of feeling across the House on this matter and address some of these issues before Report.
We are talking here about the biggest failure of social policy in modern times. The inadequacy of our social care provision is already well documented and well known, and the Government are already committed to addressing this issue as soon as possible. We cannot move forward and improve the quality of social care without staff. We cannot mechanise this. Care workers may be low paid, but that does not mean they are low skilled. They are essential to enabling increasing numbers of people to live decent lives. We are not talking about bringing in low-paid shelf stackers; we are talking about the emotional, physical and mental well-being of some of our most vulnerable citizens.
Given that the Government are the main funders of social care and have not yet funded adequately social care providers who employ staff who might generally earn above the £25,000 cut-off, that imposes on the Government a duty to ensure that our immigration policy does not deter those who might be willing to work for less than that figure—most of the people who work in social care already do so—from coming to this country when, as we have already heard, around one in five of our social care staff is already from overseas.
I know my noble friend responded to these concerns at Second Reading by saying that the Government hope that Britons will fill the shortfall, but hopes are not good enough. It takes time to try to find any UK nationals, train them in the right skills and raise the standards of pay. What are these elderly and disabled people supposed to do in the meantime? They need care. I therefore hope my noble friend might still consider the implications of these amendments, or at the very least agree to a transitional, temporary social care visa, perhaps for five or 10 years, that specifically enables social care providers and individuals who need to employ somebody to care for them in their own home to find those overseas workers who are willing to come here and fill the gaps we currently have, rather than having an immigration system that rules out being able to bring them in.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, has withdrawn, so I now call the noble Baroness, Lady Lister of Burtersett.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, and I very much agree with what she had to say. I am speaking primarily in support of Amendments 2 and 93, but I am supportive of all these amendments. I underline the importance of what the noble Baronesses, Lady Masham and Lady Finlay, said about personal care.
When the Bill was postponed in the House of Commons, I thought that perhaps the Government were thinking again about the treatment of care workers in the points-based system in light of the Government’s and the country’s applause for them during the height of the pandemic. How naive I was; there was no rethink. Despite the crucial role they played and continue to play and the range of skills involved in their work—organisational, clinical and
“soft skills of empathy and patience”,
as the chief executive of the National Association of Care & Support Workers has explained—the Government, as has already been said, continue to confuse pay with skill and contribution.
Back in February, the Home Secretary herself conceded that
“care is not a low-skilled occupation”—
so why is it being treated as one now? To do so in the proposed points-based system is in effect discriminatory, as the equality impact assessment makes clear. It says:
“The Government is aware that prescribing a minimum … threshold could have differential impacts on individuals on the basis of their sex. Women may find it disproportionately more difficult to meet the threshold than men.”
Indeed, but there is no “could” or “may” about it. It will have a differential impact and women will find it disproportionately difficult because, of course, women make up the majority of care workers. Moreover, black and minority ethnic women are disproportionately represented in the care sector, and the equality impact assessment shows that BAME workers will also be adversely affected by the salary threshold.
In the Commons, the Immigration Minister said that
“our vision for the future of the care sector is about providing rewarding opportunities to UK-based workers, not basing it purely on immigration.”—[Official Report, Commons, 13/7/20; col. 1250.]
Likewise, the Minister, at Second Reading, said that
“the immigration system is not the sole solution to the employment issues in the social care sector.”—[Official Report, 22/7/20; col. 2232.]
No one is suggesting that immigration provides the sole solution or that the future of care should depend purely on immigration but, to quote the Cavendish Coalition of 37 organisations in health and social care:
“For a sector where one in six are foreign nationals and which is struggling with 122,000 vacancies in England alone it would be unwise to believe that domestic recruitment will solve all social care’s immediate problems.”
It warns that we are
“swiftly heading towards an alarming destination with no obvious solution for the care sector.”
Can the Minister explain how the Government will ensure that those “rewarding opportunities” to which the Immigration Minister referred are to be provided when local authorities are already on their financial knees? As we have heard, funding has gone down in the care sector and the Government have done nothing about it over their 10-year period in office. Do the Government believe that the market will miraculously provide the solution in the absence of immigrant labour?
I might feel greater confidence in the Government’s
“vision for the future of the care sector”—[Official Report, Commons, 13/7/20; col. 1250.]
if they actually had a strategy for it. But as my noble friend Lord Hunt reminded us, despite many a promise—I have lost count—we are still waiting for that strategy, like “Waiting for Godot”. As it is, it is irresponsible to go ahead with this policy in the absence of such a strategy—one that should include decent rewards for all those who work in the care sector. This is the kind of question that Amendments 2 and 93 would address. To refuse to accept the call for an independent review on these lines would be doubly irresponsible. What possible justification could there be for refusing such a review?
My Lords, this has been an excellent debate. I associate myself in particular with Amendments 2 and 82 but, like other noble Lords, I support many of the amendments in this group in principle.
A constant theme since Second Reading is the need for key workers to continue to supply workforce in the UK, not least in the NHS and social care. It is a matter of fact that, quite apart from us potentially sending out the wrong message to those coming from countries other than the EEA and Switzerland—international care workers on whom we currently depend—many of our care home workers and care workers in general are sourced from Poland, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania and other EEA countries. I therefore suggest that this is a wake-up call to the potential immediate crisis that the social care sector could face on 1 January next year as a result of the Bill, if my reading of it is correct.
I always remember that during my time as an MP, when I used to ask the local jobcentre where the main vacancies were, the answer usually came back that the vacancies that were the most difficult to fill and therefore the longest on the register were those in the care sector. I hope this might provide an opportunity to really look again at the status of social care workers. They are the flip side to the NHS family. I remind the Committee of my interest in that I come from a medical family; my brother and father were GPs, and I currently work with the Dispensing Doctors’ Association. We can see the extent to which we were dependent on care homes taking often still quite poorly patients out of hospitals in the immediate pandemic circumstances of Covid-19.
I hope that my noble friend the Minister will use her good offices to liaise with the relevant departments in this regard, particularly the Department of Health and Social Care, to look at valuing the skills and caring qualities of our social care workers and look to raise their salaries to more realistic levels.
I also ask my noble friend whether a compromise in this regard, particularly in view of the visa requirements, might be to look at whether it would be appropriate for the immigration system that will commence in the new year to have a two-year temporary work visa so as not to leave the country potentially short-staffed in this crunch period, as we deal with the knock-on effects of Covid and its economic consequences and as a result of our ending the transition period as we leave the European Union.
Furthermore, like other noble Lords who have spoken, I am deeply concerned that many of the details are not in the Bill and that we are relying very heavily on secondary legislation and a points system, the details of which are not that transparent.
I conclude by lending my support to Amendment 2 in particular, in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Hunt and Lord Adonis, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Finlay and Lady Brinton. It requires the Government to commission an independent review of the social care sector, which would, I hope, cover many of the points that I raised today.
I also support Amendment 82, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Patel, which would introduce a duty to report on migratory options for health and social care workers who are ineligible for the skilled worker route. It is nonsensical to have such a constraint on a sector on which we are so heavily dependent.
I found the speech by the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, very moving. In my days as an MP, I visited a Leonard Cheshire home, where I encountered the tragic case of a young Olympic rower who had suffered a stroke and was incapacitated. If this Bill was passed, these two amendments—and all amendments in this group—could do so much good for people of all ages who are in care, particularly the vulnerable and the disabled in the community.
I want to return to the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, in his introductory remarks. The important amendment in this group is Amendment 2. All the others could be things that potentially fall out of a review, and so the key is to have that review and then look at the most appropriate way forward.
Many of the issues that have been spoken to in this debate are not new; we have been talking about social care for as long as I have been in the House. We could say many things about the current situation we find ourselves in, and some of the issues are fairly long-standing. One that I talk about a lot, but not many others do, is the fact that there are currently about a million people who are ageing and do not have children. Our health and social care service is predicated on the fact that you have children who will look out for your needs in any health or care setting. We will have 2 million people in that position by 2030. We have, therefore, an acute and growing need for paid social care. Also, at the moment, a number of our biggest care providers are owned by private equity firms, run at very low cost and margins—they are not about to stay in this business if they cannot do that, and to them, it is a business.
At Second Reading, the noble Baroness talked about the need for the United Kingdom to stop colluding in an international trade in low-cost care. I can understand that argument but, at this moment, given where we are, we would be the first affluent western country to take itself out of what is, in effect, an international market in care. No other affluent western country—nor Australia, for that matter—has solved its care problem by suddenly turning off all access to people from other nations. It would be a very bold statement if we were to do that, but noble Lords have today pointed out the dangers of doing so.
The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, is right to argue that, at this moment, there is a case for a review. The Government, if they were not being so ideologically pure on the matter, would want to give themselves flexibility in addressing these issues as they arise. There is no need to do this: it is just government ideology. The Government could bring in a transitionary process, over about five years, that would enable people to get through a period of uncertainty. I therefore commend Amendment 2 to the Minister and ask her to look at some of the other amendments in this group.
My Lords, I will focus on Amendments 82 and 93, and particularly their implications for reviewing the need, or otherwise, to recruit nurses and doctors from overseas. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Patel, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, for tabling them.
I suspect, however, that these amendments are based on the common fallacy that the NHS needs to recruit doctors and nurses overseas because supposedly not enough British people want to do these jobs. That is simply untrue. The latest year for which UCAS figures are available is 2019; I apologise to the House for giving out-of-date figures at Second Reading. The most recent figures show that 53,000 young British people applied to train as nurses last year, of whom 20,250 were turned away—that is 43% of applicants, or nearly half of those who applied. UCAS unfortunately does not produce figures on the same basis for those seeking to train as doctors, but it is clear that an even higher proportion of those who apply to medical school are turned away.
This is a double scandal. First, it means that tens of thousands of young Brits who aspire to serve their country as doctors or nurses are refused that chance and have to pursue less attractive options. Secondly, we have to recruit tens of thousands of doctors and nurses from abroad, mostly from countries that are far poorer, have fewer medical staff per head of population, and can ill afford to train people who then migrate to the United Kingdom.
This double scandal is compounded by the way this issue is excluded from the national debate. Why do we allow this situation to persist? We allow effectively unlimited numbers of students to study every subject from art history to zoology. The only subjects where places are numerically restricted are medicine, where they are formally restricted, and nursing, where they are de facto restricted.
I will pass over the political reasons why it may have seemed wise to advocates of mass immigration to invoke the needs of the NHS and nurses and doctors to sanctify their cause. The other reason is nakedly economic: we found it cheaper, in the short term, to employ people trained at the expense of foreign taxpayers, rather than pay to train our own citizens. At the same time, relying on nurses and other health workers from abroad, on whom many other noble Lords have focused, helps to keep wages low. What a paradox it is that many noble Lords who have spoken today and railed against the level of inequality in our country pursue a policy whose prime justification, as they have made clear today, is that it depresses the wages of the lowest-paid people in this country and keeps them below what economists call the domestic market clearing rate—the rate at which we could meet our needs from our own employees.
I was at first minded to support these amendments, but, on looking more closely, I note that one thing the reports that they call on the Government to produce do not cover is the scope for training more of those aspiring to become nurses and doctors in the UK, so that we can end the plundering of foreign health services. That is a very significant omission and shows that there is a blind spot in this discussion, which I hope we will not perpetuate in future debates.
I had intended to withdraw from the debate, but having heard the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, I have to say that I agree very strongly with what he said. The debate so far has covered the case for a short-term arrangement to make sure that our failure to train in recent years can be made up for, but there is no justification in the medium term for taking doctors and nurses to look after people here from countries that need them far more than we do. That is our responsibility; it is time we trained our own and got a grip on it.
My Lords, I rise to support my noble friend Lord Hunt’s amendment and the brief, excellent speech he made at the beginning of this debate. I also want to reinforce points that have been made by the majority of your Lordships, with the exceptions of the noble Lords, Lord Lilley and Lord Green. Although I do not dispute for a minute that both noble Lords have a point, they have highlighted what I hope to put across this evening, which is the complete contradictions that exist in this debate.
I shall start by picking up those points made by the noble Lords, Lord Lilley and Lord Green. I am presuming that, when we reach Report, they will be moving amendments that will remove the so-called health and social care route announced in July, because under that route doctors and nurses could be recruited from across the world to fill vacancies at that level.
One of the contradictions that I want to highlight relates to young people. Young people who cannot find a job anywhere else due to the aftermath of Covid-19—the 20% drop in GDP and the knock-on effect on unemployment—might decide to go into social care. Most young people I speak to want a career and to be able to progress, and there is progression in both residential and social care. However, as things stand with the proposals by the Government, the area from which we would allow people to be brought in from overseas would be at that higher level, whereas at the lower level the vacancies that have been mentioned—122,000 in England alone—would not be fillable from outside the country. I do not know whether the Government believe that, given the crisis in unemployment that is about to accelerate, people will just take up those vacancies even if they are not emotionally and physically suitable to take up caring duties. As has been made clear in this debate, you have to be a particular type of person to take up some of the less attractive duties of caring for someone who is severely disabled or frail and has dementia.
The contradictions, also mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, abound. We all want to see improved wages in this sector. That would not only reward people morally for what they do but help fill vacancies. But the danger of simply putting money into the sector, given the level of private equity ownership, might well be that it gets creamed off, rather than helping to fill vacancies. Or, they will simply close the homes if the money is not provided, which will cause an even bigger problem—as part of the contradictions, we would end up with older, frailer and more severely disabled people in hospital settings, which are more expensive but would allow for staffing to be brought in from outside this country. We saw that in March and April, when people who should have been in different settings in the first place were cascaded out into the residential sector unchecked for Covid-19 and ill-prepared in terms of PPE to be able to deal with it. The consequences, as the noble Lord, Lord Patel, said, are obvious for all of us to see.
The biggest contradiction of all—and I put this to the noble Lords, Lord Lilley and Lord Green—is that, on the centre-left in politics, people are generally suspicious of markets and, on the right, people generally embrace markets. But as I said on Second Reading, in the case of the labour market, the situation is reversed, and those who believe vehemently in markets are against a labour market and against being able to draw in from across the world those who have something to offer the area we are talking about this evening.
We need to sort out the contradictions. That includes the issue of austerity, which led to a bigger downturn in funding for local government services and those funded by local government than any other public service area in the country, with the result that local government has been struggling both with its own direct health provision and with funding in the market and the ability to sustain services.
I have one question—I have learned over the Covid-19 period that you do not get an answer from the Minister unless you ask them a question. My question is simple, and the Minister might be able to answer it tonight: we know what the vacancy level is, but do we have an up-to-date picture of the turnover level in the social care sector? The turnover gives you an idea of how long people can stand working in this challenging but often rewarding setting. What steps might have to be taken if the Government’s hope is that the downward pressure on job availability will help fill, in the short term, the vacancies that we have talked about?
At the end of the day, what we are talking about is the care of human beings. We are not talking about markets or political or economic theory; we are talking about the reality of caring for people in their own homes and stopping them, therefore, having to move into hospital, residential care or residential settings that are dealing with people at very difficult times of their lives. In the end, we have to care enough to get it right.
My Lords, I listened carefully to the powerful opening speech from the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, who is very experienced in this field, and to the speeches that have followed.
Who can argue about the need for a properly skilled, staffed, trained social care workforce? “Skilled and settled”, I think, was the phrase used by the noble Baroness, Lady Masham of Ilton. That is why the issues in subsections (3)(a), (3)(b), (3)(c) and (3)(d) in the noble Lord’s proposed new clause seem entirely appropriate questions to ask. But when they are tied back into an immigration Bill, I begin to get nervous. The noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, talked about contradictions, and I listened carefully to what he said, but the fact is that the issues in subsections (3)(a) to (d) are issues for the sector not linked directly to the immigration matter we are discussing this evening.
I recognise I am probably swimming against the tide, but it is important to realise that workplace psychologists will tell you that you go to work for three reasons. First, you go for the money, and let us not be precious about that. Secondly, and equally importantly, you go for what they call self-actualisation —to improve and increase your life skills, work with decent people, have career progression, have a good performance that is noted and rewarded and, hopefully, operate in an atmosphere of good team spirit. Those are the internal desires most people have in going to work.
The third area is external reputation. When you mention where you work, what do people say in the saloon bar of The Dog and Duck or around the table at a dinner party?
It is worth taking those three yardsticks and applying them to the social care sector. First, there is the money. There is no getting around it: £8.70 an hour is clearly not good enough when compared with £9 for stacking shelves in a supermarket. However, money is not the only motivator here, and when we turn to self-actualisation —the second of the criteria that I mentioned—the situation is quite serious. I have had the privilege of serving on the boards of many companies in my career. When I join one, I often say, “Tell me about your staff turnover.” No staff turnover is not an attractive thing; very often it means that the company has got a bit complacent and is not at the cutting edge, and that the service is not as good as it could be. You want some staff turnover—5%, 10%, that sort of level—to provide the dynamic but, if it rises above that level, it is operationally destructive, distracting and expensive, and the quality of the service starts to fall away.
I understand that in 2018-19 there was a 32.2% turnover in directly employed staff in the sector. Worse, among care workers the turnover was 39.5%. Further evidence of a lack of considered career progression is that half the workforce—excluding registered professionals —have no relevant social care qualifications, which seems to me a question not of money but of managerial grip and organisation, and of making the sector better managed.
Lastly, on the external reputation, one of the great advantages and developments of the pandemic is that people have begun to see how useful, worthwhile and attractive social care can be. People have begun to think about it. Long may that continue but, historically, we all must accept that its reputation has not been that good.
This is a system under acute stress, as many noble Lords have said. The danger of amendments such as these is that they will result in new arrivals, and that immigration will be used as a crutch to maintain what is close to being a broken system. I cannot believe that this is the right approach. More importantly, if the sector believes that it has a “get out of jail free” card, to use the inference that the Minister made when winding up at Second Reading, then there is no pressure on the sector to make any improvements or changes to how the businesses are run or operated, nor indeed is there any pressure on the Government to do likewise. We must find ways to improve the operational performance and the financial performance.
I have two final points. First, on the issue of morality, referred to by my noble friend Lord Lilley, the noble Baronesses, Lady Barker and Lady Meacher, and the noble Lord, Lord Patel, recruitment in this area is a zero-sum game. What we have, other people lose. Maybe one could say that within the EU there is sufficient prosperity for us not to worry about it, but the noble Lord, Lord Patel, mentioned the wider recruitment. This is a very serious issue. We must look at ourselves in the mirror and decide whether it is right and fair for us to be recruiting doctors, nurses and care workers from less-developed countries. It may be serious within the EU, but it certainly is serious around the world.
I will give just one example. When the Ebola virus struck Sierra Leone, there were 136 doctors there, one for every 45,000 people; in this country, the equivalent figure is one for every 300 people. At that time, there were 27 Sierra Leone doctors working in the NHS. If we had not employed those people, we could have given a 20% boost to Sierra Leone’s health facilities. It is not the answer but when we set out our stall for the future we must consider our attitude towards the less- developed world, and whether we will, as the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, said, take ourselves out of the international market for health and social care workers.
My other point is about the dependency ratio, the ratio between those in work and those who are in education or are retired. A 26 year-old from overseas who comes to work in a care home here will, in 40 years’ time, be looking to go to the care home as a patient, not as a worker, requiring more people to come and look after them. Therefore, we will need to find other ways to boost the sector. David Attenborough has called this a population Ponzi scheme. The noble Lord, Lord Turner of Ecchinswell, who is not in his place today, said that if you wish to keep the dependency ratio as it was in 2006, you must plan to have 100 million people in this country by 2060, compared to the 66 million that we are today. While I absolutely understand the good intentions of all noble Lords who have been putting forward these very worthwhile amendments, on balance I must ask the Minister to reject them.
My Lords, it is clear that many fear the impact that a sharp and purely tailored approach to ending free movement on growth could have in certain important economic sectors, especially within Northern Ireland. The move to reduce the £30,000 salary threshold to £25,600 for skilled migrants coming to the UK is welcome. However, it is not sustainable in Northern Ireland because quite a number of jobs, especially in the care sector, pay less than £25,600. The requirements of the sector have always been different from most of the rest of the economy, but I address my remarks mainly to Amendments 2, 82 and 93, and the need for workers in the health and care sector.
The pandemic has shown the enormous contribution of overseas workers to our health and social care system. Indeed, they have put their lives at risk to keep us safe. Over these last months the care sector has been under extreme pressure, and clearly any major changes will have serious consequences. Unless we have a breakthrough with a vaccine, care homes and that sector of our health provision will still be battling Covid-19. A large percentage of our doctors in the NHS are from overseas, yet there are thousands of posts vacant across the medical profession. There are serious staff recruitment and retention problems within health and social care, even with freedom of movement and flexibility of opportunity. Added to this is an ageing population with increasingly complex care needs. The Government have ambitious plans to fill staff vacancies, which noble Lords have spoken about, but it will take a concerted effort and a very considerable period of time to train doctors and nurses—even if they are recruited tomorrow—and to provide thousands of professional care home staff for our various facilities across the United Kingdom.
In my opinion, this is a mammoth task. It is not realistic to pretend that we can address the vacancy shortage within a short period. To suggest that those who have lost their employment elsewhere would adequately fill these vacancies is also unacceptable, as we are speaking about a caring profession; vulnerable people who need assistance need loving, professionally skilled attention. I fear that deterring the recruitment from overseas of care assistants and other junior care workers who already have skills will lead to a serious decline in the quality and availability of care for the most vulnerable in society.
We also need an independent evaluation of the impact of the Bill on the health and social care sector across the United Kingdom. The appointment of a person independent of government should be done following consultation between the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care and the relevant Ministers in the devolved Administrations. If what is being done under the Bill is right and professionally competent, there is nothing to fear from such a comprehensive independent evaluation. This new clause requires the Secretary of State to lay a copy of the report before both Houses of Parliament no later than one year after the Bill is passed, and that no later than six months after the report is laid it will be debated and voted on in the Commons and Lords. The effects of these changes on disabled people, older citizens, children and young people and those with long-term health conditions—in other words, those who rely on the service provided by health and social care to make life bearable—could be profound. Therefore, we had best be sure that we get it right.
My Lords, I wish to speak particularly to Amendments 2, 47 and 57. I strongly agree with the excellent opening speech on this group by my noble friend Lord Hunt and with many other speeches, including those of the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, and my noble friend Lady Lister. This Bill illustrates that the pandemic has revealed fundamental flaws in the present United Kingdom non-EU immigration system and the Government’s post-Brexit plans for immigration. In an economy which previously had record levels of employment, and despite the joblessness effects of Covid on the labour market, their proposed points-based system could produce damaging labour shortages in many sectors, including the NHS, social care, which has been spoken about authoritatively in this debate, farming, food processing and construction.
None of this should come as a surprise, as the 2016 referendum campaign was based on rhetoric falsely linking the free movement of EU workers with the legacies of Tory austerity: housing shortages, depressed wages and huge cuts in public services, especially social care. The promise to take back control of borders may have appealed to nationalistic jingoism, but it was never rooted in the reality of modern Britain, where EU and non-EU migrants of all skills levels and income brackets keep the economic and social wheels turning. EU and other migrant workers were always, in fact, net contributors, through tax and national insurance, to the National Health Service, social care and other public services. Despite the Government’s intention to equate low pay with low skills and low value, the pandemic has abruptly brought migrants’ significant front-line roles as key workers in keeping the country afloat to the attention of the public, among whom it is now widely recognised, whereas perhaps it was not in 2016. As the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants has stated, the Bill
“will deny our communities the care and professionalism contributed by migrants in these areas, to our own detriment.”
The Bill does not set out in detail what the future points-based UK system will look like. These changes will be covered in unamendable Immigration Rules. The Bill gives the Government Henry VIII powers to modify primary or secondary legislation as appropriate. Despite the Government’s claims that these powers are usual, they will diminish the role of Parliament in an area of policy where many, including the Lords’ Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee in its 2019 46th report, have concluded that greater scrutiny is already required.
In the social care sector, on which millions of extremely vulnerable British people depend—many of them our relatives, in care homes and in their own homes—the vast majority of social care roles do not meet the planned immigration system’s salary threshold of £25,600. The noble Lord, Lord McCrea, who spoke immediately before me, emphasised that point in relation to Northern Ireland. Using data collected before—I stress, before—the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, Skills for Care estimated the number of vacancies in the sector at 133,000. It also estimated that 5% of the 1.65 million workforce, or more than 80,000 staff, are at risk of losing their employment rights at the end of the transition period, in a sector where nearly half of employers are already struggling to fill existing vacancies because of low pay, anti-social hours and the demanding nature of care work.
The Government, in their wisdom, have decided that front-line social care staff will be excluded from their fast-track health and care visa, with the Home Secretary stating that this will encourage employers to invest in workers from the UK. Who is going to pay for this? Will it be people receiving care, cash-strapped local authorities, whose budgets have been massively cut, or private-sector care providers, many of whom are teetering on the brink of financial collapse? Parliament’s library briefing confirms that
“a wide range of organisations are concerned that short-term funding pressures remain. In 2018, the Local Government Association estimated that adult social care services faced a £1.5 billion funding gap by 2019/20 and £3.5 billion gap by 2024/25.”
While the points-based system is a fundamental change, other aspects of the non-EU immigration system such as enforcement, the right to bring dependants, settlement criteria, asylum, no access to public funds and more will remain unchanged when EU citizens without settled status become subject to them in 2021—next year. The pandemic has demonstrated that because of these policies, many such migrants are at significant risk of exposure to the virus, fear accessing healthcare, lack access to safe housing and are unable to stop working or to self-isolate because they are on poverty wages. This is not only detrimental to the health of migrant communities; the health of the wider public is also put at risk.
The Bill is a missed opportunity to deal with many more important questions, on which I support contributions and amendments from noble colleagues, including measures to combat modern slavery and indefinite detention, and to address family reunion for refugees and safe routes for unaccompanied children. These unresolved issues mean that the existing UK immigration regime for non-EU immigration is already a stain on our national reputation. Its extension to EU citizens from 2021 is a matter of deep regret, creating a new Brexit generation alongside the Windrush generation.
All British citizens living in the EU want to be reassured that we will uphold the treaty rights of EU citizens in the UK, the better to insist that they are upheld for our citizens in the EU. The Bill fails to provide that reassurance. If the Government want to retain the respect of our former friends and partners, they should listen to the concerns expressed by EU ambassadors and others and accept amendments which will guarantee the rights of the Brexit generation of European Union citizens, including vital social care workers, who have legally made their lives in our country, by writing them into this primary legislation.
My Lords, we have heard from across the Committee the concern about this crisis in social care. Many noble Lords have considerable expertise on this topic and I am grateful to them for sharing their knowledge.
History will record the failure to deal with the fragile state of the provision and funding of social care as one of the major failures in domestic policy, and one has to say that particularly of the last 10 years of Conservative and Conservative-led government. I wish that as much energy had been applied to this subject as to Brexit. It shows a peculiar set of priorities.
I do not know whether the Government are being ideologically pure, to use the term employed by my noble friend Lady Barker. I certainly think that they are being obdurate and, I am afraid, unintelligent in not responding to the enormous problems in social care. The idea that in a short space of time we are going to find loads of people in the United Kingdom who want to work in this sector when they have never previously shown any interest in, inclination towards or aptitude for such work is pie in the sky. We learn that there are 120,000—the noble Lord, Lord Hain, referred to an estimate of 133,000—vacancies in the social care sector. When a quarter of a million social care workers—that is, 20% of the workforce—are EU or non-EU nationals, the ending of free movement under this Bill will lead to even greater shortages of staff.
I agree that it is wrong to exclude care workers from the health and care visa route, since only maybe senior care workers will be included under the salary level criterion. My understanding is that Canada and New Zealand have sector-specific visa routes. Since they are flavour of the month, why don’t we follow countries like them?
I was very moved by the tragic account from the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, of the suicide of quite a young man through the fear of a lack of care. I experienced this a little when my late husband, four years before he died, had to have a leg amputated due to sepsis. He benefited from carer support, as well as, I hope, from my support. I can absolutely relate to the emotions—the fear and anxiety—of people, whether the elderly or those with a range of disabilities, who do not know whether they will be able to get care either in a care home or in their own home.
As many noble Lords have pointed out, low skilled and low paid does not equal low value. My noble friend Lady Hamwee and the noble Lord, Lord McCrea, referred to the right caring personality being one of the necessary skills, but somehow that seems to be disregarded as though it comes with the territory, not least with women. Women are expected to be natural carers; well, we are not necessarily.
My noble friend Lady Barker referred to an acute and growing need for paid social care as the number of people without children grows to, I think she said, 2 million in 2030. I am one of those guilty parties—I have failed to grow the population—and my noble friend makes a very good point. Many families are not necessarily in a position anyway to provide care within the family, but she makes a very good point about a factor that increases the necessity.
Various amendments call for a review. Some of them could talk about health and social care but the emphasis in this debate, just like Amendment 2, which was very ably moved by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, has rightly been concentrated on the social care sector, which is where we are facing a crisis. One of the factors in that crisis is going to be the lack of an adequate workforce, and quite honestly it is astonishing if the Government do not respond to that. I hope the Minister can give us some hope of progress when she replies to the debate.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Patel, and others, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath on his powerful speech opening this debate. I wish to speak in particular to Amendment 57 in this group, to which my name is attached, although I agree with the concerns that have been expressed by noble Lords who have spoken to other amendments in this group. I note that the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, advised the Minister to reject my amendment before I have even spoken to it, though I fear that my speech will probably only reinforce his view of his advice to his noble friend.
The amendment would make provision for the Secretary of State to provide a dedicated social care visa for EEA and Swiss nationals who had the right to free movement and have a job offer to work in the social care sector, and to their dependents. They would not be subject to the NHS surcharge or the immigration skills charge and the visa route would be available for three years from the end of the transition period, with the option to extend for further years if necessary.
The thinking behind the amendment is that the Government’s intention to suddenly shut the entry door at the end of the transition period in a few months’ time on the overwhelming majority of future overseas social care workers under the criteria laid down in the new points-based immigration system, and the exclusion of care workers from the qualifying list for the health and care visa, will have serious and immediate adverse consequences for our already stretched social care provision in the UK. The amendment would remove the suddenness associated with this policy change through the social care visa available for three years with an option to extend, and would give the social care sector a realistic chance of being able to adjust to the loss of a significant source of labour.
A Commons Home Office Minister said in July said that the reason why care workers had been excluded from the qualifying list for the health and care visa was that the Government had a “vision” for the social care sector that it should no longer
“carry on looking abroad to recruit at or near the minimum wage”,
and that the Government’s priority was that in future care sector jobs would be
“valued, rewarded and trained for, and that immigration should not be an alternative.”—[Official Report, Commons, 13/7/20; cols. 1249-50.]
If that means significantly better rates of pay and an associated increased degree of widely accepted and acknowledged professionalism in the underpaid and undervalued social care sector, that is to be welcomed—a widely accepted and acknowledged professionalism that does not leave care homes and care workers at the back of the queue when it comes to personal protective equipment and does not regard the care sector as so forgotten and unimportant as to send vulnerable people from hospital into care homes who have not been tested for Covid-19.
The fundamental change needed is far from the current position and cannot be achieved in the space of the next few months, when the transition period ends, without potentially serious adverse consequences for those who are vulnerable and dependent on care provision either at home or in a home. It requires a change of culture and attitude both towards and within the sector, a change that the Government have to accept is their responsibility to lead. That will take time, as the Government implicitly accepted when they said in July that with the vast majority of social care staff employed in the fragmented private sector, their
“ability to influence pay rates there”
Some 17% to 20% of the social care workforce are migrant workers, with 115,000 EEA nationals and 134,000 non-EEA nationals. Vacancy rates in the care sector now stand at 6.5% in England and 5.5% in Scotland. Since there are already 100,000-plus vacancies in England’s care sector alone and the current flow of people from abroad to fill low-paid care sector jobs is about to dry up, the Government cannot possibly have been able to satisfy themselves that not only will UK-based workers immediately appear to fill that gap but they will be there in sufficient numbers—with the right training, aptitude and caring qualities for social care work—to lower the vacancy levels in the sector as well.
One assumes in making that statement that the Government do not believe that anyone can successfully do this kind of work and that anyone available should be recruited. We are told that the Government have an “oven-ready plan” to address the issue of funding the increasingly expensive social care sector. Unfortunately, the person claiming to have this plan for more than 12 months now has been unable to figure out how to turn the oven on.
If higher pay rates did suddenly materialise in the social care sector in a few months’ time, which would apparently solve the labour shortages—as the Government seem to assume will happen as a result of the points-based immigration system and the drying up of non-British labour—there will presumably be a potentially significant increase in the cost of providing social care. What do the Government think that increase in cost will be since it is only a few months ahead of us in a sector with a 30%-plus annual staff turnover rate, a high vacancy rate and a major source of labour about to end? Will it be the elderly, vulnerable care home residents and people receiving care at home—the self-funders—who will have to find yet more money? Will it be the already cash-strapped local authorities? Will it be the providers of care provision or will it be the Government themselves financing the cost of a much better paid, more highly valued, more highly trained and increasingly professional social care workforce? I hope that the Government will provide an answer to this point in their reply.
The care sector was in crisis before Covid-19. Local authority spending on adult social care in England has fallen, I think, by some 7% per person in the past decade, thanks to austerity and cuts in grants from central government. Councils have had to tighten eligibility thresholds as cost, rather than need, has become the dominant factor in decision-making. One inevitable result is that some 1.5 million elderly and disabled people have unmet care needs and care workers are often expected to deliver home care within a 15-minute visit or less.
The work is usually low paid and seriously undervalued. However, high-quality care is not low skilled and the Government’s apparent policy that the rising unemployment on which they are banking will solve problems of staff shortages is misguided and potentially dangerous. What is needed is a better funded and resourced care sector with a new focus on training and continuing professional development. We need a cultural change in how we view social care and the value we place on those who work in the sector, including the way in which the immigration system regards social care workers—a change that recognises that there is direct competition from the NHS for many care staff, an NHS that offers higher pay levels and a career structure. With nearly one-fifth of the adult social care workforce being from overseas, in a sector with already high levels of vacancies and turnover rates it is unrealistic to believe that the effect of shutting the door to future care sector staff being recruited in any numbers from overseas can be overcome in rapid time by finding and training appropriate personnel with an aptitude for care sector work from within the ranks of British citizens, both already employed and unemployed.
I hope that the Government will reflect further not on their apparent aim for a much better-paid social care sector, but on their view that we can achieve that better-paid, resourced and valued and increasingly professional care sector at the drop of a hat in a few months’ time simply by cutting off the supply of staff from overseas. We cannot. We need a period of time, as provided for in Amendment 57, to sort out the increased funding, the finance for the better pay the Government envisage, and to find, recruit and train—from within this country—the hundreds of thousands of increasingly professional staff with an aptitude and a desire to work in the care sector that are going to be needed. I hope the Government can give a positive reply to this group of amendments.
I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate. The noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, says that we are a contradictory lot and I do not disagree with that, but what we are all consistent on is that this is a matter that, through Covid, we have seen as incredibly important. We need people with these skills; they are valued and their careers can progress in this sector. He raised a very pertinent point around the turnover. I think you can tell the state of a sector or indeed a business by its turnover. Turnover is high; it is estimated to be around 31%. That is a high turnover in anyone’s book. I will confirm that figure because it is one that I have on the top of my head but my officials might disagree with it. If it is any different, I will confirm that in writing.
The amendments cover a range of issues, all of which relate to health and social care. They can be broadly split into three themes: the need to review the effects of the new immigration system on the health and care sectors, dedicated visa routes for health and social care workers, and immigration routes for those who do not meet requirements under the future skilled workers route. I am grateful to the noble Lords who tabled the amendments because they give us an opportunity to discuss a very important issue. It might be worth reflecting that there is nothing more important than how we, as a society, look after the most vulnerable people, be they young or old.
I will say another general thing about the health and social care sector, not as a Home Office Minister or even a Member of your Lordships’ House but as someone who formerly led one of England’s major metropolitan councils—which, as with all local authorities, was a significant user of care services, which consumed a substantial portion of the council’s budget. I became leader in 2004; it was an issue then and it is even more so now. I assure noble Lords that the Government very much appreciate the contribution of the social care sector, and its value to this country has never been better demonstrated than during the Covid crisis, as the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, and the noble Lord, Lord Patel, said. The Government are working alongside the sector to ensure that the workforce has the right number of people to meet increasing demands with the right skills, knowledge and behaviours to deliver quality, compassionate care.
I will respond to the point of the noble Baroness, Lady Lister. The Department of Health and Social Care has recently launched a new national recruitment campaign, called “Every Day is Different”, to run across broadcast, digital and social media. The campaign highlights the vital role that the social care workforce is playing right now during this pandemic along with the longer-term opportunities of working in care.
The Government have commissioned Skills for Care to scale up capacity for digital induction training, provided free of charge under the DHSC’s workforce development fund. This training is available for redeployees, new starters