Committee (2nd Day)
Relevant document: 11th Report from the Constitution Committee
My Lords, hybrid proceedings will now resume. Some Members are here in the Chamber, respecting social distancing, and 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.
This is day two 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 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 each time.
The groupings are binding and it will not be possible to degroup an amendment for separate debate. A Member intending to press an amendment already debated to a Division should have given 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.
Clause 4: Consequential etc. provision
14: Clause 4, page 2, line 42, leave out “supplementary,”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is to probe the need for supplementary in addition to incidental provision.
My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendments 15, 16 and 17. These amendments take us back to the very wide provisions in Clause 4, on which we spent a good deal of time on Monday, when we debated the problems of a skeleton Bill and the reports of your Lordships’ Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee and Constitution Committee. From those respective committees, the noble Lords, Lord Blencathra and Lord Pannick, applied their different but devastating critiques. My noble friend Lord Beith asked the pertinent question about what instructions had been given to the drafters of these provisions. After all, responsibility to give instructions lies with Ministers.
Had the Minister accepted the earlier amendments to Clause 4, particularly those changing “appropriate” to “necessary” and deleting the phrase “in connection with”, some of the ground would have been taken from under my feet. However, she did not and it was not; nor was the insertion of the term “only” in subsection (3)—that is, “may only make provision”—accepted.
Subsection (3) purports to explain subsection (1). The power to make regulations includes powers as listed in paragraphs (a) and (b). It does not limit those powers but just gives examples, and all my amendments seek to omit words from this clause. The first concerns the term “supplementary”. Why is it necessary to make “supplementary” provision as well as provision that is “incidental” and “in consequence of”?
The second amendment would omit the term “transitory”. I would be interested to know what is meant by the term in this context. It must mean something different from “transitional” because it sits alongside that term. It is a narrative word that I would have expected to read in a piece of fiction rather than in legislation.
Amendment 16 would take out paragraph (b), which gives the power
“to make different provision for different purposes.”
I am very familiar with this phrase; it may mean bringing provisions in at different times or for different jurisdictions and so on. However, my antennae were well up by the time I got to Clause 4(3)(b), and I would be grateful if the Minister would share with the House the different purposes that may be required, particularly in a Bill so urgent that it needs to come into effect very quickly. I can see that it may be important to bring some provisions in as soon as the Bill becomes an Act and others—particularly with regard to the settled status scheme—at a later date. However, it would be helpful to have her comments on this.
Amendment 17 would leave out subsection (4) as a whole. The amendments to this subsection had already been dismissed and one begins to wonder whether it is necessary at all, but opposing this provision will be a good summary of our concern about what are, to our eyes, its many flaws. I beg to move.
My Lords, I speak to Amendment 15. Clause 4 gives the Government substantial powers to make decisions about the future regulation of immigration without clarity about what these might be and what justifies such a wide power. Of course, we recognise that there needs to be an ability to do some tidying up of associated legislation when a Bill is passed, but the consequential amendments are normally set out in a schedule with a tidying-up clause that picks up anything that has fallen through the gaps. This does not seem to be the case in this Bill.
In August, the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee said that this clause would
“confer permanent powers on Ministers to make whatever legislation they considered appropriate, provided there was at least some connection with Part 1, however tenuous”.
The committee was very clear that transitional arrangements to protect the legal rights of EEA citizens should appear in the Bill.
Last week, the Select Committee on the Constitution also made strongly worded recommendations on the Bill. It agreed with the Delegated Powers Committee’s concerns about Clause 4. Other noble Lords have already raised questions about phrases in this regulatory power. Amendment 15 is an attempt to understand why the Government need a power that makes transitory provisions, provisions that are not permanent. I hope the Minister will set out examples of what transitory provisions the Government consider might be needed.
My Lords, Amendments 14, 15 and 16 in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Hamwee and Lady Ludford, seek to bring more clarity to the powers that the Government are taking to make regulations, and that, for me, is a very good thing. As we have heard, words such as “supplementary” and “transition” and the phrase
“to make different provisions for different purposes”
are very unclear, wide-ranging and open to interpretation. These probing amendments today will give the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Trafford, the opportunity to add some clarity to the situation and set out for the record the intention and the scope of the powers that the Government are seeking from Parliament. As for Amendment 17, which would remove Clause 4(4), again an explanation from the Minister as to why the Government need the new power would be very welcome.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, made some very good points and made them very clearly. As she asked when referring to the noble Lord, Lord Beith, what instructions were given to the parliamentary draftspersons? We need to understand that because clarity is important when you are deciding on legislation. Without it you get yourself into all sorts of problems: courts can get involved and there can be all sorts of other difficulties. What we have been hearing from the other end of the Corridor—certainly the comments from the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland—about where we are going to be on certain things gives us particular worry. That is why clarity is so important. I look forward to the Minister putting the matter right for us.
My Lords, I thank noble Lords for speaking to the amendments in this short debate. I agree that clarity is absolutely necessary when scrutinising the scope and extent of any Bill, as your Lordships do. Amendments 14, 15 and 16 would restrict the scope of the power by removing what are standard provisions in regulating powers concerning transitory and supplementary provisions. Because both the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, asked what they mean, I shall go through them.
The current illustrative draft instrument does not contain a transitory provision, but it is standard legal drafting to include scope for such a provision should it be identified as necessary. Examples of supplementary provisions can be found where we are retaining some of the references to regulations transposing EU law in benefits legislation. Supplementary provisions update the references to reflect amendments to those regulations, so references to the Immigration (European Economic Area) Regulations 2006 become references to the Immigration (European Economic Area) Regulations 2016, et cetera. I hope that clarifies the provision on “transitory” and “supplementary”.
I come to Amendment 17. As I explained in response to Amendment 18 and 19, Clause 4(4) allows the regulation-making power to make provision for those who are not exercising free movement rights at the end of the transition period but who are eligible for status under the EU settlement scheme and are therefore still affected by the repeal of free movement. The regulation-making power in Clause 4 is restricted to matters that are as a consequence of or in connection with the ending of free movement. Subsection (4) needs to be read in conjunction with subsection (1). It does not allow changes to the statute book for migrants from the rest of the world, who are not affected by the repeal of free movement. Amendment 17 would hinder our ability to make appropriate provision for all those affected by that appeal.
I hope that with those incredibly clear clarifications, noble Lords will feel happy not to press their amendments.
I have not received any requests to speak after the Minister, so I call—oh, it looks as though the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, thinks he has given notice.
I did email; I do not know where it has gone. Oh sorry, I did not email Question Diary.
I thank the Minister for explaining how certain words have been used in previous legislation, but it would be helpful if she could write to me and place a copy in the Library of the House with some examples, just so that we are absolutely clear. I know she was able to give an example now, but that would be very helpful.
My Lords, I should be particularly interested to see examples of what “transitory” is. The noble Lord, Lord McColl of Dulwich, was also concerned about this. The noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, used the phrase “open to interpretation” and that is exactly the problem, because it allows activist lawyers to come and question. We are really on the side of the Government here, because the clearer the legislation, the easier it will be for them to enforce it, but there we go: that is not my business really, is it?
The Minister said that these are standard provisions. I had a very quick look at the internal market Bill shortly before this session started, because I had picked up that there are some issues in this territory—sorry, no pun intended. I could not find them, but it seems to me that the standard provisions get longer and longer. People get worried about whether a word is absolutely precisely on the point, and more words—adjectives, mostly—get added.
If the House agrees—we may come back to this at the next stage—that “appropriate” and “in connection with” are not appropriate for legislation because they are not clear enough and are too wide, as the rest of the clause comes under those overarching words, we will have got rid of the rest of the problem. But that is not for now and, for the moment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 14 withdrawn.
Amendments 15 to 19 not moved.
We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 20. I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate. I think there is a technical problem with that which I hope we can resolve in the next few minutes.
Anyone wishing to press this or anything else in this group to a Division should make that clear in debate. I should inform the Committee that if Amendment 20 is agreed to, I cannot call Amendment 21.
20: Clause 4, page 3, line 6, leave out subsection (5)
Member’s explanatory statement
This removes the power for regulations under this clause to make changes to fees and charges currently provided for in other primary legislation.
My Lords, Amendment 20 in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Rosser and the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, would remove Clause 4(5) from the Bill, as suggested by the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, unless a full justification for its inclusion can be provided with an explanation of how the Government intend to use it.
I shall not go over the arguments again, but this is another part of Clause 4 where serious concerns have been raised about the powers the Government are seeking to take for themselves, and an explanation would be appreciated as to why it is needed. This is the sort of issue that we may want to bring back on Report and to divide the House if we do not get a satisfactory answer from the Government.
Amendment 21 probes why the power is necessary. Maybe it is to reduce fees and charges and, if so, the amendment in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Hamwee and Lady Ludford, provides the necessary clarity. I beg to move.
My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, has explained, Amendment 21 is complementary to Amendment 20 in that it seeks to persuade the Government to explain how they would use this power. In the absence of that, it is hard to justify it. The Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee has expressed great concern about this clause and the breadth of the discretion it would confer on Ministers to levy fees or charges. In this Bill, we are talking about people who, before Brexit, would have had free movement rights under EU law and would not have had to pay these kinds of charges. It is, therefore, beholden on the Government to provide some proper and explicit justification, as the committee suggested, for this inclusion and to explain how it would be used.
In preparing for this debate, I recalled that Section 9 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, which gives the power to implement the withdrawal agreement by regulations, expressly excludes the power to impose fees. I seem to remember—although sometimes the last few years are a bit of a blur—that we had quite a dust-up about that provision. Of course, if other amendments to limit the Clause 4 delegation of powers— specifically Amendment 11—were to pass, then Clause 4(5) would drop because Clause 4 powers would exclude fees in that case.
There is, obviously, a great deal of concern about this subject, because the current fees impose costs on people far in excess of reimbursement to the Treasury. In some cases, they force people to become outside any permission to remain because they cannot afford the fees for themselves and their families. When the Minister replied to questions at Second Reading, she said that my noble friend Lord Clement-Jones, “asked whether the visa costs would be brought in line with other countries. These immigration and citizenship fees are set at a level that helps provide the resources necessary to operate our border, immigration and citizenship system. In fairness to UK taxpayers, it is only right that those who directly benefit from our immigration system contribute to its funding.”
Of course, that is right if it means reimbursing the administrative costs that cause the fees, but anything much over that starts to get into the realm of making a profit. Some might see that as a good idea, but, of course, it is problematic when we are going to be—and this is the Government’s vision—competing internationally for skilled people. The British Heart Foundation makes the point that the up-front cost of obtaining a five-year UK global talent visa is £2,608, considerably more than 11 other leading scientific nations. The total average up-front cost for a tier 2 skilled worker visa, taking the cost for the researcher and employer together, is £8,419, 540% higher than the average cost in other leading scientific nations, which is £1,316. I confess that I have not made these calculations myself, but I have no reason to think that they are not accurate.
In the current context of families struggling for work and their incomes in the Covid-19 pandemic, this is even more of a problem. We would like to hear from the Minister the justification that the Delegated Powers Committee has suggested. If it really is only to have the power to reduce fees, that would perhaps be a reasonable point for the Government to make, but in the absence of that reassurance, it is concerning that the Government would have a free hand to raise fees which are already, by international comparisons, pretty high.
My Lords, I was pleased to attach my name to Amendment 20 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, which was also signed by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark. I also agree with virtually everything that the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, has just said. Essentially, as it appears in the Bill, this looks like a power-grab by the Government in a situation that is already iniquitous and utterly unreasonable. The cost of that to the UK —the denial of the skills, knowledge and ability of people who might go somewhere else because our fees are just too high—was set out by the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, very clearly. I somewhat disagreed with her, however, when she suggested that it might be reasonable for the Government to cover the actual real cost through fees, and I will particularly focus on children.
In December 2019, the High Court ruled that the Home Office had acted unlawfully in charging £1,012 for children to register their right to British citizenship. This was a judicial claim brought by the Project for the Registration of Children as British Citizens on behalf of two children known as O, age 3 and A, age 12. They were British but could not access their citizenship because they had been priced out. The court found that the Home Office had taken no account of the best interests of the children in setting the fee. It highlighted a mass of evidence showing that the fee prevented many children from registering for British citizenship, thus leaving them,
“alienated, excluded, second best, insecure and not fully assimilated into the culture and social fabric of the UK.”
We are already in an iniquitous situation. The Government have chosen to appeal that ruling, so it is still before the courts. However, we certainly do not want a situation where the Government are not subject to full parliamentary scrutiny. I hope that such scrutiny will be applied, otherwise an utterly unreasonable situation that is bound to affect many more people will become even worse.
I now call the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge. Lord Randall, we can see you, but we cannot hear you.
My Lords, I apologise—I was waiting for someone to unmute me.
I wanted to speak in this short debate, and I shall not speak for very long, because I want the clarification that noble Lords have already asked for. Presumably, this applies just to the European Union, or EEA and Swiss citizens. I have just discovered that the withdrawal agreement says that no charges will be made. Is it likely that if other countries impose charges on us, we might do it reciprocally? That is all I want to ask, and I await the response with interest.
My Lords, some very compelling speeches have already been made. The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, talked about a power grab: maybe it is just a cash grab. The Home Office seems to have managed to modify fees and charges in the past very successfully—subject, of course, to the outstanding appeal which she mentioned. Is it the case that the Home Office could not charge any fees at all to those who fall within the scope of the Bill without this power? In other words, is this limited to the ending of free movement, and the other EU-derived rights, and the position of Irish citizens?
As I recall, and I may be wrong, originally, a fee was proposed for applications to the EU settled status scheme. That was dropped. I thought that that was because of the outcry, but I wonder whether in fact the Home Office thought it might be challenged on the basis that a charge was ultra vires.
What is envisaged? Is it that these three groups of citizens will be in exactly the same position as non-EEA citizens as regards these charges? Yesterday’s events and the UK’s attitude to the Belfast agreement adds to my worry about how we will treat our friends from Ireland after the Bill comes into effect.
My limitation to a reduction in fees, in Amendment 21, is of course to probe the need for a power.
My Lords, we have a technical problem with emailing the Table. I propose that the Committee adjourns for 15 minutes, in the hope that we can sort out the problem. If it is necessary to adjourn again, we will do that. The Committee will resume just after 3.15 pm.
My Lords, the email problem has not been resolved entirely, but we do have a short- term solution. Members, whether in the Chamber or participating remotely, who wish to speak after the Minister on this amendment or indeed subsequent ones, can use the alternative email address, relating to the Grand Committee, that is in the guidance notes that govern today’s session. If they send their request to the Grand Committee email address, that will find its way to the Table here and they should be included in the requests to speak after the Minister. Let us hope that works. We were about to hear from the Minister, so I call the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Trafford.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken on these amendments. If the new email system does not work—although I am not presuming that it will not work— I am very happy, retrospectively, to write to noble Lords who were going to speak, did not manage to, and therefore did not have their supplementary questions or requests for clarification answered.
These amendments obviously concern the use of Clause 4 powers to make changes in relation to fees and charges. Regulations made under this power may modify legislation relating to the imposition of immigration fees and charges only where they relate to a person’s immigration status and where that is as a consequence of, or connected with, the provision in Part 1 of the Bill. That confirms the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. It enables the application of fees and charges to EEA citizens, who are currently exempt from them by virtue of free movement law, such as the immigration skills charge paid by employers.
The effect of Amendments 20 and 21 would be to prevent the Government aligning the treatment of EEA citizens with non-EEA citizens from January of next year. It is not our intention to use the power to increase fees. Fee levels will continue to be subject to parliamentary scrutiny via the existing fees orders and regulations.
To briefly touch on the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, we do not make an overall profit on fees. While they may be different in different countries, they go towards the operation of the border.
It is the will of the British people that we bring free movement to an end. This means ending the bias in our immigration system that favours EEA citizens over the citizens of any other country, which is the primary purpose of this Bill. Limiting the Government’s ability to apply a skills charge to EEA citizens as they apply to non-EEA citizens will mean that certain elements of free movement will not have been fully repealed by this Bill and that EEA citizens will still have an advantage in our immigration system. This is not an outcome that the Government can accept. I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, we have not received any requests to speak after the Minister. Therefore, I call the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, to reply.
My Lords, I am happy to withdraw my amendment. I am sure it has not escaped the Minister’s attention that there is some concern in the House about Clause 4, not only from the Delegated Powers Committee but from every speech we have heard so far, I think, apart from the Minister’s. It will carry on in further criticism that Members will have later. I am sure the Minister understands that and will take it back. I hope that there will be some progress when we get back to these issues contained in Clause 4 on Report. With that, I am happy to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 20 withdrawn.
Amendment 21 not moved.
We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 22. I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the Grand Committee address on the guidance notes during the debate. Anyone wishing to press this or anything else in this group to a Division should make that clear in the debate.
22: Clause 4, page 3, line 8, at end insert—
“(5A) Regulations under subsection (1) must provide that any EEA or Swiss national, and any adult dependant of any EEA or Swiss national, who has applied for asylum in the United Kingdom may apply to the Secretary of State for permission to take up employment (without limitation as to the type of employment) if a decision at first instance has not been taken on the application within 3 months of the date on which it was recorded.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would require the Secretary of State to make regulations enabling asylum seekers to work once they have been waiting for a decision on their claim for 3 months or more.
My Lords, Amendment 22 is the first in a group that also includes Amendments 24, 29 and 31, all relating to asylum seekers’ right to work. On the first day of Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, on a very different amendment, talked about the purposes of work. I noted them down as being to earn money, for self-actualisation and as a matter of reputation. These all apply not just to you and me but to asylum seekers.
All the amendments in this group are variations on a theme. Our Amendment 22 would give an asylum seeker the right to work after three months if there has been no decision on his or her case. It will not escape noble Lords that the “if there has been no decision” is an important part of this.
The amendments are expressed to relate to EEA and Swiss nationals, to bring them within the scope of the Bill, but it is not beyond the scope of one’s imagination to think that there may be people seeking asylum in the UK from EU countries—Poland and Hungary might spring to mind—so it is not irrelevant. This is not just straining to debate a matter that I know has concerned many noble Lords for a long time.
The Minister may tell us that we will soon see a Bill about asylum, which the Home Office is currently reviewing. That is, it is reviewing the issue of asylum rather than a particular Bill. The Committee will be glad of any news not just about the Bill but about the consultation that the Home Office is undertaking with stakeholders about these issues. There are many stakeholders.
I see that the noble Lord, Lord Parkinson, has moved to the position from which he will respond—at least it looks that way; I am looking at him on a rather small screen—and I hope he will be able to give some assurances about consultation with stakeholders with regard to the changes in our asylum provisions.
The great majority of asylum seekers are keen to work. Persistence is probably part of the make-up of many of them by definition, their having managed to get to this country. They want to pay tax and to contribute to their new society. They are often very skilled; that will be the subject of the right reverend Prelate’s Amendment 31.
It is very harsh not only to provide such a low daily allowance—I know the noble Lord would be required to disagree with that—but to take a long time in determining claims. In a way, that is the real issue. We picked three months because that gives time for an individual to settle. An asylum seeker may need longer to become comfortable with the English language if he is not already an English speaker, though I am constantly impressed by people’s facility with English. It puts me to shame.
There is also the issue of preventing working. I referred to self-actualisation and reputation, the terms used by the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson. We all know the value of work to each of us as individuals: the sense of self-worth and of achievement with a job well done, or at least attempted. We know what it does for our well-being and for good mental health, and how important it is to be able to support one’s family.
I know the Committee will be interested in the right reverend Prelate’s proposal for the displaced talent visa, which recognises the skills that refugees bring with them, but Amendment 31 is not an alternative to the other amendments in this group. It is about a visa and about refugees, not asylum seekers whose status is not yet recognised. It is imaginative, and the Government may consider it something to be pursued. I am sure the right reverend Prelate would be the first to agree that his amendment should not be a sop to distract us from the other issues to which I have referred. I beg to move.
My Lords, Amendment 29 seeks to ensure that asylum seekers from the EEA and Switzerland will be granted permission to take a job from six months of their application for asylum if a decision at first instance has not yet been taken at that point. It is fairly obvious that I support the three-month amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, which is a little more radical than this one, and hope the Government may accept it.
The Minister will be aware that people often wait months, if not years, for a decision. These individuals, having escaped fear of torture or death, are left to live on a pittance of £5.66 per day. As I considered what to say today, I found myself thinking that, of course, six months in this situation is far too long. What are we as a nation doing impoverishing people in our community? Frankly, £5.66 is a disgrace.
The plea for the right to work after six months is endorsed by no fewer than 200 non-profit organisations. This is a very modest and widely supported proposal. Even Sajid Javid recognised in 2019 that it is time for reform. The coalition of these 200 organisations wants the six-month reform combined with the ending of the restriction on asylum seekers from applying for jobs not on the incredibly narrow and restrictive list of highly skilled professions on the Government’s shortage occupations list. I strongly support the abolition of this restriction, which was introduced only in 2010. That is telling; we seemed to manage pretty well before that.
Now, in effect, asylum seekers are rarely enabled to work. Does the Minister really believe that this is morally right and economically sensible? As Sajid Javid recognised, reform should no longer be delayed. Reform would enable asylum seekers to begin to integrate, to support themselves and live with dignity, to support their children to lead healthy, productive lives and, very importantly, to avoid the very real risk of exploitation and modern slavery.
We would all benefit too. The coalition of 200 organisations calculates that taxpayers would save £97.8 million if asylum seekers were enabled to work from six months. In 2019 it polled over 1,000 businesses for their view on whether asylum seekers should have the right to work. Some 67% of those employers agreed that they should, and a similar number believed it would ease the UK’s skills shortages. There is also huge public support for the right to work after six months. The Government would really have a great political benefit if they would only accept this amendment.
Can the Minister give the House an update on the Home Office review of the right- to-work policy initiated in 2018? Our current policy is frankly embarrassing; we are an outlier compared with 23 comparable countries. Sweden, I understand, requires asylum seekers to wait only one day before they are entitled to work; in Portugal it is seven days. In Germany and other countries, it is three months, and in France and the US six months, which is right on the upper end. The UK is alone among these countries is keeping asylum seekers idle for a year.
At Second Reading the Minister said:
“We will continue to provide protection to those who need it”.
Can the Minister say whether £5.66 per day is really “protection” against modern slavery? I could not survive on such a sum; I would be looking for some way out. Could any of us survive on that sum?
Why are asylum seekers not permitted to become self-employed? This is an extraordinary situation. If the Government are worried about asylum seekers taking jobs from local people, surely self-employment increases job opportunities and would not adversely affect, in any way, the employment prospects of local people. I really would be grateful if the Minister could clarify why for me.
The other reason given by Ministers for restricting the rights of asylum seekers to work is the so-called pull factor. Therefore, it is important to note that there is little, if any, evidence for this. Instead, we understand that asylum seekers, in so far as they make any real choice about the country they are going to at all, are influenced by knowledge of the language, the availability of a friend or family member in that country and some confidence that the country is tolerant. We only have to think about ourselves; if any one of us were to move from the UK to a foreign country, surely we would use exactly the same criteria: knowledge of the language—we would want them to speak English there—availability of a friend or family member, and so on.
The Minister said at Second Reading that
“we are incredibly generous to those who need our help.”
Really? Maybe the Minister can explain whether preventing people from working and requiring them to live in abject poverty is “incredibly generous”. The Minister also said that
“we are committed to fortifying our immigration system”—[Official Report, 22/7/20; cols. 2294-96.]
against modern slavery. I really would be grateful if the Minister could explain whether she believes the current rules protect asylum seekers from the horrors of modern slavery, or whether she too wants to see reform of these rules?
My Lords, I declare my interests as laid out in the register, in receiving support from the RAMP project on immigration policy, and as a trustee of Reset.
I shall speak to Amendment 29 and Amendment 31. They are different in substance: Amendment 29 and others in this group relate to asylum seekers, while Amendment 31 relates to refugees currently living elsewhere. However, they both address the question of work.
In the Hebrew Bible, there is a story about a widow named Ruth, who travels with her mother-in-law to a foreign land, the family having been displaced by famine. On arrival, she gets to work, picking grain with the landowners’ permission, and she enjoys his protection and generosity. She receives not a handout but the freedom to work in the fields—her dignity is upheld.
The freedom to work, for those able to do so, is an important part of our humanity. It is how we support ourselves and our families, how we contribute to the common good and how we share, through taxation, the financial burdens of our common life. Yet for those who have come to this country fleeing persecution or conflict and are stuck too long in the administrative purgatory of the Home Office’s processes, the Government deny this freedom.
Many people seeking asylum want to work. They have skills that the UK needs, and are highly motivated to provide for themselves and their families. Instead of allowing them to do so, currently the Government force their reliance on minimal taxpayer-funded benefits.
Employment helps with smooth integration into the UK, allowing people to improve their English, acquire new skills and build relationships in the community. Work restores dignity while reducing reliance on public funds. I endorse all that the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, has just said in speaking to Amendment 29.
Amendment 29 does not argue for an immediate right to work, as Canada, for example, allows. Lifting the ban on working after six months—the point at which the Home Office should have determined their case, but too often has not—is a reasonable compromise. I might prefer three months, as proposed in Amendment 22, but I see six months as a reasonable compromise. I am not alone in thinking this: British Future found that 71% of the public support the right to work after six months.
I note that both Amendment 29 and Amendment 31 focus on the rights of EEA and Swiss nationals, because those rights are before us in the Bill. While the Spanish protocol might appear to obviate the need for Amendment 29, we have learned this year that the future is hardly secure and predictable. Moreover, in both cases, the underlying principle demands that we take these steps for the benefit of some now, and to move towards restoring the dignity of all those seeking the UK’s protection by allowing them to contribute through work.
I thank my noble friends Lady Lister and Lord Alton for supporting me on Amendment 31. The UN estimates that there are 79.5 million forcibly displaced people globally, who are desperate to rebuild their lives. Refugee resettlement schemes are vital, and ours must restart urgently. However, we must think creatively about ways to help the many forcibly displaced people, in need of international protection, to rebuild their lives somewhere safe.
In places like Lebanon, people fleeing the Syrian conflict are not permitted to work legally. They are dependent on handouts; their lives are on hold. Many of these people have God-given talents which are going to waste. Meanwhile, employers in the UK face critical skills shortages. Ending free movement for EEA and Swiss nationals will only make it more challenging for them to recruit people with the skills they require. Is it beyond our imagination to connect the two, for the benefit of all?
The Home Secretary introduced this Bill to the other place, saying that she wanted a system
“allowing us to attract the very best talent from right around the globe.”—[Official Report, Commons, 18/5/20; col. 398.]
Displaced people, including refugees, have skills, talents and motivations, and dream of building a new life in a new land. What if we saw such people as a gift as well as a responsibility? To do that, I urge the Government to look at what this amendment seeks to achieve for skilled forcibly displaced people. I acknowledge and thank the Minister for her help so far, pursuing conversations with her colleagues to that end.
Amendment 31, conforming to the Bill’s scope, addresses the potential situation of displaced people who are EEA or Swiss nationals. Yet, even in doing so, it addresses the need for a displaced talent visa in the new Immigration Rules, to level up access globally to labour market mobility for all those who should be able to apply for skilled jobs at UK companies. It would remove barriers, such as the need for specific documentation or proof of their English language ability which cannot be accessed because of their situation in being displaced from home.
To be clear, this is not a new humanitarian route; instead, it is about enabling fair access to work visas for skilled forcibly displaced people. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said, this is not an alternative to the asylum amendments. This is a completely different point. This approach has been successfully piloted in Australia and Canada, and would complement, not compete with, the vital routes of humanitarian resettlement and community sponsorship.
In his letter to them, St Paul reminded the church in Thessaloniki of a common saying: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.” Far from undercutting support for providing for the vulnerable and unemployed —as has occasionally been suggested—St Paul was urging that those in the community free and able to work should do so, for the good of all.
I find myself reflecting on this saying as I think about how we might help those fleeing persecution and conflict to access employment, that they might use their God-given talents and skills to support their families and rebuild their lives with dignity for the benefit of all, and that they might be seen as a gift to us. I would like to move Amendment 31.
It may be helpful to the Committee if I remind noble Lords that we are debating a group of amendments in which Amendment 22 is the lead. It is of course possible to speak to the other amendments in the group, but at this stage it is not possible to move them individually.
My Lords, the ban on working before a whole year has passed, and then only in professions such as classical ballet dancer and geophysicist, is bad on all counts. I am aware that we have a trained classical ballet dancer in the Chamber and she is a very valued Member, but she would probably agree that it takes rather a long time to train as such. We are not asking for a radical policy like Sweden’s, which the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, reminded us allows asylum seekers to work after one day, or like Portugal’s, where the period is seven days, but, if you like, a middle way of three months or even six months. Six months is, if I recall correctly, the threshold in EU asylum law—I think it is the reception conditions directive—but the UK Government declined to opt into that provision.
It is detrimental to the well-being, dignity and self-respect of those seeking asylum to be refused the opportunity to work and to be kept in poverty on £5.66 a day. The longer that they are out of work, the more that their skills and motivation deteriorate. When I was a Member of the European Parliament, I dealt with various individuals whose physical and mental health, sometimes after years of waiting, not just for 12 months but for three, four or five years for determination of their asylum claim—maybe the Government will tell me that the situation is much better now, but I am not sure that it is—had of course deteriorated; they had shrivelled as people and were unable to provide for their families. Their status, whether in their family or in their community, was completely undermined as their skills and motivation deteriorated.
Working boosts the chances of social and economic integration. Being banned from working also feeds into the prejudice that asylum seekers are “scroungers”, which not only is not true but is galling and aggravating when in fact they are prevented from working by government fiat, policy or law, which a lot of the public do not understand. As the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, has quoted, they would contribute to the Exchequer. Rather than taking from the taxpayer, they would be able to contribute if they were allowed to.
So, frankly, it is win-win. No wonder two-thirds of businesses support people seeking asylum having permission to work and 71% of the public, in the study by British Future, support the right to work. One would have thought that this was a bit of a no-brainer, and I look forward to the Minister explaining to us why it is impossible for the Government to change their policy.
I believe that there was an announcement in December 2018 by the Home Office that it would be launching a review into the merits of restoring the right to work to people seeking asylum. I do not know whether there is any news on how that review is getting on and when it might come to a conclusion.
Lastly, I speak in support of the amendment in the name of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham about a work visa for displaced people. Refugees, displaced people and people who for humanitarian reasons are unable to stay in their home country have many skills that are going unused. Banning people seeking asylum from working is a moral question as well as an economic and social one. Again, I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher: the idea that this would operate as a pole of attraction for people is unsubstantiated, and in any case that is hugely outweighed by the benefits of allowing asylum seekers to keep going and keep up their physical and mental health. If they do not succeed in their asylum claim then they have to leave, but in the meantime they will have been able to support themselves, keep up their skills and maybe, wherever they have to go or return to, have a better view of this country than they might otherwise have.
My Lords, I am pleased to be able to advise the Committee that we seem to be back to normal with the emailing of the clerk, so Members who wish to speak after the Minister should use what they thought was the correct route at the beginning.
My Lords, I strongly support this group of amendments. I have added my name to Amendments 24 and 31. I see these amendments as being not just in the interests of asylum seekers and refugees, although we have already heard strong arguments for why they are so, but also in the country’s economic and social interests and in the interests of overall social integration, which is supposedly a government policy goal.
A recent paper from the Institute of Labor Economics throws some light on the issues raised by Amendment 24 and others, using cross-European data for a period of nearly 30 years. It concluded that
“imposing temporary employment bans on asylum seekers has large negative consequences for their subsequent labour market integration − an effect that may remain sizable for up to 10 years”.
The authors recommend that
“host country governments should carefully weigh the (alleged) benefits of such bans against their longer term costs for both refugees and the host country economy.”
They found the sooner the access to the labour market, the better, and that when access is allowed it is not helpful to restrict it according to job type or employment sector in the way that our ludicrous shortage occupation list, mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, does.
The paper also found that the existence of a ban has no impact on the numbers seeking asylum, which is one of the arguments that Ministers have used to justify it. I hope the noble Lord, Lord Parkinson, will not come out with that argument, because there is no evidence for it. If he is going to do so, could he please tell us what the evidence is?
Nearly a year ago, I had an exchange with the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, about the economic benefits of lifting the ban. As well as the survey of business leaders mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, a group of business leaders wrote to the Financial Times to make the case, and the FT quoted the CBI chief economist, who said that
“despite being keen to earn a living and participate in the society where they live, many of those displaced are prevented from using their skills to contribute to the economy.”
In a letter to me, the Minister questioned how many asylum seekers would in fact be skilled, and suggested that the priority should be speeding up decision-making and then supporting granted refugees into employment more quickly. No one would dispute the need to speed up decision-making and support refugees into employment but, nearly a year on from that exchange, the Immigration Minister acknowledged to the House of Commons committee that the asylum decision-making timeframe remains a concern. This is not an either/or situation. Worse, at present it seems to be neither: we have neither speeded up decision-making nor do we have the right to work. I accept that the assumptions about the proportion of asylum seekers who are skilled may be optimistic, as the Minister said, but that does not invalidate the case, not least because many of those deemed to be unskilled may in fact have very real skills to contribute, including to the care sector, which we heard about on Monday.
This May, the Lift the Ban campaign carried out a skills audit of people seeking asylum. Nearly half of those audited reported previous occupations that would fall into the Government’s definition of “critical workers”, with one in seven having worked in health or social care. Have the Government carried out such a skills audit on which to base their position?
In Amendment 31, which I was very pleased to be able to support, we are talking about a group of displaced refugees who would be recognised as skilled under any definition. The right reverend Prelate has already made a strong case for what I believe is a very helpful and, as he put it, creative idea that is well worth exploring. I hope the Government will explore it. I understand that there have been pilots to see how it might work. It worked rather well in other countries but unfortunately has floundered in this country because the Immigration Rules have meant that it is not practical or scalable. If nothing else, I hope there might be a way of seeing whether we can have a proper pilot in this country.
All I will add to the case already made so well by the right reverend Prelate is to emphasise a point that has already been made in a sense: we do not see this as a substitute for fulfilling our obligation to provide a safe haven to asylum seekers and refugees or for positive reforms to the asylum system, including the more general right to work after at most six months that we have been talking about.
The Government have dragged their heels over the right to work issue, as we have already heard, for nearly two years, yet suddenly it is all speed ahead with what we are told will be the new asylum Bill, designed not to help asylum seekers, as it would seem from what the media has said about it, but to make it harder for them to come here. Suddenly it has become an urgent matter, whereas there has been no urgency at all to do something for asylum seekers here.
If the Government want to dispel the fears about this forthcoming Bill—that it is all about how we keep asylum seekers out and nothing to do with how we make life better for them when they are here—I hope at the very least they will commit today to finish their review of the right to work and include it in this forthcoming Bill.
My Lords, it was my pleasure to attach my name to Amendment 24 in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Rosser and Lord Kennedy of Southwark, and the noble Baroness, Lady Lister. I express my support for all the amendments in this group, including, as has been said, the very creative Amendment 31 in the name of the right reverend Prelate.
I am following five eloquent and powerful speeches, so I do not feel the need to add a great deal. Those speeches, collectively and individually, have utterly put paid to any suggestion that the UK is generous to people who come to our shores fleeing war or repression and desperately in need of sanctuary. As other speakers have made clear, we are an international outlier in our restrictions on work, to which these amendments refer. I am sure the Minister will recall that she very kindly took the time to hear from me about the circumstances of the asylum seekers in Urban House in Wakefield and the conditions in which people are living.
We all know that the hostile environment of the Home Office is very often chaotic. People are trapped, often for years, living in inadequate privatised housing with the desperately limited sum of £37.75 a week to try to get by on and denied the opportunity—which so many of them are desperate to take—to work. I cite a young woman I spoke to some years ago who made a huge impact on me, so eloquent was she about the situation she found herself in. She was, you might say, an extreme case, but sadly a not at all uncommon one. She had come to Britain as a young woman of 18 or 19, having been a political activist in Zimbabwe— I have no doubt that she was a victim of torture. Some 10 years later, we have still not given her status. She was studying for a degree through funding and support from a voluntary organisation, but she told me what her situation was like:
“I feel like I’m in a cage. I can see the door, and people keep walking back and forth in front of that door with a key in their hand, but they never stick the key in the lock and let me out.”
Leaving people in that situation is torture. We are talking about people who are often already victims of torture. Any of these amendments would be a significant improvement. The three-month amendment is obviously the best one. The current situation cannot continue; it is damaging to all British society as well as to individuals. I commend these amendments to the House.
My Lords, I support all these amendments very happily. I appreciate that the Bill is concerned with EEA and Swiss people, but there is a point of principle which goes wider than the limited scope of the Bill. Some of the arguments we are using apply to that wider point of principle. The first three, Amendments 22, 24 and 29, are all similar, except that they vary on the length of period necessary before permission to work is granted and/or whether one needs to apply separately and additionally to the Secretary of State or whether the right to work is automatic.
We hear the arguments about pull factors. I think every time I have been involved in debates on immigration, asylum seekers or refugees, I have heard the phrase “pull factor” used to rebut any argument used. It is a stock response from the Government and I am not convinced that it is all that powerful an argument. Sometimes it does not apply at all. I have on occasions met people desperate to work. I was in south Wales not quite a year ago and met some asylum seekers. They had two requests: first, could they be helped to learn English because, secondly, they wanted to apply for work. Work was the key thing for them.
There is another group of people who are victims of lacking the right to work: children who come here and reach the age of 18 without having had their status confirmed. There is a later amendment which will give me the chance to develop this argument further. Such people are then in a very vulnerable position. Not only do they not have a full right to stay in this country but, as I discovered from some social workers who begged me to say that they have got these young people, they are not allowed to work and are stuck in complete limbo. I am sure we can all produce other examples of people we have met who are desperate to have the right to work. I think that, statistically, 61% of all asylum seekers have waited over six months to get their status determined. That is a higher proportion than any since records began. Reference has already been made to the Home Office review, allegedly started in 2018; I hope we can learn more about what has happened to it.
I will mention briefly some of the benefits of people being allowed to work, many of which have been referred to already. Above all, there is self-respect. We want people in this country to have a sense of their own worth and self-respect. To deny that to our fellow human beings is pretty appalling. It is a matter of integrity that people should be allowed to work. It is a way out of poverty. Public opinion is overwhelmingly in support of having people here who work rather than eking their existence out of virtually no benefits—even if they were on larger benefits, public opinion would still support the right to work. We are dragging well behind comparable countries. If there is a pull factor, it is those countries that will attract people rather than this one. Above all, people want to contribute to society. Talk to any asylum seeker and they will say that they want to contribute to this country and our society.
These amendments are really important. They add to the dignity of our fellow human beings. I hope that the Government will see their way to being supportive of them.
My Lords, I speak against the backdrop of a story I read over the weekend in the Universe newspaper. It concerned a Ugandan refugee, Mercy Baguma, who in August was left to die in a Glasgow flat. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said that the account left her “consumed with sadness and anger”. A representative of the Positive Action in Housing charity said that Ms Baguma’s one year-old son was found crying beside his mother’s body, weakened from several days of starvation. I know that my support for Amendments 29 and 31 would not have saved her life, and I know, too, that if these amendments are passed, they will not help everyone who is a refugee or seeking asylum. However, we must do what we can to help whoever we can whenever we can; that is surely our job and I do not think anyone in the Chamber would disagree with that.
I will speak in favour of Amendment 29 on work rights, tabled by my noble friend Lady Meacher, the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham. I support also Amendment 31 on the displaced talent visa, tabled by the right reverend Prelate and the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, and to which I am a signatory. It addresses the widely held view that, whatever our differences about the nature of migration and the humanitarian duty, as some of us see it—and I do—to respond to people forcibly displaced from their homes and countries, this country will always have a need of skilled labour, and that where sponsorship is available from an employer, this win-win situation should at least be provided for by the creation of a new visa. The Government have said that they intend that this legislation and the new immigration system to be set out in subsequent Immigration Rules will attract the “brightest and the best” from overseas to work here.
The United Nations estimates that there are over 70 million forcibly displaced people in the world. While we clearly cannot help them all, an amendment such as this would enable us to help some of them. Many people displaced by conflict or persecution have valuable professional skills in areas such as medicine and engineering, but they are stuck in refugee camps like the one I visited a few months ago in northern Iraq, and I know that my noble friend Lord Hylton, who is in his place, has visited camps in Syria. These people have been displaced and are unable to use their skills to support their families and rebuild their lives. At the same time, for this country to fulfil the Prime Minister’s ambition to be “Global Britain”, we require an immigration system that is open, fair and allows those with much-needed skills to come here with their families to work and to build a future with us. It is easy to make slogans about attracting the brightest and the best, but how can we ensure that those with skills whose lives have been blown off course by conflict or persecution can still access labour market mobility?
Through its work in Jordan and Lebanon especially, Talent Beyond Boundaries has found that there are particular barriers under the current UK tier 2 regime that make it difficult for a displaced Syrian in Jordan, for example, to have the same opportunity to come to the UK to work as someone with the same skills from Australia, India or the United States. They are required to provide the identity documents specified by the Home Office when these can be provided only by a hostile regime. We all know that that would be an impossibility. Amendment 31 therefore urges the Government to create a displaced talent visa specifically to address such barriers and pave the way to eventually put in place a global scheme.
Events in this pandemic year have once again underlined the necessity to deal with the fragile and unsustainable nature of the world in which we live. In considering what a new immigration system for the UK should look like, we have a duty to construct models that take account of the complexities caused by conflict and persecution and to devise an immigration system that genuinely enables those who want to offer us their skills to do so, and to do much more to tackle the root causes that lead to 37,000 people being forced to flee their homes every day due to conflict or persecution, joining 70 million others. None of this should close our eyes to the importance of constructing, along with other nations, a humane and fair system for resettling refugees and others who need a place of sanctuary.
Turning to Amendment 29, I begin by saying that it is substantively different from the displaced talent visa being proposed in Amendment 31, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, pointed out. It and others in the group address the right of asylum seekers already in the UK to work after a certain period while they are waiting for their cases to be decided. In contrast, the displaced talent visa facilitates the arrival of forcibly displaced persons through labour market mobility; that is, they will have a sponsoring employer and a job offer already in place, and they are not seeking humanitarian protection as UNHCR-defined refugees. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, who said that the Government should not offer the same argument in response to these very different amendments. When he comes to reply, I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Parkinson, will differentiate between them.
The displaced talent visa is concerned with widening access to labour market mobility, not substituting for humanitarian resettlement or as an alternative to enabling access to asylum for those who require it. Where there are similarities between the amendments, they involve the freedom to work to support yourself and your family, and the dignity, alluded to by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, of being allowed to do so, as well as providing benefits to the UK through meeting labour shortages, tax revenue, avoiding reliance on public funds and the better integration of people into the community. Research has shown that bans on working result in poorer integration outcomes because work helps people to learn English and meet other people.
Amendment 29 returns to an issue I have repeatedly raised with Ministers and in your Lordships’ House: the right to work. Indeed, it was the subject of a meeting some years ago that the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, and I attended with the then Minister, Brandon Lewis. I hope that the Minister will see this as a precedent for reforming the current work-banning arrangements. It would be good to know what stage the review we were told about at Second Reading, which was begun in 2018, has reached, and when we might see the outcome.
As the Minister has been told, the Lift the Ban coalition, which supports the amendment, is made up of over 240 organisations and individuals across the country calling for the restoration of the right to work for people seeking asylum and their adult dependants, if they have been waiting for a decision on their asylum claim for six months. That broad coalition includes the CBI, the Adam Smith Institute, the TUC, UNISON and the Church of England, and is supported by grass-roots organisations, national charities, think tanks, faith groups and businesses, demonstrating wide- spread support for this common-sense proposal.
I am a patron of Asylum Link Merseyside. Through its wonderful work, and that of groups in Lancashire with whom my wife volunteers as an English language teacher, as well as organisations such as Refugee Action, I have heard first-hand accounts of asylum seekers who, having been effectively prohibited from working, must subsist, as my noble friend Lady Meacher told us earlier on the derisory sum of £5.56 per day in asylum support. I repeat: £5.56 per day. Imagine for a moment trying to make ends meet on that and the effect on your human dignity and self-respect, especially when you are then denied the fundamental right to work. This is a right enshrined in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 23 insists:
“We all have the right to employment, to be free to choose our work, and to be paid a fair salary that allows us to live and support our family.”
We have heard about the benefits to the economy of allowing people to work. We were told about the survey showing that businesses overwhelmingly support this call. In denying the right to work, we damage people personally, we impede social integration, we deny the value of the work ethic, we entrench poverty and we emasculate self-sufficiency. The contribution that work makes to social integration is spelled out in terms in the Government’s own immigration White Paper, and I applaud that.
I end by saying this. The coalition has drawn my attention to the story of one young Afghan woman denied the right to work. She says, “I want to work because it gives me the feeling of being someone. I want to work because I don’t want to look back after five or 10 years and realise that I did little except sit in a room and wait for a decision on my asylum claim. I could have been doing something positive for people’s health by putting my knowledge and expertise into practice.” Those words and the story of Mercy Baguma, which I referred to at the outset of my remarks, should stir us into taking action in this Bill. I hope that the noble Lord will agree to meet representatives of the Lift the Ban coalition and consider these amendments carefully between now and Report so that it will not be necessary to call a Division.
My Lords, I declare my interest as a vice-chair of the Human Trafficking Foundation.
We have heard some excellent speeches so far, and I find that I cannot disagree with anything that has been said. Although many identified victims of modern slavery are also asylum seekers—and those numbers may be swelled by EU citizens after freedom of movement has ended—these amendments, which I support, relate to potential asylum seekers from EEA countries or Switzerland. Of course, they will be in scope of the Bill, but it does not cover those from other countries. I guess that they will be the overriding majority, and while I would welcome the relaxation of the regulations regarding paid work for asylum seekers, I am afraid that it would be invidious to discriminate between non-EEA and EEA countries.
I am aware that, just over 100 years ago, a large number of Belgian citizens arrived in this country as a result of the conflict in their own country during the First World War. I have seen historical documents that show how well they were received. For a relatively brief time, they made their home here, and many worked here. Indeed, the presence of so many Belgians became the norm, so much so that no one batted an eyelid when Agatha Christie created Monsieur Poirot, a Belgian detective, as one of her heroes.
As I understand it, the rules regarding paid work for asylum seekers were strengthened back in 2010. I can only guess why it was decided to implement them, but I suspect that the huge backlog of cases awaiting decision made the Home Office nervous that if an asylum seeker worked, they would inevitably become an integrated part of the local community, making ties and making friends with fellow workers. As cases took so long—regrettably they still do, to which I can attest from my previous experience as a constituency MP—there would inevitably be more complications if a negative decision was received and removal was initiated.
I understand that some will say that to allow those applying for asylum to work will act as a pull. However, I am not sure whether there are any figures or statistics to back that up. In fact, regularising work for these people would be beneficial, as we have heard. I also know that Her Majesty’s Government are currently renewing the regulations. I sincerely hope that this country will have the courage to fully utilise the undoubted skills of these people, which I suggest would be a huge economic benefit in many ways. In the meantime, I believe that we should be encouraging more asylum seekers to be able to undertake voluntary work, and if noble Lords will indulge me a short while, I will give an example of what can be achieved.
Through my work with the Human Trafficking Foundation—and with its indefatigable chairman, Anthony Steen, a long-serving and dedicated Member of the House of Commons—I have become involved with a scheme that is just getting started after Covid-19 somewhat delayed it getting off the ground. Action Asylum by the Task Force Trust is offering opportunities to asylum seekers to make life better by volunteering alongside local people, so that the community is made better with their help, particularly in environmental matters. Pioneering projects are advanced in Merseyside, where there are currently over 3,000 asylum seekers. One example is of Iranians, Sudanese and Syrians growing vegetables alongside local people on an allotments project. Another project has brought together a dozen or so local cyclists and invited asylum seekers to join them on a community cycle ride. Working in conjunction with the Marine Conservation Society, asylum seekers will undertake a beach clean shortly on two beaches, at Southport and Hoylake, all of course properly socially distanced and within Covid-19 rules. It is not just to clear the detritus on the beach after high tides but to collate the data on what they find. This follows a pilot earlier in the year. There is a huge opportunity, with many NGOs looking to take part.
I have seen at first hand the benefits of such schemes, not only for asylum seekers and their families but for the local people, who understand that these people are individuals. As we have heard, they are not scroungers; they want to work. In view of the fact that there are currently 40,000 asylum seekers in the UK, it is a drop in the ocean, but it could be an example of a nationwide operation involving the Home Office, where asylum seekers waiting for permissions and papers to come through could do something useful in the country in which they wish to settle, to relieve boredom and loneliness and to help with mental health issues, which is a great problem. When you see how keen they are to do work, you cannot but be convinced that we should change our rules for all asylum seekers.
I thank noble Lords for their patience. I am unashamedly passionate about this cause and I support the amendments that have been spoken to. However, the first matter we should address is that of processing these claims within the shortest practicable time, while allowing all asylum seekers to take up meaningful work after a shorter period—perhaps three or six months. It would be a mutually beneficial measure for those people and for this country.
The noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington, has withdrawn from the debate, so I call the next speaker, the noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard.
My Lords, I declare an interest as a trustee of the Refugee Council, which the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, ran for so long to such great effect. Sadly, it is still needed more than ever. A number of Members of your Lordships’ House are generous in their support for the Refugee Council, and I hope that I would not be out of order if I said that I would be happy to hear from anyone who wanted to join them.
I will speak in support of Amendment 29 in particular, and also of the other amendments in this group. The case for Amendment 29 was so powerfully made by the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, that there is very little for me to add. It seems that the rule which we are trying to soften here, which stops asylum seekers from working, is—to put it politely—short-sighted. It does not match the national economic interest.
The citing by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, of the list of supporters of a reform of this kind, including the Adam Smith Institute, was striking. However, the evidence is that public opinion is on the side of those proposing these amendments—quite strongly so. Probably public opinion is not really concerned about the economic case, which is overwhelming; it is probably more concerned with the humanitarian effect. Not to allow people to work condemns them and their dependants to a precarious existence on the fringes of our society, which is a bit shaming. As the time taken to process their cases lengthens, so anomaly turns to inhumanity.
I am therefore strongly in favour of these three amendments, particularly Amendment 29, and I do not think we have heard any arguments in this debate against them. The degree of mitigation of the plight of these people which is offered by these amendments is very modest. Of course three months’ time limit would be better than six months, but six months is a lot better than eternity. I hope that the Government will recognise the feeling in the House today, and produce an amendment reflecting it on Report.
I crave the indulgence of the Committee to add one more point, which I admit hangs only rather tenuously on the four amendments we are debating. At lunchtime, the BBC reported on an appalling fire today in a refugee camp on Lesbos. Thousands of people there now have no roof over their head, including over 400 unaccompanied children, the BBC reported. The FCO, with its acquisition of DfID, has just acquired a remarkable capability and expertise in handling emergency help in the event of natural disasters and disasters like that one. I hope that it will spring into action. But I hope that the Home Office will spring into action too. We are talking about 400 unaccompanied children with no roof over their head, and we know that some of them will be seeking to join relatives in this country. In these exceptional circumstances it would surely be appropriate for the Home Office, as an exception to its normal practice, to seek to identify those children and to permit their admission.
Our international reputation has taken a bit of a knock this week, as a result of the introduction of a Bill in the other place. A speedy humanitarian response by the United Kingdom to the humanitarian disaster on Lesbos would do something to assist the recuperation of our reputation.
My Lords, I shall focus on Amendment 31, spoken to by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham and the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool. This is an important amendment that brings a sensible and balanced approach to immigration in the commercial sector, to build up our economy—not just hospitals and care homes, but businesses, which also need to employ skilled and semi-skilled people. The amendment will help those fleeing conflict and persecution in their own country to build their lives in the UK.
Employers and businesses are interested and keen to take part in schemes to support such workers. I declare an interest: after running a fashion company in the UK for over 40 years and employing over 300 staff, before the pandemic, I know that the majority of businesses require all sorts of people, such as accountants, HR people, salespeople and cleaners, as well as warehouse staff.
I support the amendment because it has the foresight to do something positive for displaced people at a time in their life when they often have no one to turn to, and no means of supporting themselves and their family. This country has a long history of helping displaced people, and the humanitarian kindness it has shown countless refugees over the years is well known. Through this amendment we will do something truly remarkable—helping people in need while enhancing this country through the skilled workers who wish to make it their home. We will maintain our world-class image by helping refugees and displaced persons in their time of greatest need, while also filling skills gaps in this country.
However, the existing and future tier 2 general framework creates structural barriers, preventing applications from skilled refugees and other forcibly displaced people, due to issues such as stringent restrictions and the demand for documentary evidence. Fragomen, a leading immigration law firm in the City which conducted a survey of 500 corporates with operations in the United Kingdom of various sizes and in various sectors, found that 73% of respondents said that they would consider skilled displaced people with the required skills and experience, or would actively pursue the opportunity to employ displaced people. This level of demand is likely to grow, as businesses become more aware of the opportunity to hire displaced talent.
My Lords, I add my support for Amendment 31. Three tests must be met when a democracy considers the development of a robust immigration system that serves both its own citizens and those seeking to make the UK their new home. First, does the system serve the demands of business and the economy? Next, does it provide equity for those applying to work here, so that it is their skill set, not their passport, that determine eligibility? Finally, does it provide genuine asylum for vulnerable and displaced people, not only expressing Britain’s humanitarian commitments but reflecting the values of the British people?
The amendment, through the introduction of the tier 2 displaced talent visa stream, responds to all three of those questions affirmatively. In connection with the first test—the business test—the end of free movement will, as this House knows, impact on the availability of EEA and Swiss nationals, leading to a contraction in the number of skilled workers available to UK employers. This means that, after focusing on the development of UK workers, employers may still need to look overseas for suitable talent, where shortages exist.
This is particularly true of, say, the health and education sectors. It is estimated that the care sector requires 520,000 additional workers before 2035, just to support the UK’s ageing population. For the past decade, approximately one in six of the 1.5 million care workers in England have been non-UK nationals. Furthermore, previous recruitment drives have done little to alleviate the sector’s chronic labour shortages. Despite a 20% increase in advertised care roles in the first quarter of 2020, applications decreased by nearly 20%. This is just one example of the many sectors that would greatly benefit from the creation of a new displaced talent visa.
The second test is the equity test. The Government have been right to champion a points-based immigration agenda, with a focus on equity for applicants, by seeking out people’s skills set not their passport. But there must also be a recognition that there are significant structural barriers facing displaced people, which prevent them participating in that level playing field. These include, as we have heard, the payment of substantial government fees, charges, difficulties in securing official travel documents, and an inability to evidence English language competence.
According to Talent Beyond Boundaries, it can take over six months for a displaced person to access an English language test when applying for asylum from Lebanon. It has a ready-to-use programme with an extensive talent catalogue, and a model that has already been successful in Canada and Australia. It manages this talent catalogue of nearly 21,000 skilled forcibly displaced people living in Lebanon and Jordan, many of whom have fled the conflict in Syria. The registrants represent more than 150 occupations, most of which are included in the UK’s skills shortage list. A large proportion of registered candidates already fit the UK’s targeted profile of being the “best and brightest”.
That brings us to our third test—the humanitarian test. The amendment is not intended to replace our UN commitments to refugee settlement, but rather to answer the call of employers who are willing to support vulnerable people, while closing their own labour and skills gaps. As we have just heard from the noble Lord, Lord Loomba, in a survey of 500 corporates of varying size and sector conducted by Fragomen, 73% said that they would either seriously consider, or actively pursue, the opportunity to employ displaced people. The British people are instinctively responsive to those who are vulnerable but want to work hard to give their families a better future, and to contribute to the building of the nation that offers them safety. They want to be responsive.
I understand it is the Government’s intention with this Bill to streamline and simplify the visa application process as we end free movement with the EU. I support Amendment 31, my only concern being its narrowness of scope, imposed by the scope of the Bill, to limit the visa to EU and Swiss nationals. This is a starting point but does not maximise the potential benefit for the UK or for those with the skills we need. I strongly encourage the Government to consider a displaced talent stream as a dedicated pathway for skilled, vulnerable people to be part of our commitments to a level playing field and levelling up Britain.
The noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Llandudno, has withdrawn, so I call the noble Lord, Lord Rosser.
It seems that the amendments in this group are similar in that they all relate to the right or ability to work. Amendment 24, to which my name is attached, requires that asylum seekers and their adult dependants be allowed to apply to the Secretary of State for the right to work if their application has not had a decision since six months of it being made. The reason the amendment only refers to EEA and Swiss nationals, not to those from other parts of the world as well, is to keep the amendment within the scope of the Bill.
Those seeking asylum in the UK can only apply for the right to work, whether as an employee or self-employed, once they have been waiting for a decision on their asylum claim for over a year, provided that the delay is not considered to have been caused by the applicants themselves. Adult dependants of people seeking asylum are not allowed to apply for permission to work at all, something which impacts women, in particular. Even then, there is a further significant hurdle for those seeking asylum, because employment is restricted to a limited list of skilled occupations on a government shortage occupation list—limited despite a change in skill levels that will mean the small numbers granted the right to work are more than likely to be unable to do so. It is not clear what the usefulness is of the shortage occupation list.
The reality is that those awaiting a decision on their asylum claim, as has been said, have to live on £5.66 per day to support themselves and, where applicable, their families and, as a result, are at serious risk of exploitation, including exploitative labour. No other European country has such a restrictive waiting period. The EU reception conditions directive of 2013, to which we did not opt in, set the maximum period for the right to work at, I think, nine months after an individual has lodged an asylum claim. Some three quarters of European countries, though, have a waiting period of six months or less, and many other countries do not place any restrictions on the type of employment that someone can take up.
When a person applies for asylum in the UK, the Home Office aims to make a decision on the case within six months, provided it is not classified as “non-straightforward”. In recent years, the number of people waiting for a decision on their asylum claim for more than six months—both main applicants and dependants—has grown considerably, to cover some 60% of all those waiting. This is the highest level, I believe, since public records began, as my noble friend Lord Dubs said.
It has been argued that opening up the labour market to people in the asylum system to a greater extent would only encourage more people to try to get to the UK and seek asylum simply as a means of getting to work in this country. But there is little or no evidence of such a link. Other factors, as the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, said, such as the ability to speak the language of the host country or the presence of relatives or friends in the host country, are the significant ones. Surveys have also suggested nearly three quarters of those arriving in the UK were not aware, prior to arriving, that they would not be allowed to work.
On Monday, we discussed the high numbers of vacancies in the care sector, but that is not the only sector where there are vacancies and skills shortages. Many of those seeking asylum in this country are well qualified with skills we need. A survey earlier this year showed that one in seven of those seeking asylum had worked in health or social care and that 45% of respondents’ previous occupations would have defined them as “critical workers” during the Covid-19 pandemic. As has already been said, easing the restrictions on the ability of those claiming asylum to work would not only reduce the cost to public funds of the minimal support payments but bring in extra money from the resultant income tax and national insurance contributions.
As I understand it, the Home Office began a review of the right to work policy in 2018, following the then Immigration Minister noting that there was “much merit in the arguments for reform”. What is the position with that review one year and nine months later? Has it been finalised? If so, what were the conclusions? It should not take one year and nine months to complete a review if that is the position.
Taking into account support rates of just under £40 a week and National Audit Office estimates that accommodation costs £560 per month, the approximate cost of supporting one person waiting for a decision on their asylum claim is just under £9,000 per annum. Even if such a person, once allowed to work, needed some accommodation support, the Government would still save a minimum of over £2,000 per annum for each person in employment and no longer requiring subsistence cash support.
The Government have normally argued that work is a route out of poverty. Apparently, though, that principle does not apply to those awaiting the outcome of their asylum claim, nearly all of whom, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham said, want to work and support themselves and their families and offer their often much-needed skills to this country. Why do we leave them, then, in a potential or actual state of poverty, feeling a sense of hopelessness and despair for often lengthy periods of time?
There are long delays in processing asylum applications and appeals. The ban on asylum workers working provides little incentive for the Home Office to speed up the progress of these cases, and with 45% of appeals succeeding, we are delaying giving the chance to work to people who will ultimately obtain it. It is time for a change of approach, and that is what I trust we will hear from the Government in their response—a change of approach that hopefully would also indicate that we were moving away from the hostile environment through our actions, not just our words.
My Lords, I understand that the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington, was withdrawn from the speakers’ list in error and is ready to speak now, so I call the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington.
Thank you very much. I am sorry there was some misunderstanding earlier.
I shall be brief, but I take a slightly different approach to many other noble Lords. Much of the discussion so far seems to have assumed that all or most asylum seekers are genuine, when in fact a significant proportion are not. If public support is to be maintained, the system must clearly and effectively make that distinction. The focus should be on getting quicker decisions rather than quicker access to work.
The problem with the first three of these amendments is that they could encourage asylum seekers, and, perhaps, their representatives, to draw out the process of consideration even further, so they can start to settle in Britain without their cases having been decided. We could be faced with many thousands of asylum seekers whose cases have ground to a halt but who would be perfectly ready to work in the lower-paid parts of the economy, often in competition with British workers and at a time of rising unemployment. Over time—and this is the longer-term problem—this could undermine public support for genuine asylum seekers, who deserve our protection.
More generally, we can see from the current events in the channel that Britain is becoming the country of choice, including for those who are already in a safe European country with a well-functioning asylum system. Surely they cannot be described as “fleeing persecution”. Nor would it seem that they regard conditions for asylum seekers in Britain to be unduly difficult. Unless we can reduce the incentives to get into Britain illegally, these pressures on our borders will continue and probably increase.
Finally, I understand and sympathise with the motives of the authors of Amendment 31, but we already face intense pressure from many parts of the world where, sadly, there are large numbers of forcibly displaced people, many with skills. We should surely focus our efforts on those who are in the most difficulty by taking refugees recommended by the UNHCR, which examines each case. I remind the Committee that since 2015 almost 20,000 refugees have been directly resettled from outside Europe. That surely is the right way to help those in real need, and of course I support it.
My Lords, this has been a powerful and moving debate. I begin by mentioning the tragic case of Mercy Baguma, as raised by the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool. Like him, I was greatly distressed when I heard about her case. Indeed, the news came through when I was visiting my family for the first time since this pandemic began, and that really underlined for me how lucky we are if we can take for granted the prosperity and stability of a family home. Naturally, an investigation was launched immediately to understand what had happened in Ms Baguma’s case.
That investigation is ongoing, so I hope that the noble Lord will understand if I cannot comment on the specifics at this stage. However, I hope that I can reassure him and other noble Lords that the Government take the well-being of all those in our care extremely seriously. People who are worried about becoming destitute can apply for support, including financial support and accommodation. We are working with others, including, in the case of Ms Baguma, Police Scotland and the procurator fiscal to understand what went wrong, but also to ensure that people are aware of and can access the support they need to avoid that sort of tragedy.
I will respond, first, to Amendments 22, 24 and 29 on asylum seekers’ right to work. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, and the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, respectively for their contributions on this issue. All their amendments concern the right to work of EEA or Swiss asylum seekers and their adult dependants in the UK. The noble Lords differ slightly in what they propose, so it might be helpful if I briefly recapitulate the differences between each amendment. If I paraphrase them inaccurately, I am sure that they will correct me, either through the—I hope—now resuscitated email address or through other means. Like my noble friend the Minister, I am very happy to write to any noble Lords who, by being unable to get through, are unable to indicate that they wish to ask further questions.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, is proposing that asylum seekers who are EEA or Swiss citizens, and their adult dependants, should be allowed to apply for permission to take up employment if a decision on their asylum claim has not been made within three months of it being lodged. She is also proposing that, if granted, these citizens should be allowed unrestricted access to the labour market—that is, that they should be able to apply for any job, not just those on the shortage occupation list.
The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, is proposing that the same group should be allowed to apply for permission to take up employment within six months of their claim being lodged, and the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, proposes that the same group should automatically be granted permission to take up employment if a decision on their asylum claim has not been made within six months of it being lodged.
As noble Lords will be aware, and as many have mentioned, our current policy allows people seeking asylum to seek permission to work in the United Kingdom if, through no fault of their own, their claim has been outstanding for 12 months. At present, those permitted to work are restricted to jobs on the shortage occupation list, which is based on expert advice from the independent Migration Advisory Committee and is fully compliant with the rules laid out in the reception conditions directive 2003. This policy is primarily designed to protect the resident labour market by prioritising access to employment for British citizens and others who are lawfully resident here, including of course people who have already been granted refugee status, who are given full access to the labour market once granted. We believe that this is a proportionate way to achieve a legitimate aim.
Asylum claims from EEA citizens whose home countries are not part of the EU are considered but on the basis that they would be clearly unfounded. Notwithstanding the comments from the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, about it not being beyond the scope of imagination to envisage a situation where that might otherwise be the case, member states of the European Union are prosperous, developed nations and signatories to the European Convention on Human Rights. Some of the arguments that she made did not seem to chime with some of those put forward on the virtues of the European Union during the referendum campaign, but those arguments are, rightly, long closed.
Under the Spanish protocol, mentioned by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham, we would expect any asylum claims from EU citizens to be automatically inadmissible unless exceptional circumstances applied. Consideration of what would constitute those exceptional circumstances is detailed in the UK’s Immigration Rules. The vast majority of EEA citizens, including those from countries not in the EU, are generally considered to be from safe countries and are highly unlikely to suffer a well-founded fear of persecution or serious harm if returned there. Because, unlike the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, we do not foresee a change in those circumstances, we intend to continue our policy of inadmissibility for EEA citizens after the end of the transition period.
During our debate today and at Second Reading, a number of noble Lords expressed concern and discontent at the current policy concerning the right of people seeking asylum to work and suggested that people should be allowed to seek employment sooner. It might therefore be helpful to set out some of the key rationales informing our current policy.
First, it is important to maintain a clear distinction between people who need our protection and those seeking to come here for work, who can apply for a work visa under the Immigration Rules. Our wider immigration policy, and indeed public support for our asylum system on which so many vulnerable people rely, could be undermined if people were seen to bypass the rules on work visas by lodging unfounded claims. When I started working on home affairs policy in the early 2000s, people seeking asylum and people seeking economic migration were sometimes unhelpfully mentioned in the same breath. One of the great advances of the last two decades is that, for many of those 20 years, we have rightly talked about those things as separate phenomena. That will be even more important over the coming years if we see uncertainty, particularly in the light of the current Covid pandemic.
Secondly, although pull factors are complex, we cannot ignore that access to the labour market is among the reasons that so many people currently undertake the extremely hazardous journey across the channel in small boats. The noble Baroness, Lady Lister, asked for evidence. Some of the people coming across the channel are genuinely fleeing persecution and some are not, but none of them should undertake that perilous journey. When so many lives are put in danger in this way, we cannot have a policy that raises those risks, whatever the number affected.
Thirdly, we cannot dismiss the risk that relaxing the current restrictions would increase the number of unfounded claims, reducing our capacity to make decisions and support people who genuinely need our help and refuge.
I acknowledge the concerns raised by noble Lords. In particular, I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington, that the best way to approach the right to work for people seeking asylum is to determine their asylum claims more quickly. The Government are committed to ensuring that claims are considered without unnecessary delay to ensure that people who need our protection are granted asylum as soon as possible and can start to integrate and rebuild their lives. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham said, this is a matter of humanity and dignity that applies whether we take our steer from scripture or elsewhere. It is worth reiterating that people granted asylum are given immediate and unrestricted access to the labour market.
We are working on a new service standard for asylum applications, which is intended to bring balance back to the system. The Home Office is engaging widely as part of that work, and learning from the insights we are being provided with as we work to shape that new service standard.
The noble Baronesses, Lady Ludford and Lady Meacher, and the noble Lords, Lord Dubs and Lord Rosser, asked for an update on the review of the wider right-to-work policy. In the time since it was first mooted, there has of course been a change of Administration and a general election. More pertinently, the Migration Advisory Committee has been commissioned to undertake a review of the shortage occupation list and the right-to-work coalition—which a number of noble Lords mentioned today—has provided an update on its 2018 report. We will want to take account of all of this in the review work. We will of course bring that review and its conclusions to your Lordships’ House when it is concluded.
I turn now to Amendment 31, tabled by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham. In doing so, I acknowledge his considerable authority in these matters and thank him for his continued support for the Government’s work on refugee resettlement. His amendment seeks to put in place new visa arrangements to facilitate the entry of skilled, recognised-refugee, or forcibly displaced, EEA or Swiss citizens where they have a job offer from a sponsor employer. Once again, it is important to note that people granted refugee status or humanitarian protection in the UK have immediate and unrestricted access to our labour market and our benefits system. The UK has become one of the world’s leading refugee resettlement states and we are playing an important role in the global response to a number of humanitarian crises. Of course, we must continue to support refugees in the UK to find work and to regain the dignity of being self-sufficient.
The Government operate a number of refugee resettlement schemes and I had the privilege of working on some of them in their earlier years, when I was an adviser at the Home Office. Since I left in September 2015, over 25,000 people in need of protection have been resettled through these routes. The Government recognise that refugees often face additional barriers to participating in the labour market, some of which have been raised in our debate today, and we continue to work in partnership with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and other global organisations to support refugee employees.
Our Integrated Communities Action Plan committed the Government to continuing to work with the Refugee Employment Network and the jobcentre network, as well as with employers, to understand the needs of refugees and to help them into work. It is right that we must overcome the structural barriers that prevent skilled people who have been forcibly displaced making applications to work in the UK. I reinforce the fact that our existing and future work routes are already open to refugees—a point that has not escaped the right reverend Prelate. It is an area in which he is rightly very interested, and I was struck by what he said about the need to see these people as a gift, as well as a responsibility. We already offer protection through several legal routes and will continue to provide support for those who often need it most desperately. These efforts should be something of which we can all be proud.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, asked about consultation. Ahead of outlining our proposals for the new points-based immigration system, the Government engaged extensively with our vulnerability advisory group, and we continue to do so. Anyone who has the necessary skills and experience, regardless of their nationality or their impetus for leaving the country they are leaving, will be able to qualify under our new system.
In future, all applicants who can demonstrate that they have a job offer from an approved sponsor, that the job is at the required skill level and meets the relevant salary threshold, and that they can speak English, will be able to benefit from the skilled worker route. In line with the recommendations of the Migration Advisory Committee, the general salary threshold will be reduced from £30,000 to £25,600, and the skills threshold will be expanded to include regulated qualifications framework level 3 and equivalent occupations. Bypassing these requirements would dilute the Government’s commitment to creating a high-wage, high-skill, high-productivity economy. Importantly, these requirements help to prevent unintentional pull factors that could lead to exploitation by criminal traffickers and unscrupulous employers. We therefore do not believe that we need to create additional routes, such as those proposed by this amendment.
Moreover, while I know that many noble Lords have spoken about the principle, rather than the narrow fact of the amendment tabled, this amendment would result in a two-tier system because of the EEA scope of the Bill, whereas I know that many of the people most in noble Lords’ minds today come from the world much more widely.
However, the Government support the intention behind the amendment. I want to put on record that we look forward to working with the right reverend Prelate to explore possible ways to connect highly skilled displaced people with employment opportunities in the UK. It is an important thing to do. In the meantime, for the reasons I have set out, I encourage him not to press his amendment and the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, I have received requests to speak after the Minister from the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, the noble Baroness, Lady Lister of Burtersett, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham.
My Lords, the Minister talks about the existing 12-month wait before someone can apply to work—and then only in shortage occupations—as being to protect the resident workforce. Yet a House of Commons Library document published in January this year shows 100,000 vacancies in the social care sector, and rising. Can the Minister justify his statement that it is necessary in order to protect the resident workforce?
The Minister also said it was very unlikely that there would be refugees from an EU country. Is he not aware of the situation in Poland, where they are declaring LGBT-free zones in cities and provinces, with the Government ramping-up hate speech against LGBT people and the Law and Justice party leader saying that LGBT people are a
“threat to Polish identity, to our nation, to its existence and thus to the Polish state”?
Finally, the Minister talked about the pull factor of allowing refugees to work. A number of noble Lords said that there was no evidence of a pull factor. Indeed, the Minister was asked to provide evidence if he was going to deploy that argument. Perhaps he can comply with that request and provide the evidence to support his assertion.
I will deal with the third question first. I am afraid the evidence will flow from the review that I mentioned in my response, which will of course come to your Lordships’ House once it is done, taking into account the additional work of the Migration Advisory Committee and the review of the report by the Lift the Ban coalition.
On restricting the right to work to the shortage occupation list, as I said in my reply, it is right to restrict access to work to British citizens and others lawfully resident, including those already granted asylum. We do that under the reception conditions directive of 2003. The shortage occupation list is based on expert advice from the Migration Advisory Committee. I thought we had a useful debate yesterday on social care. If there are shortages in that sector, that is something that the Migration Advisory Committee is well placed to advise on and to dispassionately provide advice to government. The list can be updated accordingly.
Finally, on the point about Poland and LGBT rights, I do not want to reopen debates from the referendum, but I remember being told quite powerfully when I was campaigning to leave that it was the EU that somehow had created or guaranteed rights for LGBT people across Europe. I thought that was wrong then and I am surprised to hear the noble Lord raising it today. Poland is a prosperous, developed country. It is a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights. If the EU is good at doing the job that campaigners said it was during the referendum, it will enforce those rights. Unless that changes, we do not see a reason to change our assessment of EU member states such as Poland.
I want to come back to the question of evidence—I was the one who asked for it. I thought the Minister was about to give it because he referred to my question; however, he then started talking about those coming in boats across the channel—what is the connection? We do not have the right to work, so why is that evidence in favour of the Government’s justification? Would he accept the widespread consensus that the best way to reduce the pull factor of the channel would be to increase the legal routes enabling asylum seekers to come to this country? Could I also respond to the point the Minister just made, that we will have to wait for evidence until this review is completed? The review has been going nearly two years. The Minister knew we would raise this question during the debate; I would have expected the Government to have some evidence in support of the case they are making now, rather than having to wait any longer.
I am sorry if I clumsily inserted the response to the question from the noble Baroness in my speech. We are understandably waiting for the review to finish its work; I do not want to pre-judge it. The one year and nine months it has taken has included a change of Administration, a general election and this pandemic. More pertinently, we are waiting for the Migration Advisory Committee, which is independent of government, to do its work and its assessment, so it can be taken into account as well. Campaign groups, such as the coalition that has been mentioned, have updated their arguments. We want to take those into account, so I do not want to anticipate our responses there. The point about the channel is that whatever the numbers and whatever the proportion, no one—whether genuinely fleeing persecution or seeking to migrate illegally into the UK for economic reasons—should be making that perilous journey. We do not want to create any incentives in the system in any place that encourage people to take that hazardous risk.
I thank the Minister for the warmth of his response, particularly at the end. Given the support from all sides of the House we have heard in the debate, and from business—business is saying there are still questions and is not convinced it does not need a new visa—I wonder if the Minister would meet me, perhaps some other Lords who supported the amendment and Talent Beyond Boundaries, to explore this—preferably before Report stage—to check whether I want to bring it back on Report.
We have had some useful discussions with the right reverend Prelate already and we would be very happy to continue those, particularly with my noble friend the Minister and our noble friend the immigration Minister in the other place, who would be well placed to engage in detail on the topics he raised.
My Lords, I begin with the so-called displaced talent visa—asylum seekers embody displaced talent in many cases but, as the right reverend Prelate says, refugees often demonstrate great talent. He referred to employment contributing to social cohesion; that is evidenced in the personal experience of people—friendships grow, which reduces the fear of others, the fear of strangers. When people see the benefits of immigration the contribution to social cohesion is very considerable. The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, mentioned the importance of this to women. I should have made that point, and I am glad he reminded the Committee of it; he is absolutely right. The suggestion was hinted at that we might want to discriminate between members of the EEA and others; of course, that is not the case. We are constrained by the scope of the Bill in these amendments.
I am very glad that my noble friend Lord Paddick used the opportunity to remind the Committee of the problems in Poland. The fact that it is a member of the EU does not excuse them from what has been happening, which he explained to the Committee. It is important not to hold back from criticising one’s friends and one’s partners. This is a very real issue.
The noble Lord, Lord Randall, mentioned voluntary work. Again I am glad that he reminded the Committee of that because it is too often regarded as work rather than volunteering and reduces the possibilities of asylum seekers whose claims have not been determined to undertake activity which so often they are keen to do. It also means that a number of charities have to be extremely careful about the opportunities that they can offer because they are aware that what they must offer is volunteering and not voluntary work.
We have rightly been reminded of the importance of not seeing people reduced to getting into the black economy or becoming vulnerable to slavery, given the cash that is available to them, which I acknowledge is in addition to other support; many of us are not comfortable with that support, although it has recently been increased by the princely sum of 26p a day.
I am with the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, in the call for a response to the fire on Lesbos. We are in a position to respond to it. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Green, but only to the extent that the process needs to be speeded up. He will not be surprised that otherwise I take a very different view. That goes to some of the comments from the noble Lord, Lord Parkinson. One incentive to getting into Britain by very dangerous means is to join one’s family. The narrative that we hear too often is that most refugees in France try to cross the channel to the UK. That is not the case. Safe and legal routes would sort this problem out.
The Minister referred several times to the Migration Advisory Committee having been instructed to assist with the review being undertaken by the Home Office. Can he tell the Committee when it was instructed and what the likely timing of this review will be? Whatever the reasons for its delay, can we look forward to when we might receive it?
Along with my comments about crossing the channel, I should have said that to talk about unfounded claims is rather close to talking about illegal asylum seekers. Asylum seekers are not illegal until their claim has been determined. The strength of feeling on this is very evident, but I have no option at this moment but to beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 22 withdrawn.
My Lords, we now come to the group consisting of Amendment 23. 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.
23: Clause 4, page 3, line 8, at end insert—
“(5A) Regulations made under subsection (1) must make provision to enable UK citizens falling within the personal scope of—(a) the Withdrawal Agreement,(b) the EEA EFTA separation agreement, or(c) the Swiss citizens’ rights agreement,to return to the United Kingdom accompanied by, or to be joined in the United Kingdom by, close family members.(5B) Regulations under subsection (1) may not impose any conditions on the entry or residence of close family members of UK citizens which could not have been imposed under EU law relating to free movement, as on the day on which this Act comes into force.(5C) For the purposes of subsection (5A)—“close family members” means—(a) children (including adopted children), and(b) other close family members where that relation subsisted on or before 31 January 2020 and has continued to subsist;“Withdrawal Agreement”, “EEA EFTA separation agreement” and “Swiss citizens’ rights agreement” have the meaning given in section 39 of the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020 (interpretation).”
My Lords, I must first apologise: I was supposed to introduce Amendment 12 on Monday evening, but I got stuck and impossibly delayed and did not get here in time.
The purpose of Amendment 23 is to preserve the rights of UK nationals living in the EEA, Switzerland and the EU who intend to return to live in the UK in future and bring with them, or to be joined by, non-British family members on the same terms they have at present. Unless the Bill is thus amended, British citizens who moved to the EU or EEA while the UK was a member will lose their right to return to their country of birth with a non-British partner or children unless they can meet financial conditions beyond the reach of many. If they need to return to look after elderly parents, thousands will now have to choose between returning alone, leaving their family behind or abandoning their parents to stay with their non-British family in the EEA. Nobody should have to face such a choice, and it is not necessary that they do so.
The problem is that the Government are using the end of free movement to make these British citizens meet, for the first time, the minimum income requirement for family reunion. The MIR has been roundly criticised both because the level is so high—40% of UK workers would not be able to meet it—and because of the Catch-22 rule that the non-British partner’s income can be taken into account only if they have been working in the UK for six months. How do they get into the UK if they cannot satisfy the MIR?
The MIR itself is harsh, but what makes it doubly unfair, when applying it to this group of British citizens, is that the change is, in effect, retrospective. When they left their homes in the UK to move to work in the EU or the EEA, they were safe in the knowledge that if they established a family while abroad, they would be able to bring them back to the UK. The British parents they left behind in the UK had the same expectation. There have been noticeable reports of widespread anxiety, among both the young and old, regarding what will happen if the parents need their children to care for them.
The British Government’s approach also leads to the perverse result of discrimination against their own citizens. While British citizens who moved to the EU or EEA before the end of 2020 face these restrictions, EU citizens who moved, or move, to the UK before the end of 2020 will not. They will have the right, under the withdrawal agreement, to bring existing family members here for life as well as keeping their existing right to return to their country of birth with families they have made in the UK.
I noticed, in other comments, a degree of concern about Clauses 4 and 5. I ask the Government to look into the points I have raised, which, if I am correct, could be resolved without too much difficulty.
My Lords, it is my pleasure to support Amendment 23 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Flight—who just presented an excellent introduction to it—and signed by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and the noble Lord, Lord Rosser.
I also refer noble Lords to my Amendment 79, which addresses some of the same issues, although it is particularly addressed to children and was inspired by an issue that I have worked on many times over the years, known in shorthand as “Skype families”, whereby people are able to maintain family relationships only by Skype—perhaps we should call them “Zoom families” these days—over long periods for all of the reasons the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, just outlined.
We have seen many people trapped in this situation. In particular, I recall a gentleman who contacted me and was frantically trying to find anyone who could help him in a situation similar to the one described by the noble Lord, Lord Flight. His family origins were in south Wales, but he had been teaching English in Thailand for a number of years and was seeking to come back to care for his aged parents—care that would, of course, potentially save the British state considerable amounts of money as well as ensure family reunion—but he would not be able to bring his Thai wife and children with him.
We are now in a situation where many more people are likely to be caught in this trap. We know that there has been a huge exchange of people across the continent, and families have been created. One thing that I have found when working on this issue over the years is that, when many of the people who have found themselves caught in this situation talk to me, they say that they have talked to other British people—friends, neighbours and work colleagues—who say that this surely cannot be right and that surely a British person can live in their own country with their foreign spouse or partner and/or their children. They are British; that must be a right—this is what people believe. Indeed, I have encountered members of the public who, when they went to their MP for assistance, found that this was initially the impression that elected Members of Parliament had.
I believe that we should have a rule for everybody: a British person should be able to live in their own country with a foreign spouse or partner and their children, independent of any income situation at all. As referred to previously in this debate, the Public Bill Office tells us that, within the scope of the Bill, we are allowed to refer only to EU and EEA people, so that is what this amendment, like Amendment 79, does.
However, I will not talk at great length because this is an issue about which I am sure many Members of your Lordships’ House attending this debate—and I hope the Minister as well—are well aware. However, I will finally reflect that I am sure that the Conservative Party would claim to be a party of, and in support of, the family. Why would it want, through immigration law, forcibly to separate families, spouses and children, forcing people into impossible choices over caring for elderly loved ones, being with their children, living as a family and having a family life?
My Lords, I support this amendment and thank Brexpats—Hear Our Voice for the excellent “British in Europe” briefing. I will be brief because there is a straightforward argument here.
This is a simple matter of humanity. We are talking about British citizens living in Europe, who, like the rest of us, had no inkling up to four years ago of the significantly changed circumstances in which they would find themselves. Many have raised families in EEA countries with the reasonable expectation that their and their families’ mobility around Europe—including the UK—would not be affected in the future. Of course, Brexit has changed that.
We need to help our fellow British citizens and ensure that those who wish or need to do so can return to the UK with their families without deadlines being put on that return or any other conditions, such as the MIR, needing to be met. Indeed, as it stands, as the noble Lord, Lord Flight, said, we are discriminating against our own citizens if EU citizens who moved to the UK before the end of 2020 can, according to the withdrawal agreement, bring family members here for life and return to their own countries with their families. This is a clear discrepancy.
I cannot see any good reason why this amendment should not be accepted. I hope this is a matter that has just been overlooked. I will listen with interest to the Government's response.
My Lords, some years ago I chaired some work on the minimum income requirement affecting British people who, as has been said, never thought that they would be affected by their own country’s immigration laws.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, mentioned someone from south Wales. I encountered someone from south Wales, David, whose second wife was a teacher from Canada—I do not think that you can get more respectable than being a teacher from Canada. By his first marriage he had a disabled daughter. Had he been able to bring his wife to the UK to share the care of his daughter, that, among other things, would have saved the state a lot of money. Instead, he had to limit the amount of work and the kind of work that he did and so did not meet the minimum income requirement. She was appallingly treated. I do not believe people in British society would support this, were they to know about it. Many do not until they are brought up against it personally. I have long thought that the answer to all this will be found only when a son or daughter of a Cabinet Minister finds himself or herself in this situation.
The focus at that time was largely on spouse visas and what can be taken into account in calculating incomes. That has been changed somewhat, but the issue remains. The rules about leave to enter for an individual’s parents are so harsh that they really amount to saying, “You need to be so much in need of care and support that you probably would not be fit to travel.”
The reality of this is striking home, as noble Lords have said. One of my noble friends received a letter, which she passed on to me at the weekend, from a UK citizen who has found herself in this situation. I shall read some short extracts: “As someone who married a non-UK EU national in the UK but then moved to his country to live as his parents were already elderly, never was it in my worst nightmares that I would not be able to do the same and I might be forced to choose between caring for him and caring for my mother. When I left, returning was always an option, as I work remotely, to be able to return to care for my parents. My parents are now on the brink of their eighth decade. My mother has lung issues. My father has prostate cancer. It is inevitable that I will want and need to return at some point. What child does not want to care for their parents themselves?”
She goes on: “I and many of the more than 1 million UK citizens living in the EU will not have that right. If we do not return before the end of 2022, our fate will become income-dependent. How is it conceivable that the British Government’s approach involves discrimination against its own citizens? Surely, the family is as sacrosanct in the UK as in the rest of Europe.” I am pleased, from our Benches, to support this amendment.
My Lords, I declare a family interest in the issue raised by the amendment. As the noble Lord, Lord Flight, said, the wording in the Bill means that British citizens who moved to the EU or EEA while we were a member will lose their right to return to this country—their country of birth—with a non-British partner or children unless they can satisfy financial conditions that many may well find difficult or impossible to meet. Amendment 23, to which I am a signatory, seeks to address this situation.
I do not wish to repeat the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Flight, in moving this amendment. I agree with everything that he said. I hope that as well as responding to the arguments that he made, the Minister will also comment on his point that the change is, in effect, retrospective, since it is our country and our Government who are changing the rules that apply to our citizens on this issue. When they made their personal decisions to move to the EU or EEA, the rules, as they currently apply, may well have been a factor in making that decision; it is our Government who are now apparently seeking to change those rules.
No doubt the Minister, on behalf of the Government, will also comment on a further point made by the noble Lord, Lord Flight. He said that it appears that the new UK rules that will apply to British citizens in the situation that we are talking about will be much tougher in their terms than those that apply to EU citizens with settled status in respect of their ability to bring their dependants to join them in the UK. No doubt the Minister will confirm, in the Government’s reply, whether that is the case.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend, Lord Flight, for his Amendment 23, which refers to a specific cohort of people relating to what is known as the Surinder Singh route for family immigration. It would require the Government to make provision in regulations made under Clause 4 for lifetime rights for UK nationals resident in the EEA or Switzerland by the end of the transition period to return to the UK accompanied, or to be joined, by their close family members. These family members would thereby continue indefinitely to bypass the Immigration Rules that would otherwise apply to family members of UK nationals.
The Surinder Singh route, so-called after the relevant judgment of the Court of Justice of the European Union, refers to arrangements whereby family members of UK nationals who have resided in the EEA or Switzerland with those UK nationals while they exercised their treaty rights are able to return with them to the UK under EU free-movement law. Surinder Singh family members are not protected by the withdrawal agreement but, as a matter of domestic policy, the Government have decided that UK nationals resident in the EEA or Switzerland under EU free-movement law by the end of the transition period will have until 29 March 2022 to bring their existing close family members—a spouse, civil partner, durable partner, child or dependent parent—to the UK on EU law terms. That is three years after the date when the UK was originally supposed to have left the EU. That says to me that it is not retrospective, but if my noble friend wishes to intervene after I sit down, I would be grateful if he would let me know whether I have satisfied that point.
The family relationship must have existed before the UK left the EU on 31 January 2020, unless the child was born or adopted after this date, and must continue to exist when the family member seeks to come to the UK. Other family members, such as a spouse, where the relationship was formed after the UK left the EU, or other dependent relatives, have until the end of the transition period on 31 December 2020 to return to the UK with a qualifying UK national on EU free-movement terms. If they return to the UK with the qualifying UK national by the relevant date, all these family members will then be eligible to apply for status to remain here under the EU settlement scheme. If they do not return to the UK with the qualifying UK national by the relevant date, they will need to meet the requirements of the Immigration Rules then applicable to family members of UK nationals if they wish to come to the UK.
We hope this is a fair and balanced policy. It was developed after we listened to the concerns of UK nationals living in the EEA and Switzerland. The policy was announced on 4 April 2019, as I said, giving UK nationals almost three years to decide whether they wished to return to the UK by 29 March 2022 with their existing close family members and, if so, to make plans to do so.
By contrast, Amendment 23 seeks to provide UK nationals resident in the EEA or Switzerland by 31 December 2020 with preferential family reunion rights on an indefinite basis. Under the withdrawal agreements, EEA and Swiss citizens have lifetime rights to be joined here by existing close family members, as long as they themselves are resident in the UK by the end of the transition period. By contrast, the amendment does not specify a date by which the UK national must return to the UK, meaning that they could return at any point in future and continue to benefit from EU family reunion rules. Such preferential treatment is unfair and cannot be justified.
The family reunion rights of UK nationals returning to the UK from the EEA or Switzerland after the transition period are not covered by the withdrawal agreements. Those rights should—after a reasonable period to plan accordingly, which our policy amply provides—be aligned with those of other UK nationals who have always resided in the UK or who seek to bring family members to the UK after a period of residence in a non-EEA country. To do otherwise would be manifestly unfair to all other UK nationals wishing to live in the UK with family members from other countries.
The Government’s policy, as implemented through the EU settlement scheme, strikes the right balance between providing sufficient time for UK nationals and their family members living in the EEA or Switzerland to make decisions and plans for returning to the UK, if they wish to do so, and ensuring equal treatment of the family members of UK nationals under the Immigration Rules as soon as reasonably possible once free movement to the UK has ended.
I hope that is a satisfactory explanation for my noble friend and he will feel happy to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for her response. She covered such a large amount of territory that I am not certain I have taken it all in, but it struck me that there was the possibility that EU citizens living here might be in a slightly better position than British citizens who have been living in the EU.
I well remember that when we were joining the EU, a number of British civil servants went across to work for the EU in the same way as they might otherwise have worked for the Civil Service here. I think it important, particularly for good relations going forward, that British citizens who have lived in the EU with spouses who are not British have a fair deal, one that is better than the deal of those who are not British citizens.
While withdrawing this amendment, I hope the Government will look at this in greater detail and see whether a slightly more generous package cannot be made available for British citizens.
My Lords, I apologise, but I have just received a request to speak after the Minister from the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee.
My Lords, I simply ask the Minister what she would advise a couple, one British and one an EU national, who both have elderly parents. She is suggesting that they should pick between them for future care by the end of 2022. Is this really a humane approach?
My Lords, I apologise for the slight discontinuity of speakers to the disbenefit of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. Three years after we were supposed to leave the EU, and indeed some six years after this country voted to do so, we are giving people time. There are immigration rules in every country of the world, and we are trying to be as fair as possible. We have listened to the concerns of UK nationals living in both the EEA and Switzerland.
I simply repeat my request that the Government might look at this territory in a little more detail and should arrange things such that British citizens have a slightly better deal to come and live here than non-British citizens. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 23 withdrawn.
Amendment 24 not moved.
We now come to Amendment 25. I remind noble Lords again 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 debate.
25: Clause 4, page 3, line 8, at end insert—
“( ) No regulations may be made under subsection (1) after the end of the period of one year beginning with IP completion day.( ) In this section “IP completion day” has the meaning given in section 39 of the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020 (interpretation).”Member’s explanatory statement
This would provide that the regulation making powers under this section expire within one year of the end of the transition period.
Amendment 25, to which my name is attached, would introduce a sunset clause limiting the use of delegated powers under Clause 4 to one year, beginning with the implementation period completion day at the end of the transition period.
Immigration involves fundamental rights on a regular basis: rights to liberty, respect for private family life, property rights, the right to non-discrimination, data protection rights and a prohibition on inhumane or inhuman and degrading treatment. Changes that could or would affect fundamental rights should be made by Parliament through primary legislation, not by Ministers through secondary legislation where there is no ability to amend or alter what is proposed.
As we have discussed already, the Lords Constitution Committee and the Lords Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee have both said that the provisions in the Bill
“include broad delegated powers, including Henry VIII powers, for which there is little policy detail as to their intended use; insufficient safeguards and scrutiny processes in relation to”
how those powers are used. Other comments from one or both of these Lords committees are that
“The Bill effectively changes significant areas of immigration law from primary into secondary legislation, weakening the parliamentary scrutiny that will be required for any future amendment or repeal”,
and that “A Henry VIII clause”, such as Clause 4,
“that is subject to such a permissive test as ‘appropriateness’, and which may be used to do anything ‘in connection with’ in relation to so broad and important an issue as free movement, is constitutionally unacceptable”
and undermines “fundamental elements”.
The Government maintain that the Henry VIII powers in Clause 4 are only to address necessary technical legislative changes to primary legislation arising from the ending of free movement. The same powers in Clause 5, say the Government—those are the subject of a separate amendment later on—are there, first, to enable consequential amendments to be made to primary legislation and other retained EU law if areas of the retained EU social security co-ordination regulations, co-ordinating access to social security for individuals moving between EEA states, have to be repealed because they are not covered in a reciprocal agreement with the EU following the end of the transition period; and, secondly, if consequential technical amendments to legislation are needed arising from any new reciprocal agreement with the EU.
However, the trouble is that the actual terms of the Bill give the Government much greater powers than they say they need and are asking us to accept would be the situation. The Delegated Powers Committee said that Clause 4 presents
“a very significant delegation of power from Parliament to the Executive”,
and on Clause 5, it said:
“Parliament is being asked to scrutinise a clause so lacking in any substance whatsoever that it cannot even be described as a skeleton.”
If it the Government only want these very significant delegated powers, including Henry VIII powers, for the reasons they have previously given, they will surely recognise the potential constitutional dangers of leaving powers which represent such a significant delegation of power from Parliament to the Executive permanently on the statute book. Accordingly, if the Government want to use these powers only for the reasons they have mentioned, they should have no difficulty agreeing to the sunset clause provided for in this amendment, which I beg to move.
We on these Benches are most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, for tabling this amendment, which I can describe as an insurance policy. I agree with everything he said about Clause 4 powers, which we have had a chance to discuss, but we have a hierarchy of aims, the top one being to persuade the Government that Clause 4 is really not fit for purpose, as our committees have helpfully advised us, and that they need to go away and think again about it. The second choice would be that they accept that the broad scope, the width, of the powers they intend to give themselves is far too vague and imprecise—“in connection with”, “affecting”, et cetera—and that they need serious discipline, rigour and tightening up. The advantage of the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, is that if we fail in those ambitions, we would at least, I hope, have the fallback position of looking after a year at what improvements we could make.
This is not like the Covid regulations, where the Government are reacting to an emergency situation. That is the more normal scenario for a sunset clause, but, none the less, the clause has a huge impact and demonstrates that “taking back control” did not mean taking back control for Parliament, let alone the people, it meant taking back control for the Government. It was a clever slogan, but unfortunately it has been heavily misused, and Clause 4 sums up all the problems with the approach that has been followed in the past few years.
If we do not succeed in our other ambitions in relation to Clause 4, it is sensible to have this fallback position of a sunset clause so that at least we would have a specified review date when we could reconsider what use is being made of Clause 4.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, for moving Amendment 25, with its purpose to sunset the regulation-making power in Clause 4. As the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, said, this part of the Bill has already received quite a lot of attention, and I am sure will continue to do so in this and subsequent stages. As we know, Clause 4 enables regulations to be made
“in consequence of, or in connection with,”
Part 1, which relates to the ending of free movement and clarifying the rights of Irish citizens. The amendment would set the end date for using the regulation-making power as one year after the end of the transition period—that is, 31 December 2021.
As the Government have already put on record in the other place, we will endeavour to make all the changes required to primary and secondary legislation in the regulations under Clause 4 later this year, to come into effect by the end of the transition period, 31 December 2020. I am happy to put that on the record again today, and I can assure noble Lords that we would use this power to make further regulations beyond that only if it was absolutely required.
As has already been mentioned, there are important limitations on the use of the power contained in Clause 4. The power is already limited to making amendments as a consequence of or in connection with Part 1, and not in relation to the consequences of leaving the EU more generally. Changes cannot be made indefinitely, as they would not be in consequence of or in connection with ending free movement. The power is also limited as it cannot amend future primary legislation. The power will not and cannot be used to make changes to general immigration policies in the future.
However, in the event that we do identify the need to make further regulations relating to Part 1 of the Bill, it is only prudent—and, indeed, important—that we should have the power to do so, even if that is beyond the date suggested by the noble Lord. Any resulting regulations that amend primary legislation would, of course, be subject to the full scrutiny and approval of both Houses of Parliament.
For those reasons, I hope that the noble Lord will be content to withdraw his amendment.
I will be withdrawing the amendment. I listened with considerable interest to the Minister, and I am aware of what has been said previously. It almost seemed to me an invitation to come back with a sunset clause that would apply one month after the end of the transition period, because the Government are basically saying that they will get everything done within the next few months, after this Bill becomes an Act.
However, the Government’s view is that there might be things they miss which will need to be done. Therefore, they feel that they need to have this power on a much longer-term basis so that, if they do find things they have missed, they can still put them right without coming back for full parliamentary scrutiny.
The argument could be made the other way: a sunset clause which came into operation even earlier than the period of time I propose might give the Government the incentive to make sure that they jolly well did get things right first time, and did not have to use the argument that they missed something they should have put right under the terms of Clause 4.
I thank the Minister for his reply. I do not sense—from the nature of their stance on this issue—that the Government have too much confidence that they will use these powers within the few months that the Minister has indicated, and for the very technical purposes that they need them. If the Government did have that full confidence, they would not have any doubt, or any hesitation, about discussing whether there should be a sunset clause which was even earlier than I propose.
I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 25 withdrawn.
We now come to the group consisting of Amendment 26. I again 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 during the debate.
26: Clause 4, page 3, line 8, at end insert—
“(5A) Any regulations made under subsection (1) which make provision to permit EEA and Swiss nationals to enter the United Kingdom for the purpose of taking up employment must include a specified limit on the total number of such persons to be granted permission for that purpose each calendar year.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would oblige the Secretary of State to place an annual limit on the number of EEA and Swiss nationals that may be granted permission to enter the UK to take up employment when making regulations under Clause 4 (1).
My Lords, Amendment 26 is tabled in my name and those of the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, and the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, who regrets that he cannot be present to speak to it.
This amendment is absolutely central to our future immigration regime. It calls for an annual limit on work permits that would be granted to EU, EEA and Swiss nationals. Like other amendments, it is confined to these nationals for technical reasons; that is, what the Bill purports to deal with. However, in practice, any such limits applied to EU workers would have to be extended in some form to the rest of the world. The amendment is central because, in the absence of a cap on work permits, the numbers granted could run very rapidly out of control
This is for three reasons. First, a very large number of UK jobs will be open to new or increased international competition. We estimate that the number is of the order of 7 million. Secondly, the number of potential applicants is huge. We made a careful estimate but one confined just to the 15 main countries outside the EU which have been producing work permit applications in the past. That produced—wait for it—nearly 600 million people who would qualify for a work permit, provided that they have the required level of English, although that level has not yet been specified. From the EU, a further 50 million or 60 million people would also technically meet the requirements. Of course, they are obviously not all going to come, but the point is that a large number of people are in the age group with the qualifications that are required. Thirdly, there would be a great incentive for employers to go for cheap, competent, non-unionised workers, as indeed we saw when east European workers were allowed to come to Britain with no transition period.
It is astonishing that the Government should continue on a path devised long before Covid-19 came over the horizon and to do so just as millions of our fellow citizens are facing the prospect of unemployment. I remind your Lordships that net migration was back at record levels when we went into lockdown. The Government say that the present cap on numbers will be “suspended”, but it could well take time to restore the cap, especially as they would face heavy pressure from business. Surely it would be much better to start with a cap and adjust it in the light of circumstances.
Finally, I note a most interesting and courageous speech by the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, at Second Reading. He said that he does not believe that the proposed system will provide any control. He described it as a
“staging post in a very unstable situation with regard to immigration in the future.”—[Official Report, 22/7/20; col. 2258.]
He is absolutely right and, as I say, he is also courageous. To put it in a nutshell, the Government are heading for a car crash on immigration, and they would be wise to act soon to avoid it. I beg to move.
My Lords, I rise to support Amendment 26 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington, as well as in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts. It is an honour to be associated with—and indeed, sandwiched in the Marshalled List between—two such experts in the field of immigration and demography. Their untiring, perceptive and long-term thinking was reflected in their startling contributions at Second Reading and which, as has been said, were echoed by the noble Lord, Lord Adonis.
This amendment calls for a limit on the total number of EU, EEA and Swiss migrants coming into the UK for employment in each calendar year. I believe that we should go further and apply a cap to all such immigration from all countries, perhaps with specific separate guest worker schemes for agriculture and health workers. There is clearly a serious risk, as the noble Lord, Lord Green, has just explained, of the numbers getting very large indeed if we do not control immigration more directly, and of course if we do not enforce the laws properly.
Effectively leaving the numbers of migrants to the whim and interests of employers, as now proposed, is unnecessarily risky. It would also make it impossible to plan properly for the additional houses, schools and health and transport facilities we would need. The new lower salary thresholds designed to help employers, combined with the apparent attraction of the UK as a place to live and work—as evidenced, sadly, in the channel every day—would result in ever greater numbers of arrivals, especially from third countries outside the EEA.
We need as many jobs as possible for those already in the UK, particularly with the chill winter we must expect following Covid-19, and a greater incentive for employers to train in the skills we need. We are a small island; we need to be careful about the numbers and nature of the people we welcome here. Otherwise we will feel the consequences, including at the ballot box. We have to get this right.
This is rather awkward for me, because I have great respect for the noble Lord, Lord Green, and the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, both of whom I regard as friends. The noble Lord was a close colleague and a brilliant ambassador, and the noble Baroness was a highly successful public servant before she became a highly successful businesswoman. However, I find myself in total disagreement with what they are recommending.
I find the amendment unattractive for a number of reasons. I will stick to the economic and business reasons, except to say that in political terms this is definitely a little England amendment. If you go north of the border and look at Scotland, where the population is declining and only immigration makes it possible to hope to maintain present levels, the political arguments are completely different. I did not hear from either the noble Lord, Lord Green, or the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, any recognition that the points being made were specific to the economy of England.
I see three obvious effects of the imposition of an annual quota. First, it would be the Government, not the market, who would pick the number. I would have thought that the free-market instincts of the noble Baroness would bridle at the idea that the gentleman in Whitehall—or perhaps his algorithm—knows best. Moreover, it would not be the Business Department, alert to the concerns of business, that would set the number, but the Home Office, which is not famous for having its finger on the pulse of the economy.
The second effect would be to produce a short-term surge at the start of every year. I am looking at this from the point of view of international businesses with operations based here; they would need to bring in their essential workers quickly before the door clanged shut for the year. The surge would then be followed by a freeze, preventing them bringing in new staff to match new requirements. I spent some time on the board of a great Anglo-Dutch company, dual-based here and in the Netherlands. Amendment 26 would have been hugely damaging to the flexibility essential for our efficiency.
Hence the third effect: the long-term discouragement to our friends in Milan, Munich or Madrid to put or keep parts of their business in our country. It would be a further deterrent to their putting or keeping their operations here, on top of the complications of our being outside the single market—just what we do not need. I hope that the noble Lord and the noble Baroness will, on reflection, decide not to press an amendment that is politically damaging in the context of the union and economically hugely damaging in the context of international business.
My Lords, I welcome the proposal of an annual cap on the number of people allowed to settle in this country, initially from the EEA but eventually applying to all countries, I hope. It is strange that such a cap has not been included in previous plans to limit immigration.
Successive political leaders from Tony Blair onwards have promised what they describe as an Australian-style points-based system for controlling immigration, but what they have planned has not been an Australian-style system. For most of this century, and indeed earlier, Australia has had a system with an overall cap on the number of visas issued, while allocating those visas on the basis of the points awarded to would-be immigrants. Australia is a vast, underpopulated country that, after the threat of Japanese invasion, decided it needed to increase its population to ensure its security, but even it does not allow everyone who happens to qualify for a certain number of points to settle there with no cap on the numbers.
We are a small, crowded island. It beggars belief that we should introduce a system that would potentially allow almost unlimited numbers of people to come and work and settle here. The number of people coming here from outside the European Union is clearly out of control already. In the last financial year, nearly 90,000 new national insurance numbers were issued to people from India alone—just one country. That is nearly double the number in the previous year and three times the number in the years before that. Of course, it was matched by similar numbers from the rest of Asia combined, not to mention those coming from other continents.
So far as I know, no one knows why this sudden surge has occurred, what jobs these people are working in or where they live, but if we had an annual cap, at the very least such surges would be smoothed out over a number of years, during which we could establish what the driving force was, and, if we decided it was reasonable to continue to allow that number of people to come, to prepare—as the noble Baroness, Lady Neville- Rolfe, said—for the numbers of houses and schools, et cetera, that we would have to build.
Whatever our personal views about the desirability of allowing large numbers of people to settle here, there can be no doubt that the overwhelming majority of the British people would like to see strict limits put on those numbers. This is not a democratic House and your Lordships have made it clear in this debate that they have remarkably little sympathy for the democratic sentiments that the people constantly express. But this country is a democracy, and our laws should reflect the broad wishes of the British people. This amendment would go some way to achieving that.
My Lords, I understand that the noble Lord, Lord Horam, has withdrawn, so I call the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford.
My Lords, this is not a workable notion. I am not the world’s expert on the non-EU migration system. It is a world I am having to learn about, having known far more about EU free movement in the past. As I understand it, most aspects of non-EU migration to date—which is going to be changed by the points-based system—have, I think, been affected by caps within individual tiers. I am sure I will be corrected if I am wrong. That has not, from some people’s point of view, been a great success. After all, for at least the last few years, annual non-EEA migration has been considerably higher than EU or EEA migration. I understand the aims of the authors of this amendment, but I am not sure how or why it would be expected to reduce numbers.
The amendment also offers us a very bureaucratic system rather than, as the Government intend, one that would respond in a flexible, streamlined fashion to the need for skills in our economy. After all, if you are an employer with a crucial post that cannot be filled—perhaps the geophysicist I mentioned earlier—it seems somewhat ridiculous that you would fail to recruit an expert that you could not find at home because you were the first one after the cap had been imposed.
It is not as if it is a free-for-all. As I understand it, the sponsor employer has to sponsor the call welcoming bids from would-be immigrants and has to pay the immigration surcharge and so on. It is not as if the numbers are not overseen by the system and by a number of individual needs and choices that are driven by the needs of the economy and the employer.
An overall cap would be unworkable and unhelpful to the economy and to employers. Indeed, as the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, pointed out, there are areas of the United Kingdom—he mentioned Scotland—that have a need for a greater population. There is one thing worse than having an expanding population, and that is having a declining one, as Germany is finding out and Japan has found out. There will come a time, with declining birth rates in this country, when we will be wishing that we had more immigrants. Indeed, that partly motivated Chancellor Merkel in 2015.
All things considered, I cannot offer from these Benches support for this amendment. I acknowledge the sincerity with which it is proposed, but I honestly do not think it is wise or workable.
My Lords, I hope the Government’s response to this amendment, and indeed to the next two, might reveal something about their intentions and objectives as far as the new points-based immigration system is concerned.
I feel there is a lack of consistency on behalf of the Government about how crowded or otherwise they believe this country actually is. When it comes to the planning White Paper, and the opposition there appears to be to it from within the ranks of the Government party, one of the responses you get is that it is only a very small percentage of this country that is being built on. Yet when it comes to an immigration system, one senses that the Government base it on the fact that this country is too crowded. There appears to be a contrast, depending on whether they are talking about the planning White Paper or the immigration system, in what their view is on how crowded or otherwise this country actually is at present.
I hope that when the Government reply we shall find out a bit more about their statement that their points-based immigration system will reduce migration. An answer on that might address some of the concerns raised by the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington. The Government have never told us the basis on which they reached that conclusion—in spite of the comments of my noble friend Lord Adonis, and the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington, at Second Reading, which suggested that the contrary would be the case.
Over the past decade we have heard policy statements about reducing migration to below 100,000, but those statements—I will not go into whether they were sensible or otherwise—were followed by a rise in net migration, including, and not least, from outside the EU, where freedom of movement does not apply.
I hope that when the Minister responds to this amendment we will get a very clear statement from the Government as to exactly why and how they happen to believe that their new points-based immigration system will lead to a reduction in migration—if that, rightly or wrongly, is their policy objective. Such a clear statement is badly needed, and could be given right now.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington, and pay my respect to the deep expertise that he brings to this subject. The House benefits from it every time he speaks. As he said, his amendment would reintroduce an annual limit on the number of people that might be granted permission to enter the UK to take up skilled employment. The existing cap, which the Government are committed to suspending, is set at 20,700 and is administered monthly to those seeking entry clearance as skilled workers.
Currently, applications are held till the end of each allocation month. If applications exceed available places in any month, priority is given to occupations on the shortage occupation list and PhD level occupations. Thereafter, priority is broadly determined by salary, with higher-paying jobs getting first preference. On the face of it, this sounds like a sensible measure to control and limit migration to the UK, and is consistent with the aim of prioritising the brightest and best to come to the UK. However, it adds to the burden on business, as the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, pointed out, slows the process of recruiting a skilled migrant and creates uncertainty among employers. It also creates a situation in which a migrant might be perceived as of value one day and not the next, which is what inevitably happens when a cap binds.
We want the UK to be a great place to do business, and we want to reduce uncertainty for UK employers and businesses—which imposes costs and prevents forward planning—while ensuring that we do not put unnecessary obstacles in the path of those who want to operate and contribute, so that the UK’s economy continues to prosper. As noble Lords know, we also want to create a simple global immigration system that focuses on skills and talent and the contribution migrants can make to the UK, rather than on where they come from.
We should be imposing a cap only if we think it would genuinely offer extra protection to resident workers and can be implemented in a way that mitigates uncertainty for businesses and employers across the whole of the UK. The Government do not think that that is so. That view is based on the clear economic advice of the independent MAC, supported by evidence from a wide range of stakeholders.
To illustrate, I draw noble Lords’ attention to the MAC report of September 2018 on the impact of EEA migration in the UK. It said it does
“not believe that the welfare of existing residents is best served by a cap for two reasons. First, the cap, when it binds, constrains inflows of a group of migrants which the evidence suggests are the most economically beneficial … Second, the cap creates unpredictability when it binds as there can be sharp increases in the minimum salary threshold that skilled visa applications face.”
This is very similar to a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Kerr. The MAC went on:
“A cap may be viewed as important as part of a political strategy to provide an impression that the system is under control but it is important to recognise that it has an economic and social cost.”
The MAC’s findings in relation to the impact on the devolved nations are equally important, and both the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, and the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, spoke about this. Given the Government’s commitment to introducing an immigration system that works for the whole of the UK. In its September report, the MAC highlights findings from various reports for Scotland, stating that, in practice, the cap
“prioritises those roles with the very highest salaries to the exclusion of other criteria—disadvantaging Scottish businesses in favour of those in London and the South East who offer the highest salaries.”
For Northern Ireland and Wales, the cap risks squeezing or crowding out Welsh and Northern Irish employers.
Finally, the MAC has said:
“We believe that if the Government wants to reduce migration numbers it would make more economic sense to do so by varying the other aspects of the scheme criteria e.g. salary thresholds and the level of the ISC.”
We agree, and this is why we are retaining the immigration skills charge and extending its application to employers of EEA and Swiss nationals.
The requirement to pay that charge, the proceeds of which contribute directly to the UK skills budget, helps to ensure that employers are unlikely to employ a migrant when there is someone suitable to under- take the role within the domestic labour workforce. We are also maintaining a firm requirement in the new points-based immigration system for migrants who are coming under the skilled worker route to be paid a salary that does not undercut domestic workers.
As outlined in the Government’s February policy statement, we have accepted the MAC’s recommendation on salary thresholds, as set out in its 28 January report. The Government have also set out additional detail on criteria for the new skilled worker route and likely salary thresholds in the July Further Details document, so noble Lords can see the exact approach we are taking and how we are ensuring that migrants cannot come in on the cheap. This is just the first stage of our plan for a points-based system.
The Government will carefully monitor the impact of the changes on the resident labour markets and key sectors. The new points-based system will allow us to make future adjustments to ensure that it is able to meet the needs of the UK economy. On the basis that we are maintaining robust protection for resident workers and providing certainty for UK businesses and employers, and because the key expert advisers—notwithstanding the noble Lord, Lord Green, of course—have said that we should not apply an annual cap on skilled workers, I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment at this point.
My Lords, I have received no requests to speak after the Minister, so I call the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington.
My Lords, I am grateful for the lucid and powerful support of the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe. In addition, the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, dealt most effectively with the need for a cap. I am sorry to find myself in some disagreement with the noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard. He is hugely respected in this House—rightly so—and including, if I may say so, by myself. That is not to say we agree on immigration.
The Minister explained very clearly how a cap would be administered. There is also something called the intra-company transfer, which would deal with large companies wanting to post senior staff.
On the issue of public opinion, 55% of the UK population want to see a reduction in immigration—that is about 30 million people—while 4% want to see an increase. The figures are similar for Scotland. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 26 withdrawn.
My Lords, we now come to the group consisting of Amendment 27. 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 during the debate.
27: Clause 4, page 3, line 8, at end insert—
“(5A) Regulations under subsection (1) must make provision for the Resident Labour Market Test (as set out in the Immigration Rules Appendix A: attributes) to apply to job offers where a job offer forms part of the application of EEA and Swiss nationals seeking to enter the United Kingdom for the purpose of taking up employment.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would require that job offers made to EEA and Swiss nationals which form part of an application for that person to enter the United Kingdom should first be advertised in the domestic labour market in accordance with the Resident Labour Market Test.
My Lords, I rise to move Amendment 27, which is also in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, and the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, who unfortunately cannot be present.
The purpose of this amendment is to restore the clumsily termed “resident labour market test” or, in plain English, to oblige employers to advertise a job first in the UK before recruiting on the international market. This labour market test has been in place for decades and for good reason—namely, to give British workers a fair opportunity to apply for jobs as they arise. Employers did not like this test, because they claimed it involved expense and delay. The Government appear to have caved in, despite the fact that the Migration Advisory Committee has long been critical of some employers for failing to invest in training UK recruits.
It is truly astonishing that, with unemployment heading for several million, there could be any suggestion this requirement be abolished. The public share this view. Opinion polling in May this year found that 77% of the public believe that the Government should ensure employers prioritise the hiring of UK workers rather than turning to more overseas recruitment. Only 8% want to make it easier to hire more people from abroad. I hope the Opposition Benches will take the same view and that the reasonable, indeed fully justified expectations, of British workers will be respected. I beg to move.
My Lords, I strongly support this amendment, to which I have added my name.
To respond to the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, I want to see more housing, both to help existing UK citizens and to help legal migrants. As noble Lords will recall, I made this point in my Oral Question yesterday. I want arrangements prioritising migration of skilled and scarce workers, but which allow the nation to plan for their housing, GP surgeries, hospitals and schools, the pressure on which is making people angry. This includes Scotland, if you listen to the figures from the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington.
It is particularly extraordinary that we should be thinking of dropping the long-standing requirement that jobs should be advertised in the UK before overseas recruitment occurs. This will encourage employers—especially big employers—to recruit overseas, sometimes without even trying the home market. We already have the benefit of 3.7 million or so EU citizens who have applied for the EU settled status scheme. Due to corona- virus and digital change, employment on the high street and elsewhere is, sadly, falling.
While I do not rule out special arrangements for agriculture and for health workers, we need our jobs to go to the home team wherever possible, whether in engineering, restaurants or universities. That is particularly the case in the wake of Covid-19. Advertising at home first seems a small price for employers to pay. Frankly, I am puzzled that the trade unions are not strongly supporting this.
I support this amendment, which seeks to restore the resident labour test. As the noble Lord, Lord Green, said, the MAC thought that the pressure from employers to get rid of this test was symptomatic of a reluctance even to train people in this country. To my mind, that anyone should want to get rid of it when we face mass unemployment beggars belief. I understand that it was removed because of pressure from employers, and that, as MAC said, is symptomatic of deeply ingrained attitudes among many British employers that they have no duty to train their workforce, let alone to recruit locally.
As I mentioned in the debates on Amendments 82 and 93, that failure to train is as prevalent in the public sector and the NHS as it is in the private sector. The prevailing attitude in too many British companies is that you should train your own employees only if you cannot recruit people with those skills from abroad. We need to reverse that order of priorities: train your own employees first, and only recruit abroad if for some reason it is impossible to find them locally.
When I served on the Select Committee on Exiting the European Union in the House of Commons, our first visit after the referendum was to Sunderland. We met the great and the good of the business community there: the CBI, the Institute of Directors, the chamber of commerce, the local councils and most of the large employers, though with the notable exception of Nissan. I asked them what their principal concern was about the impact of Brexit. They said, “It may restrict our ability to recruit skilled labour from abroad.”
I was reminded then of a previous visit to that part of the world when, as Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, I had gone to see the Nissan plant, which had then been recently established. I had asked the management a rather stupid question: “Do you have any difficulty recruiting skilled workers for your plant?” They were too polite to point out how stupid the question was, but they replied that there were no skilled automobile workers in the north-east of England. They added, “So we train people ourselves. They are very eager to learn and they make excellent workers.”
Recounting that conversation to the employers hosting the Select Committee, I asked them what would have happened if the Japanese had taken the same approach as them. There would be 9,000 Poles working in Nissan’s plant and 9,000 Brits would be tossing hamburgers or on the dole. They looked somewhat shamefaced, as well they might because those British workers recruited locally are now the most productive workers in the whole worldwide Nissan network. We must—and this amendment takes a very small step in that direction— encourage most British firms to show the same faith in British workers as Nissan did a quarter of a century ago.
The noble Lord, Lord Horam, has withdrawn, so I call the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford.
My Lords, I am all in favour of training for skills, whether through the education and further education system or by employers. However, to some extent the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, has answered the question himself; there are good companies that train their workforce.
I have been very impressed by the publicity for apprenticeships recently. Historically, this country has not had as good a record as some other countries, such as Germany, in valuing craft, engineering and practical skills. The touchstone of aspiration has been a degree in PPE at Oxford; we know quite a few people in the Palace of Westminster who have the qualification of Eton and Oxford PPE. Speaking as a lowly LSE graduate, I have not had the same attitude. Unfortunately, that attitude has persisted for far too long.
It is a truism to say, “We wish we had a plumber in the family”, but we can think of other skills that would have been useful, particularly over the past six months. I jolly well wish I could have a family member or someone who could come to the house to help me—when even our wonderful Parliamentary Digital Service cannot—with things that frustrate me in the tech and computer field. That is the sort of person who rightly has considerable value on the labour market, and we have been slow, as a country, to value that. However, the immigration system is not the way to enforce and encourage training, whether that be within employment or in the education system. Efforts are happening, but I am sure my colleagues who deal with education would say they are too little and in many ways too late. But artificial means within the immigration system, whether a cap or the resident market test, add more red tape and delay. So, the two things have to go together: employers need to be able to find skills if they cannot locally, but at the same time we need to increase the pipeline within the UK to reduce the need to import those skills, if that is what is desired. I am afraid that I am not persuaded that this amendment—or the previous one—is going to help us have better skills or a better immigration system.
I think reference was made earlier to the position of trade unions vis-à-vis this amendment. I certainly cannot speak on behalf of trade unions, but I say as an individual that I get the impression that trade unions will probably push more than anyone else to have a better trained workforce and for spending more money on training by employers. They have not always received the response they should have to those representations and that pressure.
As for the specific terms of this amendment, it has been said there has been a demise as far as the resident labour market test is concerned. I await with interest to hear whether Government agree with that, because that is what is being said, and if the Government accept that that is true, to ask why they think that has been the case and what they think the impact of that, if it is true, has been on the employment of British citizens. I will also be interested to hear from the Government’s reply whether the use or non-use of the resident labour market test will be used to reduce or increase migrations, since I think I understood from the noble Baroness’s reply to the previous amendment that it would be the Government’s intention to use the salary threshold and the immigration skills charge—presumably by increasing or raising the threshold or by increasing or lowering the immigration skills charge—to have an impact on the level of net migrations. I will be interested to find out, when we hear the Government’s response to this amendment, whether the use or otherwise of the resident labour market test will also be used by the Government to seek to control levels of migration.
My Lords, again, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington, for tabling this amendment and all noble Lords who have spoken to it. As noble Lords have said, this amendment would have the effect of reintroducing a resident labour market test for EEA citizens, otherwise known as the RLMT. The RLMT requires a job to be advertised in the UK for 28 days to establish whether there is anyone suitable in the domestic labour market before the job can be offered to an overseas migrant. Again, on the face of it this is a very sensible measure, but it would add to the burden on businesses and would considerably slow the process of recruiting a skilled migrant.
We want the UK to be a great place to do business and to ensure we do not impose unnecessary obstacles in the path of those who want to operate and contribute, ensuring that the UK’s economy continues to prosper. We also want to create a single, global immigration system, focusing on skills and talents and the contribution that migrants can make to the UK, rather than where they have come from. We should be imposing an RLMT only if we think it would genuinely offer protection to resident workers, and the Government do not think at this stage that that would be so. That is not just the Government’s opinion but is based on the clear economic advice of the MAC: of course, the MAC consults very widely with stakeholders before producing its recommendation.
I shall quote from a report published in September 2018 on the impact of EEA migration. The MAC said it was,
“sceptical about how effective the RLMT is”
in giving settled workers the first opportunity to fill jobs. It went on to say:
“We think it likely the bureaucratic costs of the RLMT outweigh any economic benefit”.
Finally, the MAC said:
“We therefore recommend the abolition of the RLMT”.
Equally pertinent is the MAC’s next paragraph:
“We do think it important to have protection against employers using migrants to under-cut UK-born workers. The best protection is a robust approach to salary thresholds and the Immigration Skills Charge and not the RLMT.”
The Government agree, which is why we are maintaining a firm requirement in the new points-based immigration system for migrants who are coming under the skilled worker route to be paid a salary that does not undercut domestic workers.
As outlined in the Government’s February policy statement, we have accepted the MAC’s recommendations on salary thresholds set out in its 28 January report on salary threshold and points-based systems. Building on this, the Government have set out additional detail on likely salary thresholds in the July Further Details document, so noble Lords can see exactly the approach we are taking and how we are ensuring that migrants cannot come in on the cheap. I remind noble Lords that, again on the MAC’s advice, we are retaining the immigration skills charge, which has to be paid by all employers of skilled migrant workers. The requirement to pay that charge, the proceeds of which contribute directly to the UK skills budget, helps ensure that employers are unlikely to employ a migrant when there is someone suitable to undertake the role within the domestic labour workforce. I hope that, on that basis, the noble Lord will be happy to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I have received no requests to speak after the Minister, so I call the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington.
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, again spoke powerfully on the basis of her considerable experience at very senior levels in the private sector. I thought the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, had some most encouraging words on the basis of his ministerial experience. It did not seem to me that the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, nor the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, exactly answered the question as to whether they are opposed to the abolition of this test.
The Minister gave a very good, technical answer based largely on the MAC, but the MAC are, of course, economists. They are not politicians and do not really care about how a British worker would feel if a job had gone to a foreigner and he had not even had a chance to apply. It is basically about fairness, as I said, and I hope the Government will be open to keeping a very close eye on this, in their own interests and those of public opinion, which is very strong, as I mentioned. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 27 withdrawn.
My Lords, we now come to the group consisting of Amendment 28. Once again, I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate and that anyone wishing to press this amendment to a Division should make that clear during the debate.
28: Clause 4, page 3, line 8, at end insert—
“(5A) Where regulations made under subsection (1) make provision for the minimum salary requirement for new entrants to be lower than the equivalent salary requirement for other migrants, the regulations may not be made unless a draft of the instrument has been laid before and approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.(5B) For the purposes of subsection (5A), “new entrant” means an EEA or Swiss migrant who meets one of the following criteria—(a) the migrant is switching from the Student or Graduate to the Skilled Worker route;(b) the migrant is under the age of 26 on the date of their application; or(c) the migrant is working towards a recognised professional qualification or moving directly into a postdoctoral position.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would require parliamentary approval of regulations which would make provision for the recruitment of new entrants to the labour market at pay rates below the general salary requirement under the new Points Based System.
My Lords, Amendment 28 is in my name and that of the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, who cannot be here. This is the third in a trio of amendments designed to draw the Committee’s attention to some rather key aspects of the points-based system, which is on its way but not yet in full detail.
The purpose of the amendment is to tackle what I submit is a totally absurd situation. Your Lordships will be aware that the new points-based system will reduce the required level of education from degree level to A-level. It will also reduce the general salary requirement from £30,000 to £25,000 a year. As I have already described in the context of Amendment 26, these changes will produce literally millions of potential candidates.
However, it gets worse. There is also to be a special scheme for what are described as “new entrants”—that is, those aged over 18 but under 26 when they first arrive in the UK. For such workers, the salary requirement will be only £20,480 a year—little more than the national living wage but still attractive to many in poorer countries, including even in some EU member states. What is more, this route will lead to settlement and eventual access to our full welfare state. There is surely bound to be a substantial take-up.
Ironically, this comes at the very time that the Government are launching their Kickstart programme—a £2 billion scheme announced last week that they claim will create thousands of new jobs for young people. The programme is being launched in September. In January, we will open our labour market to these new entrants. As a result, our young people, who have had enough difficulties to face already, will face unlimited competition from foreign workers with A-levels who might have years of work experience and who are prepared to work for not much more than the national living wage. Roughly 1.5 million British workers will be directly affected—those aged between 18 and 25 who do not have a qualification higher than A-level. So, first, there is the Kickstart in September and then, I regret to say, the kick in the teeth in January.
I also regret to say that this has all the makings of a policy shambles. The Government would be well advised to back off, and back off soon, for it is our own young workers who will pay the price. I beg to move.
My Lords, the noble Lords, Lord Hodgson and Lord Lilley, have withdrawn, so I now call the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe.
My Lords, I rise to speak to this amendment with which I have much sympathy, especially now that I have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington. A salary of £20,480 seems quite low. It is surprising that we are offering a new entrant route, because I believe that allows employers to pay one-third less than the headline rate. I am far from clear whether this plan will apply to both EEA and third-country migrants, thus the importance of the response to my Amendment 32, which was debated earlier. I am sure my noble friend the Minister will be able to clarify matters when she responds.
I am sure it is completely right to require parliamentary approval of such a scheme as Amendment 28 proposes, but I worry that Parliament is in fact going too far in permitting such a scheme under the powers in the Bill. If the new immigration arrangements post Brexit lead to a serious shortage of labour, then of course the Government can return to Parliament for more powers. I fear that we are bringing in too many changes at once and risk losing control of our borders and disadvantaging young people and the unemployed in this country. This new entrant route is one change that I think should be deferred for now.
The noble Lord, Lord Horam, has withdrawn, so I call the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford.
My Lords, I am not really clear how this is meant to work. Is there any intention on the part of the Government to allow the so-called new entrants to enjoy a lower minimum salary requirement than other migrants? It is clear that there is something that I have not fully understood on this. I assume that the authors of the amendment fear, anticipate or foresee such a development, but it may be that, as I admitted earlier, my knowledge of the points-based migration system is insufficient to allow me to fully grasp to what mischief this amendment is addressed. I am surprised it is assumed that this situation could arise.
That is rather a lame comment, so I look forward even more than usual to hearing the Minister’s explanation of why this amendment is—as I assume she is about to say—unnecessary or does not pass muster. It seems to me that it too possibly falls foul of the problem of being bureaucratic and inflexible. I think I should stop there and listen to the Minister’s expert explanation.
I think I am in a very similar position to the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, in wanting to hear the Government’s reply.
I notice that the Government have been told that we are heading for a policy shambles, and I notice that the Minister has been told by those behind her that we are making too many changes. Obviously this is something that inevitably happens when we have a Bill with no proper scrutiny of what the Government can do.
Having made that comment, I will listen with interest to what the Minister has to say and to whether she agrees that we are heading for a policy shambles and with the other concerns that have been raised by the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington.
I again thank the noble Lord, Lord Green, and all noble Lords who spoke on these amendments. For the benefit of the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, and others, I will circulate the current rules for new entrants—rather than send everyone to sleep with the old rules and the new rules—so that they can compare and contrast.
The amendment seeks to put in place separate parliamentary approval for regulations allowing EEA and Swiss citizen new entrants to the labour market to be paid less than other skilled workers. Minimum salary requirements are a key part of our new skilled worker route. They serve three main purposes: first, as an indicator that a job for which a UK employer wishes to recruit a migrant worker is indeed a skilled job; secondly, to ensure that a migrant worker is paid a fair wage; and thirdly, to prevent employers using migrant workers as a source of cheap labour, undercutting wages for resident workers. The noble Lord is absolutely right that we must have confidence in setting the salary requirements for skilled workers at the right level, balancing the need to control immigration effectively and ensure that the UK’s economy continues to prosper, and not setting them so low that they do not achieve these objectives.
As I said ahead of outlining proposals for the UK’s points-based immigration system, the Government sought independent economic advice from the MAC. In its January 2020 report, A Points-Based System and Salary Thresholds for Immigration—which I am sure everyone has read—the MAC addressed the need for a range of salary thresholds and made recommendations for new entrants. The Government have accepted the recommendations in that report. Our salary requirements for skilled workers are based on national earnings data for UK workers. The MAC identified that new entrants—defined essentially as those at the start of their careers—typically earn around 30% less than experienced workers. Setting lower salary requirements for new entrants reflects this reality and means we avoid setting the requirements at an artificially high level. Reduced rates for new entrants have been part of the immigration system since 2013. While we intend to continue the new entrant salary rate, in future the new rules will set a more consistent 30% reduction across all occupations. As the MAC identified, the differences in the current system are very large for some occupations. New entrant quantity surveyors, for example, may be paid 69% less than more experienced migrant workers in the same profession.
The noble Lord is also right there should be parliamentary scrutiny of these requirements, but there is already a long-established procedure for this. The Government are required to set out their immigration policy in the Immigration Rules. This includes salary requirements, which can determine whether an immigration application succeeds or fails. Changes to the rules must be laid before Parliament under the procedure set out in Section 3(2) of the Immigration Act 1971. Either House may disapprove the changes by negative resolution within 40 days of them being laid and the Secretary of State may make any changes that appear to her required in the circumstances. Any such changes will be laid before Parliament within a further 40 days.
I do not think that it is necessary or proportionate to introduce a separate procedure for salary requirements for new entrants. As I have said, lower salary requirements for new entrants are not new. Skilled workers in the existing immigration system are subject to minimum salary requirements and the current Immigration Rules already provide for lower salaries for new entrants. Furthermore, there seems no particular reason for the procedure for new entrant salaries to be different from the procedure for the general salary requirements, or indeed any other requirements for skilled workers, such as the need for a sponsoring employer, a job at the appropriate skill level and the ability to speak English to an accepted standard. The nature of our points-based system is that all these requirements are closely interlinked.
Additionally, our salary requirements, including those for new entrants, are based on UK earnings data. We intend to update them regularly in line with the latest available data, ensuring that migrant workers’ pay keeps pace with that of resident workers. The procedure set out in Section 3 of the Immigration Act 1971 enables us to do so quickly and responsively, while maintaining an essential element of parliamentary scrutiny. Bringing forward draft regulations under an affirmative procedure would lessen this responsiveness.
We may also wish to amend the criteria used to identify new entrants in future. By way of example, we will be removing the option relating to university milk round recruitment to reflect the removal of the resident labour market test. We have also agreed the MAC’s recommendation to include options relating to those working towards professional qualifications or moving into post-doctoral positions. Similar changes may be needed from time to time, which this amendment would make more difficult by placing the new entrant criteria in the Bill.
As outlined in the February policy statement, the Government are committed to continuing to refine the system in the light of experience and will consider adding further flexibility. Specific parliamentary arrangements that risk splitting up interconnecting policies should not prevent this.
For the reasons I have set out, including that we will continue to lay before Parliament the full details of requirements—including those for new entrants—I hope that the noble Lord will be happy to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, that was a short but interesting debate—interesting because very few people in the Committee had much idea of what is proposed. The Minister loyally read out what she had been advised to say, but there are just one or two little points. One is that this was based firmly on MAC advice. As I have mentioned, the MAC is a very competent bunch of people, but they are all economists. There seems to be no political common sense engaged in examining its recommendations. What is more, they were made in January, before the Covid crisis struck us, and so was the February policy statement to which the Minister referred. All these things were cooked up before we faced the very serious crisis that we now face. I therefore hope that the Government will be light on their feet and not wait for this to run out of control before they take some action to lower what is bound to be a highly attractive route, which will be, without question, to the detriment of our own young people, who will not have the work experience of a 24 year-old from overseas. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 28 withdrawn.
Amendment 29 not moved.
My Lords, we now come to the group beginning with Amendment 30. I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate. Anyone wishing to press this or the other amendment in this group to a Division should make that clear in debate.
30: Clause 4, page 3, line 8, at end insert—
“( ) Regulations under subsection (1) must ensure that no fee is charged that may deter or prevent registration of an EEA or Swiss national as a British citizen.”Member’s explanatory statement
The amendment is to probe the impact upon rights to British citizenship of measures relating to fees (currently £1012 for a child and £1206 for an adult to register a statutory right to British citizenship) that have been introduced or are to be introduced in connection with the ending of free movement.
My Lords, I rise to move Amendment 30 and to speak to Amendment 68. These probing amendments are about citizenship, and I am grateful to the Project for the Registration of Children as British Citizens—of which I am a patron—and Amnesty International UK for their help with them. I pay tribute to these organisations for all the work they have done to promote and protect children’s citizenship rights.
For technical reasons, the amendments relate solely to EEA and Swiss nationals, but the issues they raise echo concerns raised previously on a number of occasions in your Lordships’ House, particularly with regard to children’s citizenship rights.
Children born in this country to parents settled here, or who have grown up here from a young age, are entitled to register as British citizens. A combination of factors, including exorbitant fees, lack of awareness of the need to register their right to citizenship and the difficulties faced by local authorities in assisting looked-after children to exercise the right, have resulted in thousands of children being denied that right to British citizenship.
One consequence of our leaving the EU is that many more children could be in this position. They are the children of EU nationals who were born or who have grown up in the UK from an early age; the Home Office appears to have ignored this group. In establishing the EUSS, it has done nothing to raise awareness of their citizenship rights or to encourage children and young people with these rights to exercise them. Instead, because the EUSS is free, there is a real danger that many of them will be encouraged to secure themselves immigration status and not confirm or register themselves as British citizens, which they may not realise is open to them and involves a fee of £1,012.
In a High Court judgment in December last year—mentioned in the debate on an earlier amendment—that fee was deemed unlawful, as it was set without having regard to the best interests of the child. That decision is being appealed, but its reasoning is highly pertinent. In particular, it underlined the importance of citizenship.
In response to a similar set of amendments in the Commons Committee stage, the Immigration Minister argued that any child looked after by their local authority can apply for limited and indefinite leave to remain without having to pay a fee, and that citizenship itself
“is not essential for any individual to work, live, study or access services in the UK.”
When he was urged not to pursue that line of argument by Stuart McDonald MP, he re-emphasised that citizenship
“is not something that people need in order to access services.”—[Official Report, Commons, Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill Committee, 16/6/20; cols. 208-09.]
Does the Conservative Party really believe in such a transactional view of the significance of citizenship? In contrast, in 1981, during the passage of the British Nationality Act, which conferred the right to register as a citizen, it was emphasised that this was in part to ensure that the children concerned should have
“as strong a sense of security as possible”.
Citizenship is about security, belonging, inclusion, integration and identity. Indeed, the High Court judgment cited the Secretary of State’s own guidance document, which states that:
“Becoming a British citizen is a significant life event. Apart from allowing a child to apply for a British citizen passport, British citizenship gives them the opportunity to participate more fully in the life of their local community as they grow up.”
As noted on the earlier amendment, the High Court judgment referred to a “mass of evidence” that the inability to exercise their right to register as citizens because of the fee causes many children born in the UK to
“feel alienated, excluded, isolated, second best, insecure and not fully assimilated into the culture and social fabric of the UK.”
Is this really what the Government want? Do we want many more children to feel this way in future? This false equation of immigration status with citizenship was one factor in the Windrush scandal. Please do not let us repeat it.
Amendment 30 addresses the impact of the fee level on registration. In her Windrush Lessons Learned Review, Wendy Williams notes that
“there’s little evidence that the impact on people was effectively considered”
when fees were increased significantly. Amendment 68 specifies that the level should not exceed the administrative cost, which according to the Home Office is currently £372—£640 less than the fee charged. The Home Office’s argument that such a mark-up on the fee is justified because it provides a “benefit” and because the Home Office needs the money to run a sustainable immigration and citizenship system—repeated by the Minister at Second Reading—is specious because we are talking about a citizenship right bestowed by Parliament, not a discretionary immigration status.
Amendment 68 also excludes from the fee any child who has been looked after by a local authority—a particularly marginalised group of children. There is no logic to local authorities having to pay these fees on behalf of these children as it simply involves a transfer of resources from local to central government. I believe some other noble Lords might say more about this. It also requires the Secretary of State to take steps to raise awareness of the right to register as a British citizen but I will not say more about that now as it is the main focus of Amendment 67, which will be debated on a later day.
Because of the restrictions created by the Bill’s Long Title, these are simply probing amendments. However, as I am sure the Minister realises, the more general question of the barriers to registering the right to British citizenship, particularly the level of the fee, is one that we will return to in this House time and again. Given the Home Office’s welcome readiness to accept the recommendations of the Windrush Lessons Learned Review, and the dangers of now repeating some of the flaws it revealed, will it now think again? As a first step, will the Minister, on behalf of the Home Office, undertake to look again at the level of the fee, which even Sajid Javid, when Home Secretary, admitted was “huge”? I beg to move.
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, has been terrier-like in her pursuit of these issues. I, like the whole House, am grateful to her for that and I too thank the organisations she mentioned.
The fees are to exercise a right, but a right is no use if you cannot exercise it. The fees are a deterrent. They are a deterrent if you think that you are in a sufficiently secure position and do not understand the distinction between immigration status and citizenship. They are a deterrent if you are told by the Government that you are in secure position through the European Union settled status scheme. They are obviously a deterrent if you cannot afford them. I will not be the only Member of the Committee who has heard distressing stories of families who have realised that they cannot afford to pay for the citizenship registration of all family members and have selected some. If there is a mother with four children—well, we can all do the maths.
The noble Baroness used words, which I have written down, that are about more than security; they are about a sense of belonging. Otherwise, over the years why would so many people have chosen to become citizens through a sometimes pretty laborious route, having to take tests about things that would probably be mysteries to many of us and culminating in citizenship ceremonies? I have been to one. The ceremony is an important part of the whole process—the recognition of that belonging.
Everyone understands that there are administrative costs to these things, but the current fees far exceed the costs. There is a surplus—I use that term rather than “profit”, because I understand that the Minister protests at the term “profit”—in the order of £600, as I understand it, and £800 in the case of adults, where the fees are something like £1,200. The Home Office talks about this surplus being justified because of the benefit, but I do not understand the logic of citizenship being a benefit if indefinite leave to remain is an equivalent, or at least sufficient to meet all the attributes of citizenship, as seems to be argued by the Home Office.
The noble Baroness mentioned the Windrush scandal, and I am sure the Home Office must be anxious not to get into a similar situation. It has said that all Wendy Williams’s recommendations are accepted. About three of those are about meaningful engagement with stakeholders and communities and the use of research. If the Home Office were to engage on this topic and undertake research, I think it would understand how very fully these issues play with the people affected. In any event, as has been said, citizenship is about rights—the right to citizenship of the children referred to—and we should not put blocks in the way of rights.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, for the excellent way in which she introduced these two amendments. I have added my name to Amendment 30, but I support Amendment 68 as well. I echo her words and those of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, in thanking the Project for the Registration of Children as British Citizens and Amnesty International UK for their helpful briefings.
I will not detain the Committee long, but I emphasise and urge my noble friend to consider that, as the two noble Baronesses said, this is about not a benefit but a statutory right to give someone the security of UK citizenship. If the cost of the administration is £372 according to the Home Office, it seems difficult to understand why three times that amount—a 200% mark- up—is applied to those trying to exercise their rights. It should not be a business transaction; that should not be any part of this equation.
During the passage of the British Nationality Act 1981, it was said that Parliament intended that all children growing up in the UK with that connection
“should have as strong a sense of security as possible.”—[Official Report, Commons, 24/2/81; col. 177.]
Charging more than £1,000 will clearly be prohibitive. As both noble Baronesses who have spoken said, the High Court found in 2019 that unaffordability meant that children who were born here—who feel British—feel alienated. Have we not learned from the Windrush generation that people should not be excluded from their citizenship rights? Indeed, on the question of Windrush, this could be a near exact repeat of what happened. In the 1980s, Parliament gave people the right to register as British citizens, but apparently they were discouraged from exercising that right. Just as it wrongly told the Windrush generation that immigration status was the same as having citizenship, I hope that today the Home Office will not repeat the mistaken claim that British people do not need British citizenship and are adequately provided for by applying for a different immigration status. These are lessons that were highlighted in the report of the Windrush Lessons Learned Review and I hope that we will take them seriously. I support these probing amendments and hope that my noble friend will be able to address them before Report.
My Lords, I also rise to speak in support of Amendment 30, to which I have added my name, and Amendment 68. By the end of this set of contributions, I think the Minister will feel that she is ensconced in an echo chamber from which she will find it hard to escape. She knows full well that the subject of citizenship fees has returned to haunt her, her colleagues and her predecessors, and will probably do the same to her successors. Why is this? The simple reason is that by any reasonable international comparisons, which are there to be looked at, our citizenship fees are punitively high and, for many, completely unaffordable.
At Second Reading, as others have mentioned, the Minister said:
“On the face of it, they seem high, particularly when we are talking about children, but application fees for border, immigration and citizenship services play a vital role in our ability to run a sustainable system … and substantially reduce the burden on UK taxpayers.”—[Official Report, 22/7/20; col. 2296.]
Perhaps I may gently draw the Minister’s attention to page 68 of the Windrush Lessons Learned Review. A former Home Office says:
“The basic resource for the management of the immigration system is wholly inadequate and always has been. And the fundamental reason for that is if you’re the minister and you go to the Chief Secretary and you say, ‘I want more money for the immigration service’, they say ‘you must be joking—you think the British public would support that?’”
I turn now to page 51 of the same review. This is from a member of the Home Office’s own staff:
“Staff from both Immigration Enforcement (IE) and UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) told the review they did not feel they had received adequate training; they also mentioned that the Home Office gave applicants minimal help, often referring people to the Gov.uk website, which staff themselves said they struggled to understand or navigate.”
What is described in the review is a cause of shame and embarrassment. I hope sincerely that the lessons that the Home Secretary has publicly stated would be taken on board and acted on will be demonstrated in the way in which the Government try to navigate their way through some of the complexities and inevitable consequences, many of them unforeseen, of this Bill.
Amendment 30 asks that EEA and Swiss nationals, who of course are eligible to apply for settled status, are not encouraged to go for this as the cheaper, easy option, because in many cases they are eligible for, and may wish to apply for, citizenship. The high fees make settled status a more realistic option for many but it is not necessarily a course of action that will be in their best interests.
I draw the attention of the Minister and her officials to the detailed submission made in July of this year by the PRCBC and Amnesty International to the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration for an inspection called “A Further Inspection of the EU Settlement Scheme”. The submission concludes by highlighting that:
“There is, therefore, a huge risk that many British children and young people of EEA/Swiss parentage will be wrongly led to not have their British citizenship confirmed or register for that citizenship to which they are entitled.”
I ask the Home Office, at the very least, to read that submission carefully and to digest its very detailed contents and case studies so that on Report we can have a discussion in which it is clear that the issue is better understood.
As reported on page 50 of the Windrush Lessons Learned Review document, a former Minister commented on the
“total lack of proper administrative competence, basically”
that the scandal had highlighted. Can we not do better than this?
Amendment 68 is more specific about the position regarding fees for the registration of British citizenship, particularly for children in care looked after by a local authority. It also asks the Home Office to raise awareness of people’s right to register their citizenship. I ask the Home Office, when looking at the document submitted to the independent inspector, to look very specifically at the case of a young lady called Mercedes, who was brought up in care, and to see the enormous complications that resulted from her situation and, frankly, the rather inadequate way in which both local government and the Home Office dealt with her parlous situation.
Both amendments have in common a challenge to the Home Office and the Government to live up to their responsibilities and core principles and values, which were often so lamentably absent during the sorry Windrush saga. As I asked earlier, can we please not do better than this?
We shall study the Minister’s responses carefully and hope and expect that at least some of the concerns and questions raised will, at the very minimum, be acknowledged. We are very happy to work with her, if she so wishes, between now and Report if she sees any merit in some of the arguments that we are putting forward. If not, she knows that all of us will be back at Report.
My Lords, I support Amendments 30 and 68, as proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister of Burtersett.
Clearly, as prevented by Amendment 30, EEA and Swiss nationals should not be denied their British citizenship just because registration costs might have become too much for them to afford. Nor, of course, as protected against in Amendment 68, ought children looked after by a local authority to be caught up within the same anomaly.
However, although the corrective of Amendment 30, if accepted, might subsume that of Amendment 68, nevertheless the noble Baroness is quite right to spell out in its own right the threat to children looked after by local authorities, and the necessary remedy which she proposes within Amendment 68.
I hope that my noble friend the Minister will agree and can accept these amendments.
This draconian measure can only exacerbate that deterioration, which is why its use should be limited to 24 hours at most. I must admit that the Minister has confused me in her reply to the first group of amendments that were discussed by the Committee.
My Lords, I am not sure whether the noble Lord is speaking to the same set of amendments as we are. We are speaking to Amendments 30 and 68. It might be convenient to move on to the next speaker and then return to the noble Lord. I apologise if he was speaking to this group, but perhaps we could hear him after the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham.
We shall try to return to the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham. I call the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham.
My Lords, I support Amendments 30 and 68. I declare my interest as recorded in the register as receiving research support from the Refugee, Asylum and Migration Policy project. That project, RAMP, involves a diverse network of parliamentarians working together. There are four principals: myself and three from the other place, one each from the Liberal Democrats, the Labour Party and the Conservative Party. We work together to support constructive and practical changes to ensure that the UK has a migration system fit for a successful and integrated Britain. As noble Lords can imagine, with such a diverse group of parliamentarians we do not agree on everything, but we have consistently agreed that the charging of excessive fees for citizenship is simply unacceptable.
It is a straightforward principle that those to whom Parliament has granted a right to citizenship should not be barred from registering that right by its cost. Citizenship is not a product to be sold; it is a right. As they aspire to be outward-looking and global, this Government should be seeking to make it more straightforward for people to exercise their rights to register their status as citizens.
I wish to speak specifically about the issue of children who, although they fairly regard themselves as British, may not even realise that they are not in fact properly registered as British citizens. When they realise it, prohibitive and regressive fees of more than £1,000 can prevent them from then exercising their right to registration. We have already been reminded that last November the High Court found what it called a “mass of evidence” that a significant number of children in particular cannot afford the citizenship registration fee.
Amendment 68 would specifically require that no fee for someone to register as a British citizen is set above the administrative cost to the Home Office. We have heard the figures already so I will not repeat them. It is a surplus that is indefensible for those who have a clear right to British citizenship, and to use that as a cross-subsidy of the rest of the Home Office’s work leaves many of us deeply uncomfortable.
Some may regard the price as a good deal for British citizenship. I am afraid that for many affected, such a price is simply unaffordable. It is the poorest who will be most affected. Moreover, it is iniquitous to charge a high fee simply to register a status that is a person’s right. The role of the Home Office is simply to recognise the rights granted to these people by Parliament and get them registered as citizens.
I specifically draw attention to the situation of children in local authority care, and I pay tribute to the ongoing work of the Children’s Society on this issue. These are among some of the most vulnerable children among us and are already marginalised. There should simply be no fee for such a child to register their citizenship. Where children cannot afford even the administrative cost of registration, they should not be excluded from their citizenship rights.
We have already heard powerfully from others the parallels with the Windrush scandal, the shame of which still hangs over the Home Office. We really must avoid any repeat.
I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response to these amendments. I hope she will agree with me that the Home Office has no business erecting barriers, financial or otherwise, that prevent people registering as British citizens, particularly children, when those people have been granted that right by this Parliament.
We shall go back to the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, said that the Minister would find this somewhat like an echo chamber—and I confess that when I looked at these two amendments and thought about whether I would speak on them, I wondered whether I might be repeating myself. I remember speaking on many occasions since 23 June 2016, at various stages, about the rights of EU nationals and of individuals. In particular, I have contributed to debates on amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister. I pay tribute to her for the persistence with which she tables amendments to piece after piece of legislation, trying to hold this Government to account and remind them of the importance of doing the right thing.
These amendments are about the rights of citizens. We are not talking about people who are saying, “Maybe I would like to change my nationality; maybe I would like to become a British citizen.” We are talking about people being able to register their right as citizens. The Minister might not think that is terribly important. She might think, particularly about an EU national with settled status, “They don’t need to worry. Their rights will be so guaranteed in the United Kingdom—a country whose values of liberal democracy, human rights and the rule of law are second to none.” However, if a member of Her Majesty’s Government can say from the Dispatch Box in the other place that the Government are willing to go against international law in a “specific and limited” way associated with the withdrawal agreement, how can people possibly have certainty about the rights of EU nationals with settled status? People need guarantees; they need certainty. Perhaps the Minister will understand why we feel it is so important to raise these issues and probe them again—because the Government do not necessarily always act in the best interests of the people they are meant to serve, or of the most vulnerable.
Children in care certainly should not have to pay a fee, which will undoubtedly be unaffordable. Nor should anybody be expected to pay a fee of more than £1,000—three times the cost of processing the right to register their citizenship. If this country really wants to go global and demonstrate its values, surely one way to do that is to ensure that the rights of the most vulnerable are secured—and one way of doing that is to make sure that we are not effectively profiteering from the costs of registering citizenship.
My Lords, I am glad to pay a tribute to my noble friend Lady Lister for the way in which, as has just been pointed out, she has consistently fought on these issues through Bill after Bill, and debate after debate. She has a firmness of resolve that is to be envied. I am also particularly glad that we heard the right reverend Prelate speak in this debate. He spoke with his usual incisive analysis, and, much more importantly, with his usual decency and humanity, which seem to underline his whole approach to public affairs.
In this debate, we are not just talking about citizens who should be enabled to establish their rights. We are talking about vulnerable, individual people. We are talking about children. We hear a great deal from this Government about our desire to be an independent nation, standing on our own and demonstrating to the world what life should be about. What kind of Britain are we trying to portray? As an older man, I find it almost inconceivable that difficulties such as the price of registration should be used as a means of deterring a number of applicants. I also find it deeply sad that the nation that we should be in—where we are compassionate, where we are almost consumed with concern for the vulnerable, where we want them to establish their rights—is replaced by an impersonal policy of this kind. I find it incredible that we even have to look at a situation like this. It is not a Britain of which we can be proud. It is a Britain that must be raising doubts, all over the world, among all those who have fought and struggled for human rights, decency and civilised values. These are not decent civilised values that we are hearing here, and we need to ensure that this is put right.
My Lords, I am very happy to be part of the infantry supporting the arguments and the amendments put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, as we have done on previous occasions. It is a tragedy that we even have to revisit this issue, because it ought to have been resolved by now. I know the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, well enough to know that she cannot be happy that this has not been resolved, not least because of the High Court judgment that we witnessed in December. It is not worthy of this country, as the noble Lord, Lord Judd, has just said. As the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Newnham, was pointing to, there is a sort of shabbiness of generating income through fees above the administrative cost of the registration system. The sheer inappropriateness of applying this charge to children—as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham said, to children even in the care of local authorities—is something we surely have to rectify.
The noble Baroness will recall the exchanges we had via correspondence and Parliamentary Questions following the High Court ruling on 19 December. I listened to what my noble friend Lord Russell of Liverpool said about these issues coming around: I provided a witness statement to the court based on my participation in the proceedings on the British Nationality Act 1981, when I was a young Member of another place. In my witness statement, I cited the stated intention of Parliament in 1981: that children who were born here and grew up here but were without parents would be entitled to be registered as British citizens. I told the court that I had no doubt that it was Parliament’s intention that this should be done via a straightforward and accessible process. There was no discussion at the time about a revenue generator or profitability or any of the other phrases people want to use. I am sure that the Government did not set out to say, “We want to make a profit”, but this is way above the amount necessary to be spent to process these applications. Whatever we call it, it does not seem right to me that this surplus should be placed on these vulnerable people. I am not alone in thinking that this is a disproportionate amount of money. The noble Baroness, Lady Lister, concluded her remarks by reminding us that it was the former Home Secretary Sajid Javid himself who said that this was a “huge amount of money”.
It my witness statement, I also referred to our duties under the 1989 United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. In fact, in 1981 it was of course against a backdrop of riots in Toxteth in Liverpool and Brixton. The main focus of our debate was expressed in a statement by the Minister of the day, who said that we had to encourage a greater sense of having a stake in society and promote British identity and citizenship, especially as some children were losing the automatic right to citizenship as a result of the 1981 Act. This entitlement was not to be made dependent on a child satisfying the Secretary of State that they met the relevant conditions of the Act. This is a point eloquently made, and insisted upon, in a statement to your Lordships’ House on 6 October 1981 —it can be found at col. 36 in Hansard—by the then Lord Advocate, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern.
In December last, on the day of the High Court ruling by Mr Justice Jay, I tabled two Questions to the noble Baroness. One was on
“what assessment they have made of the ruling of the High Court on 19 December in the case brought by the Project for the Registration of Children as British Citizens that there is a ‘mass of evidence’ that the fee charged to children registering for British citizenship prevents many such children from registering British citizenship, leaving them feeling ‘alienated, excluded, ‘second-best’, insecure and not fully assimilated into the culture and social fabric of the UK.’”
The second Question was on
“when they intend to remove the fee charged by the Home Office to register children as British citizens; and whether they intend to refund those who paid such fees before the High Court ruling on 19 December.”
The noble Baroness replied to me, as she always courteously and efficiently does, and I was grateful for that. On 7 January, she said:
“The judgment was handed down on 19 December, and we are carefully considering its implications, and next steps.”
I know your Lordships’ House will want to hear this evening what care has gone into that process, where we are up to and what the next steps will be. Today, she has the chance to outline those steps.
In his judgment, Mr Justice Jay said that:
“British citizenship is a status aspired to and cherished by many, conferring benefits on the holder which are both tangible and intangible.”
Mr Justice Jay confirmed the details which we in our debate have laid before the Committee of the rising costs of these fees: children entitled to be registered under the British Nationality Act 1981 must pay a fee of £1,012—with a higher amount of £1,206 for adults—together with £80 for the citizenship ceremony. He confirmed the Secretary of State’s admission that
“only £372 of that fee is attributed to the administrative cost of processing the application; the remainder effectively cross-subsidises other functions in connection with immigration and nationality.”
In his judgment, Mr Justice Jay said that:
“The evidence before me is that for a substantial number of children a fee of £1,012 is simply unaffordable.”
He cited earlier judgments that
“the fact of belonging to a country fundamentally affects the manner of exercise of a child’s family and private life, during childhood and well beyond.”
He quoted with approval the Secretary of State’s own guidance documents. At paragraph 20, Mr Justice Jay stated what noble Lords have repeated in your Lordships’ House today:
“there is a mass of evidence supporting the proposition that a significant number of children, and no doubt the majority growing up in households on low or middle incomes, could only pay the fee by those acting on their behalf being required to make unreasonable sacrifices.”
Mr Justice Jay also found a mass of evidence to support our arguments that children who are unable to attain such citizenship
“feel alienated, excluded, isolated, ‘second-best’, insecure and not fully assimilated into the culture and social fabric of the UK.”
The judgment reminded the Government that they have a paramount duty to consider a child’s best interests. Evidence was laid before the High Court demonstrating that a disproportionality in this policy, inevitably hitting the poorest and most disadvantaged, needs to be addressed. Put simply, it is discriminatory and unfair. In his conclusion, he said:
“My conclusion that the Secretary of State has violated the section means that the 2018 Regulations are unlawful in that respect to the extent that they set the fee for registration applications brought by children at £1,012.”
Basic are the human rights at stake here. Being mindful of the Windrush scandal, which has been referred to, and the arguments about inclusivity, integration and the promotion of British citizenship, we must surely support amendments that rectify this arrangement and fly in the face of all these things. We must reassert the principles enshrined in legislation enacted by the Conservative Government of the day in 1981, and hope that the Home Office will not only carefully consider the implications of Mr Justice Jay’s judgment but use the opportunities of this Bill to rectify the injustices that undoubtedly exist.
My Lords, I am pleased to follow powerful speeches from across the House, not least the one I immediately follow, from the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and of course that of the noble Baroness, Lady Lister. I join the tributes to her and her record of campaigning, and indeed to the noble Lord, Lord Alton. Other noble Lords have driven in the same direction: the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham, the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, others on the screen, and of course my noble friends Lady Smith and Lady Hamwee—everybody, to be honest—made the very reasonable request that the Government reconsider their policies on the fees for citizenship. The terms “shabby”, “punitive”, “revenue generator” and “indefensible cross-subsidy”—I think that was from the right reverend Prelate—have all been used.
It seems extremely odd to be discouraging potential citizens. As the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, said, this is being put in a sort of transactional context, but it is more than that. I have only once had the honour of being asked to preside at a citizenship ceremony—when I was an MEP, I was out of the country a lot of the time, so the opportunity arose only once. It really was an honour and a privilege to see all those eager faces looking back at me. Those people wanted to become British citizens, for all the reasons that have been expressed in this debate: to have their status recognised; to have a stake in our society; not to feel an outsider; and to feel that they truly belonged in Britain.
The contrast between the current situation and the language recalled tonight from the debates on the British Nationality Act 1981—which of course was also passed under a Conservative Government—is considerable. We should be encouraging people to become citizens, even if they are dual citizens, which I am glad to say is generally permitted—it is perfectly reasonable for people to choose which cricket team they wish to cheer without feeling that they are not loyal to the country. It seems incomprehensible that we would not want people, particularly those who have been in the country a long time, to move into the full role of citizens. That is good for our existing society, as well as for them. We want more people to feel that they have a stake, that they belong and that they are fully recognised, not fewer people.
Then, of course, there is the special concern about vulnerable children, especially those in care, for whom it is even more unreasonable to charge more than £1,000 for them to become citizens. The danger of a new Windrush scandal has been raised tonight, and we will have a further debate on that at the end of our discussions in Committee. After the experience of the appalling treatment that the Windrush victims suffered, and the Williams review and the Government’s pledge to implement its recommendations, it does not seem very wise to knowingly run the risk that we could be creating more people who are not properly recognised and integrated and who risk all sorts of horrible things happening to them.
From the non-partisan nature of this discussion, it is evident that this proposal has such wide support across the Committee, so I implore the Government to think seriously about whether the cost-benefit ratio of charging what, in the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, may be three times the actual administrative cost—a 200% mark-up—is truly worth it in view of the wider cost of potentially either excluding people from citizenship or, even worse, having a new Windrush generation.
I will be very brief, since I would only be repeating what has already been said, but I congratulate my noble friend Lady Lister of Burtersett on her determination on this and, indeed, other related issues. EEA and Swiss nationals will shortly be joining the queue of those having to pay visa fees or fees when seeking a right to British citizenship. As we know, the Home Office currently makes a very substantial surplus in relation to this kind of applications following the major cuts in the department’s budget over the last decade. We believe that visa fees should not exceed the cost price.
Amendment 30 provides that regulations under Clause 4
“must ensure that no fee is charged that may deter or prevent registration of an EEA or Swiss national as a British citizen.”
Amendment 68 provides that no person who has lost their free movement rights under this Bill may be charged a fee for registering for British citizenship over the cost of processing their application.
Reference has been made to the British Nationality Act 1981, which contained provisions in respect of payment of fees relating to a child with an entitlement to register for British citizenship. For children with a parent who had free movement rights, Amendment 68 seeks to protect this position by providing that, if they are in care, they may not be charged any fee to register—if they are eligible—for British citizenship and that, otherwise, they may not be charged fees that they or their parent, guardian or carer cannot afford.
I simply conclude by expressing support for the amendment moved by my noble friend Lady Lister. I share the concerns that she expressed about the seemingly very casual attitude to citizenship shown by the Government in the debate in the Commons on this issue. I hope we hear a more understanding response from the Government tonight.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken so passionately in this debate, but I pay particular tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Lister of Burtersett. If nothing else, she is utterly consistent. I was going to describe her focus as laser-like but I think terrier-like is probably a good additional description.
I will address the court judgment first for the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and others. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary has been given leave to appeal on that, and we expect a judgment in the autumn. Therefore, the noble Lord will totally understand that I actually cannot even speak about this.
However, putting that aside, I will address the concept of citizenship fees being profit making. The overall income from citizenship fees is £2.09 billion; the cost of BICS, the borders, immigration and citizenship system, is £3.18 billion, so it does not even meet its cost overall. Far from making a profit, it still subsidises the overall cost of BICS. I might add that the principle of charging above cost has been in place for more than a decade: that clearly includes all three main political parties represented here in your Lordships’ House. A consultation was run at the end of 2013 on charging principles, which are included in the Immigration Act 2014. We have continued to apply these charging principles, agreed by Parliament, in any proposed fee changes. That said, the Government’s intention is that EEA and non-EEA citizens will be treated the same under the future immigration system. This means that under the new system, the intent is that existing fees, waivers and exceptions will be applied equally.
The issue of fees charged to EEA citizens has been discussed here and of course, as noble Lords have said, in the other place during the passage of the Bill. Throughout, the Government have been clear that decisions regarding future fees payable or funding of the system should be taken in the round and outside of the passage of the Bill, but I totally understand—I would probably have done the same had I been the noble Baroness, Lady Lister—that this is a good opportunity to discuss it. A legislative structure for application fees, with long-standing appropriate checks and balances is already in place. Any changes by way of amendments to the Bill would obviously undermine the existing legal framework, with its purpose of providing the ability to set fees and exceptions in secondary legislation. It would also reduce clarity in the fees structure by creating an alternative statutory mechanism for controlling fees.
Amendment 30 would have the effect of creating a two-tier system and would not deliver the required funding to the system, or indeed deliver the policy intent of FBIS, the future borders and immigration system.
Turning to Amendment 68, this is clearly an important matter and one which has been discussed during the passage of the Bill in the other place. The aim of subsection (1) of the proposed new clause is to limit the Secretary of State’s power to charge a fee for British citizenship applications to the cost of processing the application for anybody who has enjoyed free movement rights, alongside the wider context of charging fees to register as a British citizen. As I have already noted, imposing any amendments to fees as part of the Bill would cut across the existing statutory framework for fees and would risk undermining the funding and coherence of the current and future system, but I think the noble Baroness knows that; we are simply having a discussion about her feelings and the feelings of others on the level of the fees.
Subsection (2) seeks to prevent the Secretary of State charging a fee to register as a British citizen to the child of a person who has exercised free movement rights if the child is in receipt of local authority assistance. The noble Baroness and other noble Lords will know that local authority assistance is a broad term that could include those accessing a range of financial and practical support measures offered by local authorities, including citizenship fees. The Government offer fee exemptions that allow access to limited and indefinite leave to remain to be obtained free of charge for those who are looked after by a local authority. The ability to obtain citizenship may therefore be delayed, but not removed entirely.
Subsection (3) seeks to remove fees to register as a British citizen for children of those who have exercised free movement rights, where the child, child’s parent, guardian or carer is unable to afford the associated fees. This raises similar points to those in subsection (1) and Amendment 30, and I refer to my responses on those points with regards to maintaining a sustainable current and future immigration system and there already being suitable legislative structures in place.
Implementing subsection (4) would require the Secretary of State to take steps to make persons who have exercised free movement rights aware of their rights to obtain British citizenship under the British Nationality Act 1981. The Government have made it clear, when explaining the rights afforded by settled status obtained via the EU settlement scheme, that this may include a right to apply for British citizenship, providing that eligibility requirements are met. The information about becoming a British citizen is available on GOV.UK and we are committed to ensuring that information of this nature is fully accessible for all.
I hope that, with those explanations, the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.
I have received a request to speak after the Minister from the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee.
The Minister talked about the service being far from making a profit, yet we have heard from the Government on previous occasions about the surplus that is achieved from individual payments and fees. Will she write to noble Lords after today’s debate explaining in only as little detail as is required what the finances of this service are in order to square those two statements?
I am very grateful to all noble Lords who added their names to this amendment or who spoke from across the Committee. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, talked about being a member of the infantry. With infantry like this, who needs generals? We have had such powerful, passionate, well-informed speeches from across the Committee. I think they all came from the heart, and that is what made them so powerful. It is clear that everybody feels very strongly about this, particularly when talking about the implications for children.
The right reverend Prelate used the word “iniquitous”, which is unusually strong, given his measured approach. This is iniquitous and we should take note when someone such as the right reverend Prelate uses that word. It is a tragedy that we are having to come back to argue this again. The Windrush scandal is hanging over it all like a spectre. It is important that we do not repeat that shameful episode in our country’s history.
I thank the Minister. I am relieved that she did not try to argue that citizenship is not important—I think she realised that she was on hiding to nothing if she tried to do that. Apart from that, however, I am disappointed that there is no sign of any give in the Government’s position.
I am sorry to interrupt, but somebody else wants to ask a question. I shall let them ask the question and then come back to the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, to let her finish. I am really sorry about this. The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, has made a late request to ask a question and I think we should let her ask it.
I thank noble Lords and apologise for my lateness; I am having a very bad day with technology. I tried to send the email about 30 minutes ago.
I join other noble Lords in being very disappointed given the powerful and wide-ranging contributions from all sides of the Committee, both spiritual and temporal. In asking my question, I think I need to declare my position as a vice-president of the Local Government Association. I wonder whether the Minister can offer us one concession tonight or whether she will go away and think about making this concession. I refer to Amendment 68 and to subsection (2) of the proposed new clause which refers to children in the care of a local authority. I do not need to tell noble Lords that local authority funding is extremely stretched and extremely fragile and that there are huge demands on children’s services. As a responsible institutional parent, a local authority would surely want to secure citizenship for a child in its care, but that would be taking money away from other services, so will the Minister consider at least thinking about ensuring that if there is no waiving of fees, local authorities are recompensed for the cost of those fees?
The noble Baroness has just demonstrated that it is really beneficial to be here throughout the whole of the debate, because I covered that aspect on local authorities in my speech. If she reads Hansard, it will clarify the matter for her, and if she would like to come back to me again, I would be very happy to respond.
My Lords, I was saying that I found the Minister’s response disappointing. Yet again, when she talked about the cost of the immigration and citizenship service, she seemed to be conflating immigration and citizenship. Part of the point that we are making is that they are different and that it is irrelevant what the overall cost of the immigration and borders system is, because these fees should not be paying for that system. They should simply be paying for the cost of registering a right of citizenship that already exists. That was disappointing, and she might want to look again at that.
The Minister said that EEA and non-EEA people would be treated the same in future. That is not very reassuring because we have been going on for years about how badly the non-EEA people are treated in this area. She talked about a two-tier system not delivering the required fund or policy intent, and I was not sure what she meant by “policy intent”. As she is going to be writing a letter to us anyway, perhaps she could clarify that.
I was also very puzzled—this might be partly what the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, was referring to—that subsection (2) of the amendment does not refer to local authority assistance. That was an original amendment that was put down in the Commons. The Minister in the Commons pointed out that this was a very vague term, so we deliberately put in this amendment the words
“looked after by a local authority.”
I do not quite know whether the Minister was speaking to an amendment that was laid in the Commons rather than the amendment that is before her now. We are talking very specifically about looked-after children, not any child who gets any kind of assistance from a local authority. Perhaps she could clarify that when she writes her letter.
I think it was the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Newnham, who talked about the importance of doing the right thing. That is why we are all still here, in this echo chamber, and we will continue to be here until the Government do the right thing. The only dispute I have with the notion of an echo chamber is that echoes tend to fade away. This echo is not going to fade away: it is going to get stronger. The more the Government try to resist it, the more we will be coming back. It might not be part of this Bill, because clearly the amendment is not going to pass, but there will be ample opportunities and we will not let this go. We will, of course, wait to see what will happen in the appeal, but I hope the Government will remember the importance of doing the right thing, because the Government are now doing the wrong thing. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 30 withdrawn.
Amendments 31 and 32 not moved.
We come now to the group consisting of Amendment 33. I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate—hopefully sooner rather than later. Anyone wishing to press this amendment to a Division should make that clear in debate.
33: Clause 4, page 3, line 8, at end insert—
“( ) Regulations under subsection (1) may not limit or remove the right to vote in local government elections of persons who lose rights under section 1 unless the Secretary of State has laid before each House of Parliament a draft of the proposed regulations and an assessment of their effect on the right to vote, at least three months before a statutory instrument containing the regulations is to be made.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would require the Government to allow Parliament the opportunity to consider proposals for restricting the right to vote in local elections of EU citizens.
My Lords, currently EU citizens—not citizens of Switzerland or the wider EFTA—may stand and vote in local elections. This is a right under UK law. You would think that they would feel secure for the future in this, knowing that an Act of Parliament would be required if the right were to be withdrawn, coupled with the promise made by the Vote Leave campaign that EU citizens would be treated no less favourably than at present. However, under Clause 4, which we have debated almost into the ground, there could be secondary legislation to amend the primary legislation.
Over the summer, my noble friend Lord Tyler asked a Written Question about the local elections that were postponed from May 2020 to May 2021. When I say “local”, I include police and crime commissioners and the Greater London Authority. The noble Lord, Lord True—the Cabinet Office Minister—confirmed that the right would apply next May; this regards England because the franchise for local elections is devolved. That is logical because the elections should have been last May. In any event, they will take place during a period when applications to the EU settled status scheme are still open.
I understand that the Government are dealing with local voting rights on a country-by-country basis, regarding this as a reciprocal matter. My list may be out of date, but I believe that they have signed bilateral voting rights agreements with Spain, Portugal, Luxemburg and Poland. Scotland and Wales have already passed the necessary legislation for beyond 2021.
The right to vote and stand is important. It is a matter of social cohesion. I will not be the only Member of the House who has had a conversation about this on the doorstep during election campaigns—at all levels of elections—where I have encountered citizens of various countries. Sometimes, I have urged them to campaign and assured them they can vote in a local election; on other occasions, I have listened to their complaints that they cannot vote. Nor will I be the only Member who has stood on a doorstep and talked about the importance of voting as a member of one’s community to have views represented on how services are run, to exercise the right as a taxpayer and service user, and to show one’s priorities for policy and spending. Today, we have talked a good deal about belonging. The right to vote and the right to stand are both issues of belonging. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am glad to support this amendment and to put on record my admiration for the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, who is an indefatigable defender of democracy and its character. Elections are crucial to our system in terms of accountability and the representation of people. It is vital that if any changes are considered in this area, there is proper scrutiny by and accountability to Parliament. For no other reason, I find this amendment one that we should all take very seriously.
My Lords, I agree entirely with the noble Lord, not least in his admiration for my noble friend Lady Hamwee, who has indeed undertaken a marathon on this Bill today. By contrast, mine will be a quick sprint. We are anxious to ensure with this amendment that we can get some urgent clarification on an extremely important issue relating to citizenship. There are obvious echoes from the previous debate.
I doubt that any Members here need reminding of the considerable contribution that EU citizens make to the life of this country: to its essential services, its economy and so many local communities, not least in the health services. If I needed any such reminder, I had it most forcibly this afternoon when I paid a visit to the dentist. Many of them, especially if they have worked and lived in the United Kingdom for some time, have made a considerable tax contribution—local as well as national—as my noble friend said. It is a well-respected principle, not least in this House, that there is no taxation without representation.
The Minister may be able to give us an updated figure of those EU citizens who are now regarded as resident here on at least a semi-permanent basis. Those figures are very relevant to this amendment, as they are to a number of other parts of this Bill. I recall that, of all the cities in the world, London has the largest number of French citizens, exceeded only by Paris. These EU friends are employed throughout the UK in some crucial roles. Some are more obvious than others; for example, although most of those who work in agriculture and horticulture are temporary residents, some are employed full time and for longer periods, for example specialist advisers for viniculture in this country. On the day that “Back British Farming” is the slogan that the NFU wishes us to sign up to to demonstrate our commitment to that industry, I should give that a deserved mention.
The significance of the contribution of all these groups caused me to table the Question to which my noble friend referred. I need to reiterate the Answer given to me by the noble Lord, Lord True, on behalf of the Government because it contains some important detail that is relevant to this debate:
“The May local elections were postponed until 2021 due to Covid-19. In that context, the UK Government can confirm that resident EU citizens will remain able to vote and stand in the rescheduled May 2021 local elections in England (including London Assembly elections) and the May 2021 Police and Crime Commissioner elections in England and Wales. Those elected to office will be able to serve their full term and this will also apply to those elected before 2021. The franchise for local elections are devolved in Scotland and Wales. The UK Government has been clear that the issue of local voting rights of EU citizens living in the UK needs to be considered alongside the rights and interests of British expats living abroad. The Government has signed bilateral voting rights agreements with Spain, Portugal and Luxembourg in 2019, and with Poland in May 2020. We continue to work on further bilateral voting rights agreements with other EU member states.”
As my noble friend said, there may be an update tonight from the Minister; that was from 10 July, and there may have been some more successful developments since.
It will be obvious to all in your Lordships’ House that there are two significant limitations to that assurance. First, it is limited to May 2021. After that, there is no guarantee that the principle will be maintained for any future local elections for the majority of these residents. Secondly, the Brexit negotiators have succeeded in achieving only four bilateral agreements—with Spain, Portugal, Luxembourg and Poland—so much larger numbers originally from France, Germany and Italy, for example, are, as far as we know, excluded. What is being done to get agreements with the remaining 23 member states? I also hope that the Minister will be able to spell out what exactly was agreed with these four Governments.
I turn to the other point in this reply: the mention of the very relevant rights and interests of British expats living abroad. I suspect other Members have heard of the distressing concerns, anxieties and frustrations of our fellow British citizens currently living in the EU. I have had a very full report from a survey of many hundreds of these in France—a detailed report of the current dilemmas they face, not least in relation to healthcare and its costs. Surely the time has come—in their interests, as well as the interests of those to whom this amendment directly relates—for the Government to revert to our traditional attitude in this country. For once, could they not take the lead? Can they not now commit to bringing before Parliament certainty of continuing these civil rights? A more generous and realistic approach to these civic rights here would be likely to stimulate an equally humane and civilised response there. I repeat what my noble friend Lady Smith of Newnham said in the previous debate: they surely should do the right thing. I hope the Minister will be able to expand on the very limited information given to me previously and therefore respond positively to our amendment.
Amendment 33 provides that regulations under Clause 4
“may not limit or remove the right to vote in local government elections”
for EU nationals who have lost free movement rights under this Bill
“unless the Secretary of State has laid … a draft of the … regulations and an assessment of their effect … at least three months before … the regulations”
are officially made. Parliament would thus have the opportunity to consider proposals for restricting the right of EU citizens to vote in local elections. Local voting rights are not covered by the withdrawal agreement as they are not an EU competence but a sovereign matter. There is thus an uncertainty about the future voting and candidacy rights in local government elections for many EU citizens as the Government have not gone down the road of giving a firm commitment that all settled EU citizens in this country will continue to have the right to vote in local elections.
All non-citizen residents from Ireland and the Commonwealth can vote in all elections and referendums. This is reciprocal in the case of Ireland, but most Commonwealth countries, including Cyprus and Malta, do not grant resident UK citizens the right to vote. EU citizens from the other 24 member states currently have a partial franchise that allows them to vote and stand as candidates in local government elections. This is guaranteed in UK law and the Government would need to take active steps to remove this right. There is disparity within the UK at present: Scotland and Wales grant voting rights to all migrants, while England and Northern Ireland do not.
As has been said, the Government have been seeking bilateral agreements on local election voting rights with EU member states, with agreements concluded with Spain, Portugal, Luxembourg and Poland. As I understand it, UK nationals will also be able to continue to vote, and in some cases stand, in local elections in EU member states where domestic legislation allows this. We are in favour of EU nationals living in the UK having full voting rights in future elections. They are our neighbours, friends, families, important parts of our communities and vital to our economy and healthcare service. We should value them. The Government should protect the local election voting rights that EU citizens living in this country currently have and seek to extend them so that they become full voting rights.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, for moving Amendment 33 and the noble Lords, Lord Judd, Lord Tyler and Lord Rosser, for their contributions to this short but important debate. While I understand the sentiment that underpins the noble Baroness’s amendment and some of the speeches we have heard, I do not think it necessary to add this to the Bill.
As noble Lords will be aware, the Government have already shared the draft illustrative regulations proposed under Clause 4(1). As I hope and am sure noble Lords will have seen, they do not include any provisions relating to the voting rights of EU citizens; nor has there been any immediate change to the entitlement of EU citizens resident here to vote in local elections. Indeed—as the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said—in an Answer to a Question posed by the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, and answered by my noble friend Lord True, the Government recently confirmed that EU citizens resident in England
“will remain able to vote”
in the elections in England next May. That includes not only elections to a number of local authorities at every level but elections for the Mayor of London and the Greater London Assembly and combined authority mayors in the West Midlands, Greater Manchester, Liverpool City Region, the Tees Valley, Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, the West of England and West Yorkshire, as well as for the police and crime commissioner elections in England and Wales on the same day. It also applies to the right of EU citizens to stand in those elections, and anyone elected
“will be able to serve their full term”.
I hope that removes the uncertainty the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, mentioned, in the short term at least. I take the opportunity to pay tribute to EU citizens who have served their local community in public office, whatever party or affiliation they have done that under.
I am afraid I have no update for the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, beyond the Answer by my noble friend Lord True, which he read out in full. As that pointed out, we have taken positive steps in our relationship with EU member states and signed bilateral voting agreements with Spain, Portugal and Luxembourg in 2019; the one signed with Poland in May this year remains the most recent.
This is really a debate more about parliamentary scrutiny. On that issue, which the noble Baroness’s amendment considers and which the noble Lord, Lord Judd, also mentioned, the Bill as drafted makes clear that any primary legislation amended by regulations provided for by Clause 4 would be subject to the affirmative procedure and would have to be approved by both Houses of Parliament. I have no doubt that in the course of any such debates, noble Lords—including those who have spoken tonight—as well as Members in another place, will want to give such regulations their fullest scrutiny. As such, we do not think this amendment is needed.
The compliments paid to me made me blush, but I probably was not on screen when I was blushing. Anyway, I thank noble Lords for those.
I live in the constituency of Richmond Park in the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames. We have Swedish and German schools here and a lot of French citizens. The point about the large number of French people in London is quite right. Those citizens are very much members of the local community. I absolutely agree with my noble friend that the best way to achieve rights for British citizens abroad is for us to be open and generous with rights in the UK. That is not only the proper thing to do but a good way of negotiating.
My noble friend also mentioned limitations set out in the Written Answer from the noble Lord, Lord True, which referred to the London Assembly. I take from the response just now by the noble Lord, Lord Parkinson, that it should have been the Greater London Authority, which consists of the mayor and the London Assembly. I think I can see the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, in the Chamber; I thank her for the wave. Like me, she will know that the terminology—the nomenclature, perhaps —of the various parts of the GLA is something that few people get their heads around.
More seriously, perhaps, I think the Minister said that this was not necessarily one for the Bill, and prayed in aid the draft illustrative statutory instrument that has been sent to noble Lords. That seems to me to be a circular argument. Where else should we raise the issue but on this Bill? We are told that we could raise the point when we scrutinise draft regulations that are laid under Clause 4—but we cannot introduce regulations. I really think he has set us an impossible task.
I am sorry that the issue has been dismissed in the way that it has; that is very sad. As I said, I would like us to be open and generous on this point. Clearly there is no more that I can do tonight other than express that. I beg leave to withdraw Amendment 33.
Amendment 33 withdrawn.
We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 34. I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate. Anyone wishing to press this or anything else in the group to a Division should make that clear in debate.
34: Clause 4, page 3, line 8, at end insert—
“( ) Prior to regulations being made under subsection (5), an impact assessment of the effects of those regulations on the recruitment of international research and innovation staff to the United Kingdom must be laid before Parliament.”
My Lords, I am delighted to move this amendment on behalf of my noble friend Lord Patel.
In parallel to this Bill, the Government are taking through the Medicines and Medical Devices Bill to ensure that we have an effective regulatory system post Brexit. As the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, explained at Second Reading, we must do all that we can to support the UK’s thriving life sciences industry. He described a world where big data, artificial intelligence and genetics have become enormously powerful engines of innovation, and where engineering and computer science have combined with medicine to generate exciting new medical developments.
It is vital that changes being made in the immigration system protect the excellent UK medical research environment, which drives vital progress for our patients. That is contingent, as Cancer Research UK has reported, on the maintenance of the UK’s leading research environment and our continuing ability to attract, recruit and retain global scientific talent at all levels. It is this mixture of domestic and international talent that supports our thriving research environment. For example, 31% of the UK’s Nobel prize winners in science were born outside the UK, while 50% of Cancer Research UK’s supported PhD students are not from the UK, rising to 76% of postdoctoral researchers at its institutes.
I welcome the Government’s ambition to make the immigration system work for science and research, but the science and research community has real worries about the cost of the system, particularly in comparison to other countries. The current UK immigration system is already one of the most expensive in the world. The total average up-front cost for a tier 2 skilled worker visa, typically used by scientific workers, is 540% higher than the average cost in other leading scientific nations. Most of Cancer Research UK’s researchers say the ease with which their dependants can access public services and take up work is a key factor in choosing a research destination, yet a researcher coming to the UK with a family of four faces nearly £10,000 of fees if they want to apply for indefinite leave to remain. Much of that cost is associated with the health surcharge.
At the moment, research organisations will often step in and pay these charges, but they themselves are struggling financially, particularly given the uncertainty about research grants post Brexit. Cancer Research UK estimates that a typical institute that it funds could face additional costs of between £300,000 and £800,000 once EEA workers move on to the new system. That is a lot of money which should be spent on research activities.
The new global talent visa will play a crucial role in attracting the scientific talent the UK needs. It is a welcome step, but it also retains fees at a damagingly high level. A five-year visa would incur up-front costs of £2,608 for a researcher looking to move here. It is more expensive than India, France, Australia, Germany and Japan. The global talent visa is designed for experienced research staff, but many who are early in their careers or in vital technical roles will not be eligible. We need the new immigration system to work for all the members of a research team. That means attracting researchers early in their careers and ensuring that vital technical staff, who are after all the backbone of many research teams but who are often not that highly paid, are made to feel welcome to live and work in the UK.
The reduction of the salary threshold to £25,600 is a positive step, but researchers who are not eligible for the global talent visa will still be required to apply via the tier 2 route, which is both costly and bureaucratic. Technical staff, particularly outside London, may still fail to pass the salary threshold and will thus be excluded from the chance to contribute to our research environment. For technicians in particular this route is daunting and, as I have said, it is far from certain that they will earn above the £25,600 salary threshold the system proposes.
Amendment 34 is a constructive approach to encourage the Government to undertake an impact assessment of the effects of these regulations on the recruitment of international research and innovation staff in the United Kingdom. These people are vital to the future prosperity of this country. We believe that the Government should delay exercising the power to modify visa charges until the evaluation has been received, so that they can be fully informed about the impact of fees on recruiting these very talented people. I hope that, as a result, the Government will then bring forward a reduction in the total visa costs for researchers and their dependants, a review of the costs faced by medical researchers through the NHS surcharge and consideration of exemption. An option to spread fees over the lifetime of a visa to reduce up-front payments should be considered, along with an improved, digitised system to streamline visa applications and prepare for an expected increase in demand. I really hope that the Minister and the Government will listen to this sympathetically. I beg to move.
My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 69 in my name. Our creative industries are hugely successful, generating over £111 billion for the UK economy. Over the past decade, the sector has grown twice as fast as the UK economy as a whole and is part of a bigger creative economy employing more than 3 million people and generating value across the whole supply chain.
Music is a key component of our creative industries. UK Music’s inaugural Music by Numbers report revealed that in 2018 the UK music industry contributed £5.2 billion to the UK economy and that the total export revenue of the music industry was £2.7 billion. British artists account for one in eight albums sold around the world. Music tourism made a £4.5 billion contribution to the UK economy in 2018.
Given the unique nature of the sector, the high volume of freelancers, micro-businesses and performance and project-based work, it is vital that any new visa system is both shaped by and tailored to the creative industries. This is primarily a services and content-driven sector, so the ability to tour and easily move the people, equipment and materials they travel with is vital.
For many roles, too, there is a shortage of applicants with the required skills, experience or qualifications. The UK is a prime destination for the production of music, offering globally recognised recording studios, composers and performers. Our music producers are used by international musicians. Not only does this ensure a continued influx of talent into the UK; it also creates employment opportunities for UK-based music producers, performers, engineers, music technicians and so on.
The market for touring musicians and composers is extremely competitive, and the UK needs to be easily accessible to continue to attract international talent for continued global investment in the UK. As the Minister is aware, and as I and others argued on Second Reading, the creative sector wants to see the Government provide a simple way for European Union musicians and other artists to tour in the UK, and request reciprocity in the trade negotiations. This would mean extending the permitted paid engagement scheme, allowing for multiple visits and permit-free festival arrangements for EU citizens, and for multiple visits and the seeking of a reciprocal touring visa with the EU to enable creators and performers to travel temporarily and to take their equipment with them, tax free.
The UK already offers visa-free entry, including for work purposes, to non-visa nationals. However, the scope of that route for non-visa nationals is too restrictive, and it does not provide any certainty, because ultimately, it is down to the discretion of the UK border official to assess whether the musician is qualified to perform the paid engagement, or that the paid engagement relates to their area of expertise, qualification or occupation. The details provided by the UK Government in the context of the UK points-based immigration system require further clarification of the status of musicians.
European musicians need to be able to tour without restrictions. This includes the transportation of their equipment, and it applies not only to performing musicians but also to song writers, composers, performers and producers, who often travel for work-related purposes. The crew—the trusted people whom musicians rely on when touring—need to be expressly included within simplified touring provisions. This affects UK musicians touring Europe as well as European Union or EEA musicians touring the UK. So we need clarity in any trade agreement that performers and their equipment can tour throughout the European Union without restrictions. Offering a simple solution to musicians or composers intending to perform in the UK would provide a good negotiating position to ensure a favourable system with the EU and other countries, based on reciprocity.
At present, because of freedom of movement for people, UK performers can play a concert in Amsterdam one night, then simply travel to Paris the next night, with no associated costs or red tape. Following the end of the transition period, this freedom will end for UK musicians, unless there are appropriate measures in place to support touring musicians, composers and so on. Countries such as France have traditionally required work permits for performances by artists from non-EU countries. A new reciprocal system is needed post-transition, to ensure that musicians and their crew can operate across Europe in an economic and unbureaucratic way, preserving vital economic and cultural links.
Costly bureaucracy will make touring simply unviable for many artists, putting the development of future globally leading UK talent at risk. This has become even more urgent following the social distancing measures and other restrictions imposed on live events. Most musicians, composers and everyone else involved in the successful organisation of live music events are self-employed or operate as small and medium-sized businesses. Social distancing restrictions will render impossible any economically viable live events at least until the end of 2020, with catastrophic consequences for the live music sector. Based on the figures for live music in UK Music’s Music By Numbers report, the loss to the sector will be at least £900 million.
Any new system for musicians and their crew needs to be in place by the end of the transition period. The solution would be to update the current permitted paid engagement approach, as I have mentioned. However, it is clear that these desirable reciprocal arrangements cannot simply be willed into place by UK primary legislation. Therefore, it is important that the need for these arrangements is at the forefront of our negotiators’ minds.
Amendment 69 is designed to ensure that the Government, at a very early stage, publish their
“assessment of the impact on musicians, actors and others involved in arts and entertainment activities, including broadcasting, of the ending of rights to free movement of persons under retained EU law.”
The report must include consideration of
“the routes by which EEA and Swiss nationals who work as musicians, actors or in other arts and entertainment activities, including broadcasting, can obtain permission to work in the United Kingdom following”
commencement. It must also include details of any reciprocal rights granted by the UK for UK citizens involved in those activities.
I am delighted that this amendment is supported by my noble friend Lady Hamwee, the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bull. All are doughty champions of the creative sector. I focused largely on musicians and associated performers, because that is where the impetus for this amendment has largely come from. However, it is also of great importance across all the performing arts. I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I am very pleased to follow the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, and will speak in the same area. I will speak to Amendment 69 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, to which I have added my name, and to my own Amendment 75. I am particularly indebted to the Incorporated Society of Musicians for its briefing.
There is considerable overlap between these two amendments, particularly if one understands the term “business”, as used in my amendment, to be business in any form. I will return to that point in a moment.
I wish to associate myself with a passionate and inevitably elegiac speech made by the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, on the first group of amendments on Monday. While some people did vote to limit permanent immigration to this country, they did not vote for their own movement—the movement of UK citizens—around Europe to travel, work or study abroad to be curtailed, or for temporary visits in either direction to be affected. But the side of the argument that, “What we do to others will be done to us”, has been almost entirely ignored, and continues to be, even though the loss of free movement will have a direct effect on the livelihoods of British workers—including those resident in the UK—unless an agreement is reached.
I did have a little trouble getting the third limb of my amendment, regarding reciprocal arrangements, into the amendment. I could only do so—as I think the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones could with his amendment—with the preceding phrase “for the purposes of comparison”, even though we are discussing the direct effects of the Bill as things stand.
The second thing that has been to a large extent ignored and greatly underestimated is our services sector, which depends on free movement. This is extraordinary, because we are, and have been for some time, primarily a services nation. Services are responsible for 80% of our GDP and just over half the UK’s services exports are to Europe, our closest neighbour.
My amendment would cover many areas, from engineers to IT and the creative sector, all of whom have concerns about the effect of the loss of free movement and, consequentially, the essential importance of a mobility framework between the UK and the EU. I think we will discuss this when we debate the Trade Bill. Of course, the experience of all these sectors in the UK ought also to be providing a basis for the immigration arrangements of those visiting our country for similar purposes.
The UK’s creative services before Covid were, as the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, said, worth over £111 billion a year and they employ over 3 million people. I gently remind the Government that the UK’s music industry alone—just one part of the sector—is worth almost four times as much as the fishing industry and is important too, as the whole of the creative sector is, in terms of soft power. If fishing, important though that industry is, is holding up a trade deal in other areas such as services, I wonder whether the Government are losing their sense of perspective about what is important in the round—I emphasise: in the round—for this country.
There is a particular concern for the performing arts, including music, whose business in Europe is touring, although not exclusively so. Has the Minister seen the ISM’s 2020 report How Open is the UK for the Music Business? It shows that the current immigration system, which is intended to be applied to EU nationals in the new year, is not fit for purpose. Specifically, this includes the permitted paid engagement route—it is not being applied in the manner that, I admit, I helped to negotiate—the standard visitor route and the tier 5 temporary worker, creative and sporting visa route. All those routes have been criticised by artists, promoters, tour managers, music agents and festival organisers. It has become increasingly difficult for non-EEA musicians to obtain visas or to work in the UK, and indeed the same is true of other areas of the creative sector. If this is to be the basis of a reciprocal agreement, things do not bode well.
From our perspective, it is essential that an arrangement is made with the EU rather than having to go through the nightmare of doing this with 27 individual countries. The recommendation of the Incorporated Society of Musicians is that either the commitments of mode 4 should be extended to include performing or that a multi-entry touring visa, valid for two years and covering the EU, is introduced and that EU nationals are treated in a similar vein. It is becoming clear that mode 4’s conventional interpretation of business activity is too narrow.
Also, as a result of the loss of the four freedoms, the Government need urgently to negotiate a cultural exemption for the temporary transportation of instruments and equipment or cover the cost of carnets, scrap plans to introduce a charge for musical instrument certificates, maintain the health insurance, ensure that the A1 certificate system continues to be recognised in the EU, and expand the list of CITES-designated points of entry and exit. Transportation by ferry will not be possible between Belfast and the mainland. I hope that all this is being looked at.
It is also important to understand that there is an inherent sense of reciprocity in our creative sector—which I am sure is true of other areas considered in this grouping—which stands apart from reciprocity as a necessary part of a trade agreement. Much of this is about an exchange of ideas and culture, which is one reason why it is so difficult for many of us to accept the loss of freedom of movement. Nevertheless, in the long term, the better the arrangements we make for our temporary visitors, the greater will be the benefits for us. Some of the arrangements that I have mentioned will apply also to other services, but the performing arts provide an example of some of the widest range of concerns.
Amendments 75 and 69, like others in this group, ask the Government to develop an evidence base to inform later decision-making. The problem is that time is not on our side. The arts in particular, perhaps more than any other area, have been knocked for six by Covid. It is essential that there is an arrangement for our creative sector by the end of the year, otherwise that sector in particular will suffer a double whammy. The noble Lord, Lord Adonis, expressed it very well on Monday when he said that while
“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.”—[Official Report, 7/9/20; col. 568.]
We are in the dark at the moment. I hope very much that that will not continue to be the case and that we will see some light and hear positive assurances in the next few weeks.
My Lords, within this grouping, I support amendments that protect reciprocal rights of United Kingdom citizens and those of EEA countries and Switzerland. Following current changes regarding immigration, these include the need for regular impact assessments on skills shortages, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, in Amendment 59; the emphasis of the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, in Amendment 75, on assisting arrangements for short-term EEA and Swiss nationals for business purposes; equally to do so, as advocated in Amendment 69 by the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, and others, to achieve free movement of persons involved in arts and entertainment activities; and to do the same, as urged in Amendment 97 by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bristol, for members and representatives of faith communities. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, also reminds us, in Amendment 34, of the importance of continuous
“recruitment of international research and innovation staff to the United Kingdom”.
I come now to my own Amendment 76 on
“Leave to enter for education, research, training and student exchange”.
It goes without saying that, from the Middle Ages, when it was notably in evidence, free movement in education has always been part of the United Kingdom’s and Europe’s culture and expectations.
Nevertheless, when, shortly before it was created in 1949, Winston Churchill urged a Council of Europe for the healing of wounds and the bringing together of minds, by implication he also did so in terms of education, research, training and student exchange. As a result, in 1953, the United Kingdom signed the European Convention on the Equivalence of Diplomas leading to Admission to Universities as well as the European Convention on the Academic Recognition of University Qualifications.
Predating our membership of the European Union as this did, yet continuing our proactive membership of the Council of Europe, which we do, the case for following Churchill’s advice in these respects is all the stronger now that we leave the European Union.
I hope that my noble friend the Minister agrees and is able to accept Amendment 76.
My Lords, I rise to speak to Amendment 97 in the name, specifically, of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bristol, on whose behalf I speak today. However, before I do so, I express my sympathies with the other amendments in this grouping with deep concern particularly around the creative arts and the music industry. I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Hollins and Lady Hooper, who have kindly added their names to Amendment 97, for their support on this issue.
I state a simple fact when I say that faith cannot be contained by borders and that faith groups do not fit neatly within national boundaries. They are both local and global communities made up of individuals united in common belief and sharing in common structures of organised life. Our shared convictions and organisational structures reach across nations and continents. The migration of people is an inevitable result.
This issue that this amendment addresses—namely, that the Government should be aware of implications that the Bill has for faith communities—was raised by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark at Second Reading. I am grateful to the Minister for her comments on that day, when she stated that the Government greatly valued the contribution that migrants made to faith communities in this country.
In principle, this amendment is as simple as ensuring that individuals can come to the UK for reasons connected to their faith where needed. As the Minister said at Second Reading, changes were made to the visa system in 2019 for religious workers and ministers of religion. The new requirement prohibited tier 5 religious workers from filling roles as ministers of religion and, instead, individuals had to apply directly through the tier 2 sub-category for ministers of religion.
Previously, most Roman Catholic dioceses had used the tier 5 religious worker visas for priests to come here on supply placements while parish priests were away for short periods of time because of sickness, training or annual leave. These supply placements are essential to ensuring that worship continues, while keeping parish activities running smoothly.
Furthermore, other faiths, particularly Hindus and Sikhs, have used this visa because there is a lack of religious ministers within the UK, so they needed support from abroad. Unfortunately, the requirement introduced in 2019 has more than doubled the costs incurred. For small faith groups and those without significant funding, this is compromising their opportunity to practise their faith and will disproportionately affect the poorest areas and communities.
In July 2020, Roman Catholic bishops met with the Minister for Future Borders and Immigration to outline some of these challenges. On behalf of my Roman Catholic colleagues, I thank the Government for their engagement but urge them to establish a clear timeline for this issue to be resolved. The Government need to continue to work with faith groups to better define the difference between “minister of religion” and “religious workers”. Currently, these categories are imperfectly defined and fail to capture the lived experience of faith groups. I hope that the Minister will commit to reviewing the definitions of “religious workers” and “minister of religion” while actively consulting many denominations and faith communities in order that faith groups can continue to take part in not only their local but their global community.
My Lords, while I associate myself with all the amendments in the group, I rise to speak in support of Amendment 69 and thank the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, for introducing it so comprehensively. In the UK’s creative sector we have something that really can claim to be world-leading. As we have heard, the sector makes a significant contribution to the UK’s GVA, to employment and to services exports. Also, unlike many parts of industry, this sector has for some years been growing in every region of the UK. Therefore, in addition to its considerable contribution to the UK’s cultural, social and economic well-being, the creative sector can play an important role in the Government’s levelling-up agenda.
Yet it is a sector at risk, because its success has been built over the last three decades or more on the four freedoms enabled by membership of the EU, with ease of mobility the freedom most highly prized by artists and cultural organisations. I worked in this sector for over 30 years as artist, producer, commissioner, manager and director, and I lived the benefits of that mobility. It enabled me to develop my artistry and skills within different environments and in front of different audiences, to build valuable creative networks, to be challenged and inspired by artists trained in different ways, and to innovate in the spaces where different voices, values and views come together. The UK’s artistic and cultural success has been underpinned by these easy interactions across borders.
That success has also been underpinned by ease of access to talent from our nearest neighbours. A quarter of the occupations on the tier 2 shortage occupation list are in the cultural and creative industries. In the most economically productive areas of the sector, domestic skills gaps mean that 30% of staff have been recruited from the EU, while EU workers fill gaps in less lucrative subsectors like my own—dance—and museums. The skills gap is so pronounced and so specialist that, even had we started on the day after the referendum, we would still not have been able to train up a homegrown workforce to fill the gap by the time the current supply route closes down.
We have heard repeatedly that this new points-based system will allow access to so-called high-skilled workers and the brightest and the best. This amendment creates an obligation on government not only to test that assertion but also to test the impact on the bright young talents of the future. According to the latest report from the Migration Advisory Committee, several creative and artistic jobs may be deemed “high-skill, low-pay occupations”—something you do not really need to tell me. Many young artists like me do not train at universities, let alone go on to the postgraduate qualifications that would earn us an additional 10 points, and our salary levels are certainly not a proxy for our skills.
Given this, emerging artists are unlikely to accrue the necessary points for entry. I have known several dancers from EU countries who took jobs at the bottom of the ladder at basic salaries, spoke little English and certainly had no PhD, but we had the privilege and the pleasure of watching them develop from promising talent to international superstar, becoming valuable agents of soft power for the UK and, in some cases, achieving the status of national treasure. However, if they were applying for entry next year, I am not sure that they would notch up the crucial 70 points that they would require.
The Government have also been clear that they do not intend to create an immigration route for the self-employed. The creative workforce is 38% freelance and we have heard, over and over again, in this Chamber about the critical role freelancers play in the cultural ecology. The Creative Industries Federation has said that:
“Given the project … based nature of our sector”
and its scale, bringing the route for temporary workers from the EU in line with rules currently applying to non-EEA nationals will be,
“hugely damaging for the creative industries … 95% of creative businesses employ fewer than 10 people”.
These businesses are reliant on specialist temporary workers to provide essential services on an occasional basis, often at very short notice. As the cost for each individual temporary worker’s visa is likely to be over £200, the financial and administrative burden this presents could be overwhelming.
An Arts Council survey of almost 1,000 stakeholders found that the top priority for arts organisations, post Brexit, was to ensure the continuity of short-term mobility between the UK and the EU. This was even more important to them than replacing EU funding, even though this has been worth approximately £40 million each year.
In leaving the EU, we are leaving behind our automatic right to work across borders. That was our decision, and the curtain has fallen on that particular debate. This amendment would shine a spotlight on the impact of this decision on one of the UK’s most productive and successful sectors and help ensure we do all we can to sustain and enhance its success into the future. As someone whose career owes so much to that easy and reciprocal mobility, it was a pleasure and indeed an obligation to put my name to this amendment.
My Lords, I too have considerable sympathy with all the amendments in this grouping. However, I am happy to follow the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham, as a co-mover of Amendment 97, and will confine my remarks to that new clause. This is, as the right reverend Prelate had said, a probing amendment. We hope that the Government can use this debate to clarify the next steps and perhaps give us some idea of a timetable.
I appreciate that the definition of faith communities may give us some difficulties but, as a Roman Catholic, I wish to present some of the challenges facing the Catholic Church in relation to the changes being introduced in this Bill. The Catholic Church is, after all, a very international body. Movement between different countries within religious orders, and for educational and other purposes, is an integral part of that internationalism.
In the course of preparing my brief for this debate, I have learnt a lot about the various categories of visas, something I was previously unaware of. I can fully appreciate what a struggle it is to cope with all the requirements. As the right reverend Prelate has said, most Catholic diocese have previously used tier 5 religious worker visas, for the reasons that he stated. Supply placements are essential, as they allow us to continue attending mass, while also keeping parish activities running smoothly. The new requirement, introduced in 2019, was for anybody who was preaching to use tier 2 minister of religion visas. That has more than doubled the cost incurred by parishes arranging supply cover. For some parishes, this is unsustainable and that of course compromises people’s opportunity to practise their faith.
Furthermore, seminaries that conduct formation in English are not necessarily recognised by the Home Office as meeting the English language requirement under the tier 2 route. This means that many priests, who may have been educated to postgraduate level in English, are nevertheless required to take a language test, with extra logistical and cost implications. Unless some changes are made, the situation will of course be further aggravated as a result of the end of free movement following Brexit. Priests coming from European Union countries to provide supply cover will now also be subject to the same regime.
This new clause is intended to give the Government the opportunity to keep Parliament informed, and I look forward to hearing from the Minister about government thinking on this issue.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, is not with us, so I now call the noble Lord, Lord Dubs.
My Lords, I am delighted to take part in this debate, and I am sympathetic to the amendments which have been debated and explained so clearly and positively. I particularly support Amendment 76 in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, to which I have attached my name. I shall be brief.
One of the greatest opportunities for young people is to pursue education, research, training and student exchanges in another country. It is not always young people, but they make up the majority. That is the purpose of this amendment. We would like these opportunities to be entirely on a reciprocal basis, and I hope if we pass this amendment and establish this principle now, other countries in the EU and elsewhere will follow suit.
Amendment 34 on the cost of visas was ably moved by my noble friend Lord Hunt. Clearly, if the visas are so costly, that would negate the purpose of this amendment, so I would like to see the amendments working together. Perhaps, we should put a clause in about the cost of visas, but the way it is now is fairly clear.
Although this opportunity for travel rose enormously in the post-war years, it is not a function of the EU, though the EU did help. Free movement has existed for the purposes of education and research for many centuries in Europe. It is well within the European tradition, not dependent on the structural changes within the EU. As a result of the EU, however, all these things was greatly enhanced. I hope that this freedom of movement and educational travel will be part of our young people’s future in the years to come, even when we are not inside the EU.
We all know and have met young people for whom the opportunity to travel for study and education is a supreme benefit. It is something man