House of Lords
Monday 14 September 2020
The House met in a hybrid proceeding.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Southwark.
Introduction: Lord Austin of Dudley
Ian Christopher Austin, having been created Baron Austin of Dudley, of Dudley in the County of West Midlands, was introduced and took the oath, supported by Lord Knight of Weymouth and Lord Mendelsohn, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.
Introduction: Baroness Morrissey
Dame Helena Louise Morrissey, DBE, having been created Baroness Morrissey, of Chapel Green in the Royal County of Berkshire, was introduced and took the oath, supported by Baroness Goudie and Lord Lamont of Lerwick, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, the Hybrid Sitting of the House will now begin. Some Members are here in the Chamber, respecting social distancing, others are participating remotely, but all Members will be treated equally. If the capacity of the Chamber is exceeded, I will immediately adjourn the House.
Retirement of a Member: Lord Clarke of Stone-cum-Ebony
My Lords, I should like to notify the House of the retirement, with effect from today, of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Clarke of Stone-cum-Ebony, pursuant to Section 1 of the House of Lords Reform Act 2014. On behalf of the House, I would like to thank the noble and learned Lord for his much-valued service to the House.
Oral Questions will now commence. Please can those asking supplementary questions keep them short and confined to two points? I ask that Ministers’ answers are also brief.
My Lords, eating disorders are serious life-threatening conditions, and it is important that people have access to the right mental health support in the right place and at the right time. We carefully consider all views on our measures to reduce obesity. This includes feedback from a wide range of experts in response to our public consultations on specific policy proposals.
My Lords, as the Minister says, eating disorders are indeed serious mental health issues, but their relationship with obesity is complex. Many obese people also live with eating disorders, which means treatment is not always as simple as rebalancing calories in and out. Does the Minister accept the expert advice that elements of the new strategy, like food labelling and calorie counting, are dangerous triggers for eating disorders, and that slogans emphasising personal responsibility stigmatise people whose obesity has more complex roots than a failure to get a grip? Will he agree to meet with me and eating disorder specialists to discuss how this important strategy can be more effective for its intended audience and avoid collateral damage for those people for whom “Eat less, exercise more” is a dangerous message?
My Lords, I entirely agree with the noble Baroness that serious eating disorders are complex, and we need to resource the medical attention required by people with serious mental health issues. However, I do not completely align with her view that all obesity is not a matter of personal responsibility, nor that the education of people about the content of their food through labelling cannot be an important part of our battle against obesity. Covid has spelt it out clearly to all of us. Some 67% of the country is overweight in some way or another. But this is a policy that we are determined to get right, and I would very much welcome the opportunity to meet with the noble Baroness and her team.
My Lords, following on from the noble Baroness’s question, do the Government have eating disorder experts, including those with lived experience, advising them as part of their anti-obesity strategy? It seems to me that is one way of making sure that the messages do not disadvantage those who have eating disorders. There is a reason why advocates for those with eating disorders have been very critical of the language being used. Could the Minister commit to reviewing the campaign in light of this?
The noble Baroness is entirely right: we do rely on the advice of charities, academics and experts in eating disorders. We do not do anything without full consultation with those who have expertise in eating disorders. We review the campaign regularly, and we will be taking into account the view and feedback of those experts, charities and patient groups as a part of that review.
My Lords, the Government are committed to ensuring that everyone with an eating disorder has access to timely treatment. That is why we set up the first waiting times to improve access to eating disorder services for children and young people so that, by 2021, 95% of children with an eating disorder will receive treatment within a week. Figures show that in Q1 of 2020, 87.7% of children with an eating disorder received treatment within one week in urgent cases, and 86.8% within four weeks.
My Lords, I welcome the Government’s recent announcement of additional funding for community-based mental health initiatives and ask my noble friend whether the Government can ensure that their latest obesity strategy is mindful of and responsive to the underlying emotional issues, as detailed by the noble Baroness, Lady Bull. The causes are often far more complex than the Government’s current approach.
My Lords, I completely endorse my noble friend’s views. When it comes to mental health challenges and connections between obesity and mental health, the resources need to be put in place and the sensitivity she speaks of applied. I return to my earlier comments: 87% of the country is involved in this. Not all have mental health issues; some simply need to take responsibility for their weight.
The National Audit Office’s report last week on tackling obesity confirmed that there is limited evidence that calorie labelling in restaurants reduces total calories consumed. How will the success or otherwise of the Government’s proposed calorie labelling in restaurants be evaluated? Will it take into account the potential harm caused, given that the ability to track calories can be highly triggering for those with or vulnerable to developing an eating disorder?
My Lords, we are tracking the success of this obesity strategy, although it should be understood that this is generations in the making and may well take a while to work through. I come back to my previous comments: calorie labelling is a very important element of people’s education about the content of their food and often their drinks, including alcoholic drinks. We support that measure as an important part of our strategy.
My Lords, will my noble friend take into account that in the south Asian community there are larger numbers of people with diabetes, heart disease and a lack of vitamin D? Through his campaigning and communications—he has been really mindful of this—will he try to ensure that we are also reaching communities in which exercise and sport do not always come as a first priority? Is he willing to meet with me and a team of people working on this?
My noble friend is right, and Covid has really spelt out the challenge in this area to the NHS and the Government. The incidence of serious Covid effects on BAME communities has been more intense because of the prevalence of diabetes and overweightness in many of those communities. We have relooked at our marketing and communications to those communities and need to redouble our efforts. That is why, as part of the obesity strategy, we are putting in serious, concentrated efforts in reaching the communities, as my noble friend advised. I would be glad to talk to her about how we can do that better.
My Lords, children and adolescent adults with eating disorders battle multiple debilitating physical and mental effects. Eating disorders have one of the highest morbidity rates among psychiatric conditions, causing untold helplessness and grief for families and professionals constantly struggling with a lack of adequate financial resources and services, as evidenced by Ignoring the alarms: How NHS eating disorder services are failing patients, a report by the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman. In light of this report and a significant body of evidence known to health services and experts in the field, can the Minister assure the House that sufficient advice has been sought and a thorough, evidence-based risk analysis undertaken to mitigate the potential harmful, detrimental impact of the public anti-obesity campaign on those suffering and recovering from disorders?
My Lords, I am not sure I agree with the premise of the question. It is not my belief that the anti-obesity campaign will generate massive negative repercussions. The NHS’s work in this area has developed immensely and we are putting a huge amount of money into it, including through our mental health strategy. I support the strategy we are applying.
My Lords, the need for psychological support for people with such eating disorders is often identified through face-to-face meetings with GPs. Is the Minister satisfied that it is possible, in safe conditions, for people to obtain such meetings at the moment and that, if such a need is identified, sufficient psychological support is available for them?
The noble Lord is probably aware that a letter has been sent to GPs inviting them to step up to their responsibilities for face-to-face meetings. Everyone should have a face-to-face meeting if that is what they require and need. One of the surprising and interesting outcomes of the Covid epidemic is that many mental health services have been successfully delivered through video links. It has meant that people who may feel vulnerable about attending a GP’s surgery or mental health clinic have had the opportunity for consultations. We will look at how to expand that kind of interaction.
My Lords, I have spoken to GPs about this issue. Particularly in cases of obesity—which they all agree is more common for people living in deprived areas—they say the difficulty now is that patients do not come in person to a surgery. Therefore, if someone tells you their obesity is still well under control, you have no way of assessing that. They suggested that I put it to the Government that there should be better liaison between schools and GPs, because schools see families all the time and become good judges of whether people are putting on weight. They can also provide exercise and advice on diet. GPs are willing to look after these people but say that if you cannot actually see them, how do you know that what they are telling you is the truth? What will the Government do to encourage liaison between schools and GPs?
My noble friend makes an incredibly thoughtful, practical point. Of course, it is easier to tell whether someone is abiding by their obesity commitments if you see them face to face. With regard to schools, I remind her about the hundreds of millions of pounds going into school exercise through the sugar tax payment. That is completely transforming exercise in schools and will have a profound effect over many generations.
Rape: Prosecutions and Convictions
My Lords, there is ongoing work to improve the handling of these sensitive cases and to narrow the disparity between offences reported and cases going to court. In July, the CPS published its rape strategy—the first of its kind for any department. There is also an ongoing cross-government review of the criminal justice response to rape, and this is examining evidence across the system about the causes of the falls in outcomes for rape and identifying solutions to reverse the trend.
I thank the Minister for his reply but, according to police records, there were 55,130 cases of rape but only 2,102 prosecutions and 1,439 convictions in England and Wales, until March this year. With the prosecution and conviction rates at an all-time low, can the Minister say how on earth this happened? Swift action is needed, so how long will it take to improve these figures? What measures will he take to ensure that confidence can be restored for those who seek justice?
My Lords, we are conscious of the disparity between the number of reported cases of rape and completed prosecutions. As the noble Baroness observed, the number of completed prosecutions in the year to 2020 was 2,102. However, there are signs of improvement, slight though they may be at this stage. While the number of referrals to the CPS dropped between 2018-19 and 2019-20, the number of persons charged consequent upon those referrals has increased. We are taking steps to ensure that such improvements are maintained.
My Lords, it is quite obvious to those who have been watching this situation that both the CPS and the police drastically need some training and education. The obvious people to go to are charitable organisations that work with women and girls who have been raped. Can the noble and learned Lord tell me whether the review will encompass those organisations and when it will report?
My Lords, it is of course important to see proper co-ordination between the police and the CPS to address these issues. The CPS is planning to consult on rape legal guidance, and the Joint National Disclosure Improvement Plan represents both the CPS and the police. In addition, we now have a joint inspection going on between the CPS and police inspectorates, which we hope will report in the autumn, in response to issues about rape and serious sexual offences.
What steps will the Government take to ensure that the long-standing principle in British justice of innocent until proven guilty for those accused of rape and sexual assault is always upheld? Given the recent examples where those falsely accused of such crimes had their reputations destroyed through speculation in the media and social media, how will the Government ensure that those defending such charges still have the right to an absolutely fair trial?
My Lords, wrongly and deliberately accusing someone of a sexual offence is a very serious matter and should be treated as such by criminal law. Clearly, the impact on those falsely accused and their families can be devastating. Fortunately, these cases are extremely rare and should not distract us from the need to support genuine victims of such crimes to come forward and feel confident that they will be listened to.
Something is going wrong here. As my noble friend Lady Gale said, in 2019-20 there were 55,000 rapes recorded by the police, with just 2,102 prosecutions and 1,439 convictions; yet three years earlier, there were 44,000 recorded rapes with 5,000 prosecutions and nearly 3,000 convictions. The dramatic drop in prosecutions and convictions is put down by Sarah Crew, the most senior police officer for rape in England and Wales, to the Crown Prosecution Service increasing the standard before it will prosecute. This has led also to the police submitting fewer cases to the CPS, because they know it will not prosecute. What changes to the approach on rape prosecutions did the CPS adopt between 2016-17 and 2019-20, and has its approach now changed again?
My Lords, there has been no material change to the CPS’s approach. The evidential stage of the code test remains as it was, despite some suggestions to the contrary. Indeed, the most recent inspectorate report, in 2019, observed that the code test was being applied correctly in 98% of cases. But I acknowledge that we face challenges in this area, and we are seeking to address them, as I say, by way of a joint inspectorate examination of the issue and a cross-government review of how we can improve matters.
First, the need for corroboration in rape cases was abolished; secondly, sentences were increased to a five-year minimum guideline; and then inquiries into the complainant’s character were forbidden. Then the defendant was barred from cross-examining in person, and video links kept the complainant out of the witness box. Recently, there was an exhortation that complainants are, prima facie, to be believed. Despite all this, conviction rates have fallen. Does the Minister agree that further reform should be evidence-based? Will the Ministry of Justice permit academics to look exceptionally into the way that real-life juries have reached their verdicts, whether guilty or not guilty, in a limited number of rape cases?
My Lords, the issue of engaging with juries about how they arrived at their verdicts is complex and difficult. To set a precedent there would be a material step. However, we recognise that it is necessary to address some of the ingrained misconceptions that still exist and persist around reporting these offences. We hope that, by doing that, we will improve outcomes overall.
I call the noble Lord, Lord Judd. Lord Judd? I suggest we go on to the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, and then come back, if there is time.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that I have had the painful privilege of becoming friends with young women who suffered such atrocities, including Caitlin Spencer, a pseudonym, whose story is published in the must-read book, Please, Let Me Go? She describes how, from the age of 14, she was groomed, raped, sexually exploited and trafficked around the country by gangs of men. She still sees her abusers driving their taxis with impunity, and many other victims still see perpetrators living freely and intimidating them. What more will the Government do to bring these perpetrators to justice?
My Lords, a previous Attorney-General asked for my views, as a criminal practitioner, on the failure to get convictions. Can I persuade the law officer’s department that there should be a special trigger mechanism for particular action whenever digital evidence might be an issue? Since consent seems to be the problem, will he also persuade the Attorney-General to instruct the CPS to publish details of how many cases of rape consent is raised in and how many convictions there are in consent cases?
Schools: Free Holiday Meals and Activities
My Lords, this Government are determined to ensure that children eat healthily and lead active lives. We welcome the National Food Strategy’s recent report and will carefully consider its recommendations as we approach the next spending review, including in relation to holiday provision. We are proud to provide invaluable support to children who are eligible for free school meals, and have taken unprecedented action to make sure that no child goes hungry throughout this coronavirus pandemic.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for her Answer and express my thanks for the free school meal programmes carried out during the summer vacation. That said, with the rise in family poverty and an increasing number of children admitted to hospital for reasons of malnutrition, there is undoubtedly a need for a more permanent system of free school meals during vacations in areas of need. Free school meals are even more urgent with the onset of winter and the continuing spread of Covid-19. By ceasing or limiting—or perhaps failing to make an overt commitment to—these programmes, are the Government saying that the problem of holiday hunger has in fact been resolved?
My Lords, it is indeed to the Government’s great credit that £380 million was paid out to support people during the pandemic with food vouchers for free school meals. One of the recommendations of the task force that will be considered is that holiday activity clubs be extended nationally in part of the summer holidays, so we are taking those recommendations seriously.
My Lords, given the challenges faced by children of school age relating to Covid-19, funding for free school meals and activity opportunities during school holidays would significantly promote healthier living for the poorest children in our society and could form a key platform in the Prime Minister’s obesity reduction strategy for young people. What plans are there to fund food vouchers and holiday clubs for at least the remainder of this Parliament, and for measures to be taken to help children who have to stay off school because of Covid-19 isolation? If there are not any, why not? This would level up opportunity for young people through good nutrition and chances for exercise.
My Lords, with the return of schools over the last couple of weeks, in most environments the school kitchens will now be up and running and providing food. For those limited numbers of children who might not be in school, we have encouraged those services to make weekly food parcel deliveries and have encouraged local innovations in certain circumstances where vouchers have been used. I am sure that the noble Baroness will be aware that, through the NHS, there is also funding for the Healthy Start scheme for pregnant women and parents with a child under four to get certain vouchers for healthy food for those entitled to certain benefits. We are looking to ensure that children have access to healthy food, not just food.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that the evidence of many years shows that summer learning programmes really work to lift learning, skills and confidence for poorer children in particular? That helps to maintain their motivation, particularly when they then transfer to secondary school. Given the further evidence of lockdown, what is stopping the Government now from putting a systematic learning programme in place over the summer as part of the whole strategy to reduce the growing attainment gap?
My Lords, since 2018 the Government have funded summer learning to the tune of £9 million a year. It was open to schools to use some of the catch-up funding announced at the end of last term to provide summer schools and learning. As I have outlined, the holiday provision is subject to recommendation and consideration in the spending review.
My Lords, I am sure that we all agree that all children have a right to food. When we consider the national strategy, can we bear in mind a number of factors? First, we need to be flexible so that people whose families become unemployed during that period have access to the scheme. Secondly, the vouchers should pay only for food that contributes to a healthy diet. Thirdly, some of the technical problems, which I understand, need to be properly sorted out. It is not acceptable for struggling parents to have to access a helpline that costs £21 an hour to use.
My Lords, there will be a census in October that will take into account the number of students now eligible to claim free school meals, and funding will follow that. I pay tribute to those who put up the Edenred platform at speed. There were some teething problems, but we managed to have 20,000 schools get vouchers via that system.
My Lords, one 22 year-old footballer, Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford, has had more influence recently on policy on child food poverty than any number of politicians or government agencies. Is there potential for the Government to work alongside other high-profile figures in sport and entertainment on this issue or more widely to promote higher standards in education and training?
My Lords, listening to the Minister’s answers, I wonder whether she has missed the point of the Question, specifically that made by the noble Baroness, Lady Watkins. Back in June, the Government were forced into an embarrassing—although very welcome—climbdown about providing free school meals over the summer holidays. They rightly recognised the increased pressure on families, particularly those who have had to cut working hours, are unable to work or are on furlough or shielding so cannot earn their usual wage. Rather than wait for Marcus Rashford this time to put some pressure on the Government, we are looking for some reassurance from the Minister not about strategies for the future but about planning for October and Christmas. We do not want the Government to suddenly realise that these families are struggling; the planning should be done now to ensure that children are fed and cared for in the school half-term and the Christmas holidays.
My Lords, it is indeed important to plan. In relation to the two previous vacation periods, the Government made those vouchers available. As I said, it is a welcome part of our democracy that there was a response to the contribution made by Marcus Rashford. This of course is an area of multiple departmental responsibility and, as the noble Baroness will probably be aware, £6.5 billion was also put in through universal credit, local housing allowances and the working tax credit system. I will update the House as and when there are any recommendations that we have agreed to from the National Food Strategy.
My Lords, I will build on what the previous speaker said. The Trussell Trust report published this morning revealed an 89% increase in the number of emergency food parcels given out in April compared to the year before. The furlough scheme has protected many, as we know, but by the end of the year, the trust reckons that an additional 670,000 people will be classed as destitute. I also want to ask the Minister about planning in two specific areas. First, I fail to understand why all people in receipt of universal credit should not be given free food for their children—free school meals and holiday meals as well. Secondly, why, throughout this pandemic and all these crises, has this problem been left to the charity sector, which has played a blinder in the last few months to deal with it, while the Government had to wait until the footballer knocked on the door and made it a huge issue?
My Lords, the contribution of the Government is huge in this area: 1.4 million children receive free school meals. The Government introduced free school meal entitlement in 2014 to those in further education. However, it is welcome that the voluntary sector also plays a role in our society, and I pay tribute to its work. It is one of the silver linings to the terrible cloud of the pandemic that we have seen communities rise to give support. As children become eligible for free school meals in the October census, that eligibility will be passed through the system, so we are providing for children who need this, but it is a school meal that has been available during term time.
My Lords, although it is good to see that the Government have done something here, after a great deal of prompting, what has been done to ensure that even the representations from the Government’s own party are being registered without prompting from outside? I asked this the last time the issue arose, and the answer was a sort of “oh well, we’ve done something”, but remembering that on school meals it took Jamie Oliver to make them nutritious, something should be done here so that we listen to politicians.
My Lords, I assure the noble Lord that the Government are listening to all who contribute in this area. He will be aware that school food standards in this country are a matter of legislation, and as part of the child obesity strategy we are now looking to review those to ensure that what is provided in our kitchens is healthy food for children.
Motor Sector: Export Markets
My Lords, the Government engage frequently with all the leading car manufacturers in the UK, including in relation to exports. A cross-section of UK vehicle makers is represented on the new trade advisory group and took part in the first meeting on 31 July to discuss access to those export markets involved in current free trade negotiations.
My Lords, Nissan’s head of operations has said that its Sunderland plant will be unsustainable if there is no deal with the EU and we have to move to WTO terms so damaging for our motor industry. Can the Government give an assurance that there will be a deal guaranteeing a future for Nissan in Sunderland, the UK’s number one car maker?
My Lords, the Government are working very hard to achieve a successful negotiation with the EU which will benefit our manufacturers, but I would draw the attention of the noble Baroness to the Japan FTA which we signed on Friday, to show what can be done. It allows UK auto manufacturers to access lower tariffs and tariffs that will, over a number of years, reduce to zero on a number of auto components such as road wheels, suspensions, systems and clutches. For some specific car parts, including speed indicators, the tariffs will reduce to zero.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that there is a problem not only with exports but with imports, where the UK is a manufacturer of leisure vehicles such as caravans and mobile homes? This issue was brought to my attention by a member of my extended family who runs such a business in the Midlands, and I declare that interest. Germany has supported a boom in its leisure vehicle industry, with the reduction of VAT on parts, and as a result it has become increasingly difficult to purchase parts for the UK’s industry, which currently has such potential for expansion. To avoid a serious drop in production and sales, and potentially in UK staycations, will the Minister consider whether such an incentive could be provided in the UK to support a similar rule here?
My Lords, the noble Baroness makes a very good point and I am aware of the great enjoyment that these vehicles give to people throughout the United Kingdom. I do not have the details of those matters, but I will write to the noble Baroness with them.
My Lords, after everything that the Government have said over recent days and recent years about the need to retain or gain complete autonomy and freedom over state aid rules, would it not be inconceivable that the deal with Japan that the Minister referred to would in effect put into a treaty—which we would have to put into domestic law—the EU regime of restrictions that the Government say they need freedom from in perpetuity? Surely that cannot be the case, so can the Minister reassure all those Brexit supporters in the north-east and elsewhere that the reports in the press about this action by the Government potentially replicating it are surely inaccurate?
My Lords, the UK-Japan agreement contains standard FTA provisions on subsidies. Motor manufacturers, including those in the north-east, and their representative organisation have strongly welcomed the UK-Japan deal. These subsidy chapters in trade agreements help ensure that fair and open competition exists for both parties by working to limit the effects of trade-distortive industrial subsidies. The subsidies chapter in this UK-Japan FTA rolls over the provisions from the EU-Japan EPA.
My Lords, can my noble friend the Minister tell the House what opportunities there are for UK motor manufacturers to diversify their supply chains so as to widen their sources of parts production to third countries which may be able to supply equivalent high-quality parts at competitive prices? Can he also say whether such opportunities will be only with countries with which we will have entered into FTAs by 31 December 2020, or whether they also include countries with which we expect to trade on WTO terms?
My Lords, my noble friend makes an excellent point. Of course, these supply chains cannot be turned off and on overnight, but I have no doubt that our FTA programme in general is already helping auto manufacturers in this area, and our new Japan EPA has already demonstrated this utility. Our automotive sector deal supports the industry’s ambition to increase the level of UK content by value in domestically built vehicles to 50% by 2022, so we do not have to see these supply chains only located overseas. It is of course a huge benefit to the United Kingdom if they can be located in our country as well.
My Lords, some time back, the Government announced the formation of regional trade commissioners with great fanfare and a road map that would include the preparation of action recommendations. Despite multiple requests through Questions for Written Answer that progress be made available, to date nothing of substance has been forthcoming. What is the status of each of them? What consultations have there been with individual sector providers, and, importantly, when can Parliament finally assess progress as the result of a more transparent process to be established by the Government?
My Lords, the noble Viscount refers to regional trade commissioners. These are senior officials who are in place throughout the world overseeing our investment and export activities overseas. He may be referring to the trade envoys system, which allocates parliamentarians to individual countries to support trade activities in those countries. These trade envoys do very good work and I am pleased to say that we expect to announce a list of new trade envoys very shortly.
My Lords, will not the problem here be rules of origin and the target of 50%, which the noble Lord referred to in an earlier response? However, according to the SMMT, the proportion of a car made in the UK is currently less than 25%. Does the noble Lord agree with the SMMT that, if the current UK and EU FTA negotiations fail to deliver rules of origin provisions, there will be a 10% tariff on finished vehicles and trucks and up to a 4% tariff on parts when exporting to the EU, and that this will cost the industry more than $4.5 billion annually? Therefore, is there a plan?
My Lords, of course there is a plan. It is to conclude a successful negotiation with the EU in relation to these matters. That is vital because the automotive sector is extremely important to the UK. The UK exports 80% of vehicles manufactured, which accounts for no less than 14% of UK-manufactured exports.
My Lords, this industry is deeply integrated with the EU and was already suffering because of Brexit. Honda in Swindon and Ford in Bridgend are both casualties, and the decision has been made by Ineos not to build in Merthyr. The pandemic has added more problems. Vehicle manufacturers need zero tariffs and the same regulations as the rest of Europe. Will they get that, and what tariff mitigation measures are the Government putting in place to protect the industry if there is no deal?
My Lords, we know that the automotive industry has concerns about the cost implications of any tariffs, frictions at borders and divergence in regulation following the end of the transition period. These are the very reasons why we want a relationship with the EU based on friendly co-operation between sovereign equals and centred on free trade. Those are the objectives we are working towards.
My Lords, the Minister said that new markets cannot be turned on overnight, but existing markets can certainly be lost overnight if there are punitive barriers in the form of high tariffs. What specific help will the Government give car manufacturers such as Toyota in Flintshire if they lose their European markets as a result of the Government’s failure to secure an adequate deal?
Because we recognise the importance of the automotive industry to the UK, we have various schemes in place to help support its transition and development. For example, we have our £1 billion automotive transformation fund, which is helping to develop supply chains and UK alternatives for the large-scale production of electric vehicles in the United Kingdom.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, the hybrid proceedings of the House will now resume.
The following Statement was made in the House of Commons on Thursday 10 September.
“With permission, I would like to make a further Statement on coronavirus. We have done much as a nation to get this virus under control, so we have been able to restore so much. To give just one example, figures today show that radiotherapy services in England have now returned to pre-pandemic levels. This is good news and will save lives. But, as I said to the House on Tuesday, we are seeing some concerning trends, including an increase in the number of positive cases, especially, but not only, among younger people. As the Chief Medical Officer said yesterday, we must learn from the recent experience of countries such as Belgium that have successfully put in place measures to combat a similar rise in infections. So today I would like to update the House on a number of new measures that will help us to get this virus under control and to make the rules clearer, simpler and more enforceable.
First, we are putting in place new rules on social contact. We have listened to feedback from the public and the police, and we are simplifying and strengthening the rules, making them easier to understand and easier to enforce. In England, from Monday, we are introducing the rule of six. Nobody should meet socially in groups of more than six and, if they do, they will be breaking the law. This will apply in any setting—indoors or outdoors, at home or in the pub. It replaces both the existing ban on gatherings of more than 30 and the current guidance on allowing two households to meet indoors.
There will be some exemptions. For example, if a single household or support bubble is larger than six, they can still gather. Places of education and work are unaffected. Covid-secure weddings, wedding receptions and funerals can go ahead up to a limit of 30 people. Organised sport and exercise is exempt.
These are not measures that we take lightly. I understand that for many they will mean changing long-awaited plans or missing out on precious moments with loved ones, but this sacrifice is vital to control the virus for the long term and save lives, and I vow that we will not keep these rules in place for any longer than we have to.
Secondly, we are putting in place stronger enforcement. Hospitality venues will be legally required to request the contact details of every party. They will have to record and retain those details for 21 days and provide them to NHS Test and Trace without delay when required. This system is working well voluntarily, with minimal friction, and it is very effective, but it is not in place in all venues. It is only fair that it is followed by all. We are supporting local authorities to make greater use of their powers to close venues that are breaking rules and pose a risk to public health, and fines will be levied against hospitality venues that fail to ensure their premises are Covid-secure.
Our goal, as much as possible, is to protect keeping schools and businesses open, while controlling the virus. The data shows that, while the cases among 17 to 30 year-olds are rising, the number of cases among under-16s remains very low. We all know how important it is to keep schools open. As the chief medical officers have said, the long-term risks to children’s life chances of not going to school are significant and far greater than the health risks of going back to school. The latest data confirms that.
University students will soon be returning. The Department for Education has published the updated guidance for universities on how they can operate in a Covid-secure way. That includes a clear request not to send students home in the event of an outbreak, to avoid spreading the virus further across the country. If you are a student who is about to return to university or go to university for the first time, please, for the sake of your education and your parents’ and grandparents’ health, follow the rules and do not gather in groups of more than six.
Our ability to test and trace on a large scale is fundamental to controlling the virus, as we have discussed in the House many times. The latest data shows that we are doing more testing per head than other European countries such as Germany and Spain, and we have record capacity. We have increased capacity by more than 10,000 tests a day over the last fortnight. While there have been challenges in access to tests, the vast majority of people get their tests rapidly and close to home. The average distance travelled to a test site is 6.4 miles, and 90% of people who book a test travel 22 miles or less. We already have more than 400 testing sites in operation. We added 19 last week and plan 17 more this week.
However, as capacity has increased, we have seen an even faster rise in demand, including a significant increase from people who do not have symptoms and are not eligible for a test. That takes tests away from people who need them. If you have symptoms of coronavirus or are asked by a clinician or local authority to get a test, please apply, but if you do not have symptoms and have not been asked, you are not eligible for a test.
At the same time, we are developing new types of tests that are simple, quick and scalable. They use swabs or saliva and can be turned round in 90 minutes or even 20 minutes. So-called Operation Moonshot, to deploy mass testing, will allow people to lead more normal lives and reduce the need for social distancing. For instance, it could mean that theatres and sports venues could test audience members on the day and let in those with a negative result; workplaces could be opened up to all those who test negative that morning; and anyone isolating because they are a contact or quarantining after travelling abroad could be tested and released. We are piloting that approach right now and verifying the new technology, and then it can be rolled out nationwide.
I am looking forward to rolling out this programme and this work, which has been under way for some time already, and I am determined that we will get there. If everything comes together, and if the technology comes off, it will be possible, even for challenging sectors, such as theatres, to get closer to normal before Christmas.
Finally, the most important thing that each and every one of us can do is remember the small things that can make a big difference: ‘hands, face, space’, and if you have symptoms, get a test. Hands: wash your hands regularly and for 20 seconds; face: wear a face covering over your mouth and nose if you are in an enclosed space and in close contact with people you do not normally meet; space: always stay two metres away from people you do not live with, or one metre with extra precautions, such as extra ventilation, screens or face coverings. And of course, if you have Covid symptoms, get a test and self-isolate.
Coronavirus is a powerful adversary and, when called upon, the British people have done so much to blunt the force of this invisible killer. Now, at this important juncture, we are being called upon once more to deliver our collective commitment to follow the rules and get this virus under control. I commend this Statement to the House.”
My Lords, I thank the Minister for taking the Statement this afternoon. It was taken in the Commons on Thursday and enacted at one minute after midnight today. The order was laid about an hour ago, but I am not sure when we will be discussing it. Noble Lords might have noticed that we are not short of Covid-19 orders to discuss in the next two weeks. Perhaps the Minister can tell us when we might be discussing this one.
We are at a dangerous moment in the life of this horrible virus—one where we are being advised by SAGE that we need to bring down the rate of infection, which has increased alarmingly in the last week or so. Last week I asked the Minister about the R rate. I think we all understand that this has now gone up and might be as high as 1.7. Has a tipping point been reached?
Today, I want to ask about the alert level. Can the Minister confirm what assessment the Joint Biosecurity Centre has made of the risk? Have we moved to level 4? The Government have tightened restrictions on meeting in groups after a surge in infections prompted by these concerns, and we on these Benches absolutely support that. From today, it will be illegal for people in England to gather in groups of more than six.
It is the first time that the Prime Minister has imposed a nationwide lockdown measure since restrictions began to be eased in May. At a press briefing, he admitted that over time the rules “have become quite complicated and confusing”. Announcing the rule of six, he said, “We are responding, and we are simplifying and strengthening the rules, making them easier for everyone to understand.” Well, that remains to be seen.
The Chief Medical Officer has said that the number of cases has been increasing more rapidly. On 9 September, he said that, while the numbers among older people and children remained “flat”, in other age groups there were “rapid upticks”. Professor Sir Mark Walport, a member of the Government’s scientific advisory group, told BBC Radio 4’s “Today” programme that one might have to say that we are “on the edge of losing control”. He said that data suggested that, without action, Britain would be on a path “extremely similar” to that of France, where the numbers continue to rise.
Can the Minister advise the House how the Government arrived at the rule of six? Why not eight? Why not four? The Justice Secretary, Robert Buckland, said that another nationwide lockdown remains a “nuclear option”. Can the Minister outline what additional national restrictions the Government are considering to prevent a return to a full national lockdown? I have a few questions on this.
The Government say that they will “boost the local enforcement capacity of local authorities by introducing Covid-secure marshals to help ensure social distancing in town and city centres, and by setting up a register of environmental health officers that local authorities can draw upon for support.” If the new restrictions are dependent on Covid-secure marshals employed by local councils’ public health departments, how many does the Minister believe will be required, and how will they be funded?
Can the Minister confirm whether and at what age children are included in the six? It seems that different countries have different ideas about this. In England it seems that a child under 12 is included in the six, but in other countries that is not the case. Why have we taken a different line on that?
I gather that sports are exempt from this, but can the Minister confirm that that includes shooting and hunting and that they are exempt from the ban?
This morning I received a copy of a letter to the Home Secretary from the leader of Hammersmith Council. I feel that I need to raise this because it is important that the Minister is aware that there is a Covid-19 outbreak among asylum seekers placed in a hotel in Hammersmith and Fulham. The council has been misinformed by the Home Office people dealing with this and that has led to an outbreak. Last week I was talking about a dissonance between the Department for Education and the Department of Health in terms of information that has been used to try to control Covid. Today I am saying that it looks as if there is a dissonance between the Home Office and the Department of Health. In this case, that will feed directly into the spreading of the virus, so it is a matter of some urgency for the Government and I draw it to the attention of the Minister.
Bolton remains the place in England with the highest rates of coronavirus infections, with the equivalent of 192 new cases per 100,000 people. That increase comes despite the Government implementing even tougher lockdown restrictions for the town, including a strict curfew for bars and restaurants. What is the next step? Are the Government considering closing pubs and restaurants?
We have mingling on public transport and in offices and restaurants and pubs. All these are factors where infections can happen and spread, so what plans do the Government have to review the back-to-work advice?
I have to talk about the availability of tests. There is an increasing number of people reporting problems, people still being referred to Aberdeen from 400 miles away and test centres still empty or not being used because tests cannot be processed. Please can the Minister own that there is a problem here, explain what the challenges are and tell the House how and when they will be resolved?
Finally, I want to highlight that the key to preventing mass outbreaks in care homes was the availability of testing for those homes. So how many care-home tests have not been processed in the last week or so? That seems to be vital. Care home providers are reporting a slight rise in care home infections, and we cannot possibly face a repeat of what happened during the last spike of the pandemic in our care homes.
My Lords, these Benches welcome anything from the Government that is based on rational evidence and can prove to be effective in this public health crisis to keep people safe and reduce the spread of the virus. So does this Statement live up to that? Unfortunately, yet again the sales pitch from the Secretary of State last week fell short of what is required to be effective. It has to be based on fact and scientific evidence that the public have confidence in and understand.
I have some simple questions for the Minister. Now that the scientific evidence has been produced, members of the public are asking why children under 12 and 11 are included as part of the six. Why can they be in a school in a class of 30 but from 3.30 pm they cannot be in a house with seven people, including their two grandparents? What scientific evidence exists to suggest that that causes more harm than 30 children in a classroom?
There is something else that people have asked me. Why is it that I can go to the office and be there with 20 people until 4 pm, but at 4.15 pm, if I go to the pub, I have to be in a bubble of no more than six? The evidence may be there, but it has to be explained in a way that those questions can be answered and the public have confidence in those answers. Inconsistency, rather than the public not having confidence, is one of the issues that the virus breeds on.
The public health message has to be clear and consistent. The regulations do not just bring in a power of six; there are quite a number of exemptions, including a legal definition of “mingle”: for the first time since 1393 it becomes illegal to “mingle”. Can the Minister give a legal definition of “mingling”? I can go to an event with six people but I cannot mingle beyond those six if it is an event run by a charity, a public body, a philanthropic organisation or a business. If I open the door for somebody and speak to them to thank them, am I mingling? If I stop somebody who I know and speak to them, am I mingling? What is the legal definition? That is going to cause confusion and not be consistent.
These regulations and rules have to be developed in a collaborative manner with local areas to be effective. Why was the Local Government Association informed of the Covid-secure marshals only one hour before? If the rate is rising so fast and we need to be effective today to monitor six people and no more, where are those marshals’ powers as of today and in which legislation?
It is quite clear that action needs to be taken to stop this virus, but it is time for the Government to stop and be much more strategic and considered and to implement legislation and systems in a more collaborative way. People’s lives and livelihoods depend on the Government getting this right, but unfortunately this Statement is not a complete and right answer.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness and the noble Lord for their perceptive and thoughtful questions. On the noble Baroness’s questions about the level of alert, to my knowledge it has not changed. It was reduced from four to three on 19 June; it remains subject to review on a weekly basis, but we are not in a position to raise it at the moment.
The noble Baroness asked about the rule of six and why we had committed to six as opposed to anything else. The short answer is that we are seeking to have rules that are simple to understand and straightforward to apply. We accept that during the last few months the guidelines have grown increasingly complex and difficult to understand in all their detail. Across the board, with “Hands, Face, Space”, the rule of six and other measures that we are seeking to publish, there is a genuine effort to engage the public in a really simple lexicon of how we can beat the coronavirus.
Sir Mark Walport, the head of UKRI, was right in his warning that the jeopardy is enormous. If we do not get this communications challenge right, and if people think they are confused and think they have a way out because it is in some way complicated, we will fail, the disease will come back and we will have tens of thousands of deaths; we will have an NHS that is challenged; we will have an economy that is shut down; and we will have a generation that is lost to education. Those are the stakes, so we are determined to get it right. I am happy to stand here for as long as it takes and be pub-quizzed on “What about this? What about that?” if it means that we get it right.
However, the public seem to understand these simpler rules. The response from the public in our planning focus groups and in the response since their publication has been extremely positive, and we think we are on the right track. This is advice that was informed by SAGE and we went through its models in great detail.
The noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, asked why children are included. The bottom line is that we want to keep it simple. Children are vectors of infection; they can pass the disease from one generation to the next. Time and again, in city after city, we have seen an infection that starts with a young person, moves to mum and dad, then to grandma and grandpa. It takes weeks or sometimes months for that progress to take place but, as I have said at this Dispatch Box before, as night follows day, the infection moves through the generations unless we take steps to break the chain of transmission. The rule of six is a critical, unambiguous step in the Government’s strategy for doing just that.
The noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, asked about marshalls, so let me just say a word about that. This measure came from our engagement with local authorities. Local authorities are looking for ways in which they can implement the right measures to disrupt crowds forming and, as the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, said, mingling—a concept which, frankly, I do not think needs much description and nor do members of the public. In order to break things up, they are looking for ways in which they can have both the authority and the personnel to do that, and we have responded by putting in the right regulations to do that and by providing the right resources. But it will be up to local authorities to implement that in detail.
The noble Baroness asked about shooting and hunting. My understanding is that guidelines on all sorts of sports and activities where the rule of six is in any way ambiguous will be issued in the coming days.
The noble Baroness asked about Hammersmith, and I am extremely grateful for the tip-off. I will look into it, as I have done when other noble Lords have alerted me to concerns they might have. I am extremely concerned that there might be a breakdown in the asylum centre in Hammersmith. However, I reassure the noble Baroness and the House that directors of public health are responsible for this kind of implementation, and the benefit of directors of public health is that they work across all departments. Some directors of public health have a health background, some have a police background and some come from a leisure background, but they all hold the ring when it comes to local implementation of local measures, and therefore they are the best-placed people to ensure that situations like this are not overlooked.
The noble Baroness asked whether we should be reviewing the current measures for pubs, clubs and workplaces. The simple answer to that is yes, absolutely; we should be reviewing it—and we do review it every single week. We are on tenterhooks because, if we get this wrong, the jeopardy is enormous. We are working as hard as we can, with regulatory measures such as the rule of six, marketing measures such as “Hands, Face, Space” and containment measures such as the test and trace programme, in order to keep the economy open, to keep our educational institutions open and to keep life as normal as we possibly can. If we do not—if we fail—it will go back to where we were before, and I hope memories are not so short that people do not remember quite how imposing and draconian the former lockdown was.
On test and trace, the noble Baroness quite reasonably asked about the capacity and about demand. I can reassure her that the capacity has literally never been higher. We are up 7% week on week and—if I can provide the right figures here—we will have a capacity of 500,000 by the end of October. We have 500 centres, including five major laboratories, 236 mobile testing units, 72 walk-through testing sites, and more sites opening all the time. For every 1,000 people in this country, we test 2.43 a day; that compares with Germany at 1.15, Spain at one and France at 1.15.
We are throwing everything we can at the test and trace system, but it is true that demand has gone up. Part of that demand is through children returning to school. I welcome enormously the return of children to school, but it is an un unambiguous fact that this has led to a very large increase in the number of children being sent to testing centres—often bringing their parents and other household members with them—and that has put an enormous pressure on the system.
Another feature is asymptomatic testing. Estimates are that between 20% and 25% of those turning up for a test are currently asymptomatic. If we had all the tests in the world, that would not be a problem and I would welcome it, but right now we are building the system, we are under pressure and we need to communicate more clearly to the public that asymptomatic testing is not supported by our current testing system.
The noble Baroness asked about social care—quite rightly, as this is a major feature; we are concerned about it, and I know that noble Lords are concerned about it. I reassure the noble Baroness and the House that care homes are absolutely our number one priority. This was reiterated in meetings with the Prime Minister last week. Some of the capacity challenges in places such as walk-in and drive-in centres are because we have put care homes front of the queue and because those tests are taking priority.
The noble Lord, Lord Scriven, asked a number of extremely detailed questions, some of which I have touched on. He asked why we have included children. He is entirely right that, in Scotland, they have not included all children and in some other countries they do not do so either. We have taken a different view. Partly, that is on the epidemiological advice from SAGE; partly, that is on the marketing advice from our communications department, which is insistent that we are clear and unambiguous with the population; and, partly, that is the CMO’s advice—he rightly identifies children as potential vectors of infection, particularly in intergenerational households.
The noble Lord, Lord Scriven, asked for consistency. Well, we are consistent in that we are determined to break these chains of transmission. The science is not simple; if it were, the disease would have been beaten. It bounces around, and we are doing our best to fight it. We are communicating as best we can on all the science we have.
In terms of collaboration, I pay a massive tribute to all my colleagues at the department, in other departments, in local authorities, at PHE and in the NHS. It is difficult for me to explain in great detail in a short amount of time the immense amount of cross-departmental, inter-agency collaboration that has sprung up around Covid. The amount of data that is shared, the number of Zoom calls and the working together are absolutely phenomenal. The noble Lord cited that the LGA did not know about the marshalls plan until the last minute; I am afraid to say that it must have been the last one on the list.
My Lords, we now come to the 30 minutes allocated for Back-Bench questions. I ask that questions and answers be brief, so that I can call the maximum number of speakers.
My Lords, last week I pursued the question as to whether there were precedents for using emergency powers under an old Act—this is an Act from 1984—and also whether the Government had any plans to change the procedure to one that is more like what we have come to expect over many years, so that we debate these regulations before they came into force. Many of the questions that are asked would be much sharper if the debate was before the regulations came into force. It would be better, because the future is more interesting than the past—and doubly so in these hybrid days, when debate is not as easy as it is in normal circumstances. Indeed, one reason for thinking that we should change is that there must be an impression that the Executive are riding roughshod over us, when what is actually needed is consensus—as has been indicated by the two Front-Bench speeches today—and I think that consensus is available. Will the Government have another think, decide it is better to be in front and implement some changes that will make Parliament’s job easier?
I thank my noble friend for his comments, but my perspective is slightly different. The fact is that this disease is incredibly aggressive and nimble; we sometimes have to turn decisions around literally within hours. I cannot think of another situation, other than war, where the decision-making has to be quite so quick. I would love to be able to bring regulations to this House for full debate in advance of their implementation, but no human institution can move at that kind of speed—it is just not possible. In answer to his question, we have no plans to switch horses at the moment. We are working as hard as we can to bring regulations here as quickly as we can, and I pay tribute to the House authorities for doing everything they can to put regulations in front of the House as quickly as they can.
My Lords, the Office for National Statistics records over 52,000 deaths of people whose death certificates have Covid-19 as a contributory cause. More than 42,000 of these deaths were of people over the age of 65. As the numbers of infections increase, which they are, more older and vulnerable people will be infected—as has happened in France—leading to a rise in hospital admissions and deaths. What plans do the Government have as the rate of infection increases in our country to protect the elderly and more vulnerable?
My Lords, we are discussing, among other things, the very regulations we are putting in place to protect the elderly and vulnerable. The rule of six, although not part of this provision, is an emphatic commitment to protect the people whom the noble Lord cites. I add that we are concerned about not only the elderly and vulnerable; we are increasingly concerned about the phenomenon of long Covid, which hits the young. It is one of our objectives to rid this country of Covid altogether and to protect all demographics.
My Lords, in answer to my noble friend Lady Thornton’s question about the alert level, the Minister said that to his knowledge it had not changed, although it was subject to weekly review. However, these are the Government’s own levels. How can the level stay at number 3, which means “virus contained”, when number 4 means “virus not contained”? Does the Minister really think that an average travel requirement of 6.4 miles to a testing centre, with 10% of people having to travel up to 22 miles, is acceptable after all these months?
The change in the alert level is done in consultation with the CMO and it is his advice that the circumstances have not changed enough for us to move it. On the average travel time, most reasonable people would consider six-and-a-half miles a reasonable distance to travel for such an important test.
My Lords, the phenomenon we had noticed was that large groups of people, sometimes in pubs and sometimes in other congregations, would seemingly be from two households, but that the actual definition of “household” was proving to be extremely flexible in the minds of many people. Therefore, putting an integer into the formula makes it much clearer.
May I return to the issue of political gatherings, which my noble friend and I discussed last Thursday? He mentioned that protests such as those we have seen recently from Extinction Rebellion might not be outlawed quite yet, but it is not really a matter of outlawing political protest—I did not ask for that. However, can he understand how deeply outraged many would feel while spending their Christmases abiding by the very difficult rule of six if, out their window, they were watching political protesters who do not give a monkey’s about the rules? Will he confirm that political protesters are subject right now to precisely the same rules as the rest of us?
My Lords, will the Minister please accept that while there may be good reason for the Government to ratchet up further the restrictions on social distancing, it is surely unreasonable to at the same time pressure people to return to their offices? These two objectives are incompatible, as was shown by government officers last week. Surely the Government should accept that they can press either greater social distancing or a return to offices, but not both?
My Lords, I do not think that this Government are pressuring anyone into doing anything. We are keen to give those who have a reason to, whether personal or professional, the confidence to return to their workplace. I pay tribute to the very large number of employers who have invested a huge amount in making those workplaces socially distanced and safe for employees.
I am very glad to make that assurance: 13 billion items of PPE have been procured and made available for NHS, social care and other key workers. I pay tribute to my colleague and noble friend Lord Deighton, who has led our efforts on this. The situation is completely transformed from that of earlier this year.
My Lords, in the past week, over 700 schools have reported Covid cases among teachers and pupils, but getting a test is difficult for many. I declare an interest: my seven year-old grandson went back to school last Monday and got a high temperature. He was told to stay at home and his parents tried all week to get a test for him. They were sent to Brighton and eventually managed to get one 10 miles away, but that is because they have a car. What happens to families who do not have a car but want their children to go back to school and not lose out? Why are test kits not being made available to schools or local authorities, maybe in clusters, to enable equal access for all children and teachers to such kits so that they do not have to self-isolate unnecessarily for 14 days and can—like my grandson, whose test was thankfully negative—go back to school?
I thank the noble Baroness for her testimony, which completely resonates with me. The current national prevalence is around one in 1,500, so there is a strong likelihood that, in a school with 1,500 kids, one of them will turn up with Covid. We are aware of the challenge of febrile children who have a temperature, as children often do, and are naturally anxious to get a test. We therefore provide kits of tests to schools, but we are not able to turn schools into testing centres—I do not think that parents, teachers or schoolchildren would like us to do that. We have also prioritised social care, the protection of hospitals and the asymptomatic testing of key workers over schoolchildren for the moment. As our capacity increases, that will be reviewed.
My Lords, this virus has shown it is extremely difficult to eradicate or keep under control until a vaccine is produced. I ask the Minister about people being asked to isolate because data has shown that some are facing real hardship. We are told that this is a central reason for people sometimes ignoring advice. Are Ministers looking at the possibility of helping with extra financial support?
The noble Baroness is entirely right that the isolation protocol is extremely onerous for some people and has a huge impact on their life, mental health, income and social life. I completely understand the point she is making. We are keeping the question of financial support under review and will continue to look at this important subject.
My Lords, picking up on one of the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, what arrangements have been made to enable compliance with the rule of six for asylum seekers living in reception centres or hostels that have communal facilities for eating, sleeping, washing, cooking and leisure time? This could be a national issue, not just in Hammersmith. Also, why is there no link on the National Asylum Support Service website to any Covid information or advice in languages other than English and Welsh?
My Lords, why insist on a mask-wearing policy totally at variance with international practice? Surely, by now the Government can admit to the major benefits: they alert others to danger, signal an element of risk and, when worn without valves, protect both users and those in the immediate vicinity. Therefore, why not revisit the whole policy and promote the enforcement of wider and appropriate usage—a very, very much needed U-turn?
My Lords, I pay tribute to the noble Lord’s campaigning on this issue; he has contributed to the Government changing their strategy on mask wearing. However, we are here discussing the onerous burden that these measures put on people in this country, and we have to be careful not to overburden them. The CMO’s guidance on masks is that the science remains ambiguous. I know the noble Lord does not agree with that, but that is the CMO’s advice. We have come a long way on masks in order to change policy on this and, as the scientific evidence changes, we will review that policy.
Since the Minister wants to keep things simple, could he explain to families that are separated what the rules now are? In my case, I am a single father of three young boys who live with me every other week. They live in a household of six on the other weeks, and it includes another child who also lives in another household part of the time. Which of us are allowed to get together when?
My Lords, that is the pub-quiz question of all pub-quiz questions. There are special provisions for families that are, like the noble Lord’s, separated or complex. Those guidelines have been published, I believe, and I would be glad to send him an email with a link to them.
[Inaudible]—simple rule and the long overdue emphasis on better and stricter enforcement. Does my noble friend not agree that when a law is systematically and routinely broken and not enforced, it brings the rest of the law into disrepute? Therefore, will he encourage the police, in the strongest possible measures, to stop turning a blind eye to massive house parties, raves and woke demonstrations and tell them to get off their knees and enforce the law?
My Lords, I completely endorse my noble friend’s comments on raves, but the effectiveness of these measures is reliant not just on police implementation but the compliance of the British public. While I understand his point on mandation and police action, it is really the personal decisions and social pressure of the British public that will make these work, and I cannot help but pay tribute to them for their sensible approach to Covid to date; that is where our trust really lies.
My Lords, following on from the previous question, effective policing requires the consent of those being policed, and those enforcing it need good training and interpersonal skills. Covid marshals—when they are actually implemented—could well face some resistance from those who have had enough of being told what to do. Will marshals have the power to issue fixed penalties, and does the noble Lord agree that friction with them could cause breaches of the peace and place even more demands on the police themselves?
My Lords, I do not know the precise legal powers of the marshals, but I remind the House that city centres and public areas frequently have civilian marshals of one kind or another to help guide public gatherings. This is a not uncommon aspect of city and public life, and I have an enormous amount of faith in the good sense of the British public to go along as requested without legal mandation.
My Lords, the WHO’s watchword has been “test, test, test” to isolate the disease, so I am in favour of the Prime Minister’s stated ambition of mass testing. With regard to Operation Moonshot, have the Government a date in mind for testing audience members at theatres and sports venues? Secondly, does the Minister agree that we should now be testing at airports, as British Airways is asking for?
My Lords, we have embraced the “test, test, test” recommendation in a very big way, and the noble Earl is entirely right to aspire to using testing to enable a return to the economy, theatreland and all sorts of public gatherings. We are looking energetically at this, working with suppliers, academia and the NHS to figure out ways of using the new testing technologies in the way he describes.
However, we are at a relatively early stage and I am not able to make announcements on this here today. We have funded—to the tune of £500 million—a huge amount of investment in these technologies and, when they are right, we will roll them out in the theatres and airports of Britain.
My Lords, we have heard a lot from the Minister today about the importance of obeying the law, yet a Bill has been introduced in the other place today that essentially sees the Government seeking to break the law. I refer him to what Geoffrey Cox, the former Attorney-General, said this morning:
“When the Queen’s minister gives his word, on her behalf, it should be axiomatic that he will keep it, even if the consequences are unpalatable. By doing so he pledges the faith, honour and credit of this nation and it diminishes the standing and reputation of Britain in the world if it should be seen to be otherwise.”
He went on to say:
“It is unconscionable that this country, justly famous for its regard for the rule of law around the world, should act in such a way”.
Does the Minister think this a good example to the public, and does he not fear that the appeal to the rule of law regarding the rule of six might just fall on rather stony ground?
My Lords, the noble Lord has previously congratulated people in my part of Lancashire on how well we are doing, which I do not quite agree with; we are working hard. Why are people, whether in our borough or the surrounding ones, still not able to book tests locally when we usually have three testing stations going? Some are being told to ration the number of tests they do each day, which involves gaps of perhaps two hours when they will not accept any bookings, even though the testing kit and the people are there, and the tests could be carried out. However, people are not being allowed to use them.
My Lords, the amount of testing we are doing is increasing enormously. Most people who book a test do get it locally, and that test is delivered quickly and on time. The result arrives within 24 hours and we are doing a million tests a week, which is well within the bounds of our business capacity.
The noble Lord is right that the system is under scrutiny and pressure. Not everyone is getting a test where and when they want it. However, overall, it is reasonable to ask people not to make frivolous demands upon the tests, and to ask that those who are asymptomatic wait until there is further test capacity before they step forward to ask for their test.
My Lords, can my noble friend tell me what the Government have identified in English children under 12, including babies, that makes them, to use his phrase, “a vector of infection and a Covid hazard”, that does not apply to children in Scotland, who have been back at school for weeks? And on the subject of making things easier to understand—simplifying matters—why is it okay in England to meet one’s grandchildren in the pub but not in their family home if the household consists of six people?
My Lords, Scottish children are just the same as English children, but the Scottish Government have decided to take a different approach; we celebrate the differences between our two nations in this. With respect to meeting in the pub, you cannot meet more than six people in the pub and you cannot meet more than six people between two households. The arithmetic is reasonably straightforward.
My Lords, it is clear that face masks are a critical component of slowing the virus. Following on from the observations of the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, and other noble Lords, how self-sufficient is the UK expected to become in the supply of PPE, and are there targets for the supply of face masks in particular?
My Lords, we have taken huge steps in the domestic production of PPE. In some matters, where the production is relatively straightforward, such as aprons, we have taken huge steps forward and the vast majority of our production is done at home. For some products, such as gloves, that are more complex because of their shape, we are having to work harder. The progress of my noble friend Lord Deighton’s Make strategy for PPE has been profound, and we are looking at making up to half of our PPE requirements in the UK.
My Lords, given the intrusive and damaging effects, especially on family life, of the decision to limit social contacts to six people, can the Minister say why it was decided to apply this both inside and outside, rather than to follow the Welsh Government’s position of applying the new ruling only to meetings inside? Does he agree that medical evidence suggests that the chance of contracting the virus outside is tiny in comparison with inside, and that, with regard to his quest for simplicity, nobody is so simple that they cannot tell the difference between inside and outside.
My Lords, I agree that everyone can tell the difference between inside and outside, but everyone also has eyes, and may have seen, as I have, how people crowd together in the forecourts and beer gardens of Britain. If they were all standing on draughty hillsides with the wind blowing the disease around, that would be one thing, but the simple fact is that our prevalence has gone up—the evidence speaks for itself—and that is why we need to be clearer about this simple measure.
My Lords, in the US 513,000 children have been infected as of 3 September, with 70,630 cases reported in the past two weeks. Only this morning in my locality, all reception classes bar one were shut down due to the Covid infection of a teacher. As a father, the Minister will understand that many parents remain fearful and are seeking assurance and evidence of safety. Holding the Government to account after a tragedy has occurred would be meaningless. What lessons can we learn from our friends in the US and elsewhere about minimising the spread of infection among teachers and children in the UK, with the inevitable consequence of transmission to their homes and vulnerable loved ones in their families?
My Lords, policymakers around the world are facing exactly the same dilemma. We are determined to have the schools back, because the long-term effects on young people—particularly the least advantaged—will be profound if we shut the schools. The noble Baroness is entirely right to say that parents are naturally concerned that the safety of children, and other generations that they may come into contact with, is at risk. That is why we are massively prioritising the return of schools and introducing measures such as the rule of six to break the chain of transmission and thereby protect the schools from closure.
I apologise to the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, who I should call now.
Thank you, Deputy Lord Speaker. My noble friend has talked about Covid, but I think it is important in the same debate to talk about the flu injections that are available to help people reduce their ability to catch Covid. Will my noble friend ask the pharmacies that are distributing flu injections to step up their communications, in particular to people with south Asian backgrounds, who are slightly resistant to going into pharmacies to get flu jabs? I know from my experience of having to persuade my mother that this is an issue, and it would be helpful to get the communications about getting flu injections out as quickly as possible, so that people build up their immunity as quickly as possible.
My Lords, we are hopeful that this season the number of flu injections will be a massive increase on previous seasons. We will, therefore, be putting huge responsibility on the shoulders of pharmacies and pharmacists to deliver them. I take on board completely the very good advice from my noble friend about the reputation of pharmacists compared to GPs, particularly in certain communities. I trust that the pharmacy profession will be doing an enormous amount to promote the flu injection itself, and to reassure its customers about the efficacy of its service. It is, however, an idea that I will take back to the department.
My Lords, when we had questions on the Statement last Thursday, I asked the Minister two questions that he did not answer. I have another opportunity now. Can the Minister say what evaluation the Government have made of the economic and societal impact of alternative responses to the spike that we are seeing in infection rates? Secondly, will they publish that evaluation?
Most of the Covid measures made under the Public Health Act 1984 have major adverse effects on the economy and on the treatment of other fatal diseases. We cannot go on like this indefinitely until we have a vaccine. We need a new strategy that offers a degree of protection where it is needed, for example in care homes and for the very elderly, and that restores economic and social life. Are the Government now developing such a strategy, and when will we hear about it?
My Lords, my noble friend describes in the most beautiful and succinct way exactly the strategy that we are following. It balances on the one hand a fight against disease, a breaking of the chain of transmission, the protection of the NHS and the saving of lives, and on the other a measured, thoughtful and reasonable opening up of the economy, workplaces, schools, shops and other valued economic assets. We are working hard to get that balance right. I believe that we have got it right, but we are open to suggestion and we review the situation incessantly. Until we have a vaccine and other therapeutics to fight this disease, that is the life and the road that we will be walking.
Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill
Committee (3rd 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 three 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.
Debate on Amendment 39 resumed.
My Lords, I rise to support Amendment 70, to which I was pleased to add my name, but I will first speak in support of other amendments which provide for a time limit for detention.
I first encountered this issue as a member of the inquiry into detention by the APPGs on Refugees and Migration, which reported in 2015. The evidence we received convinced me of the case. It is frustrating that, despite a wide consensus in favour of a time limit—including among a number of very senior Conservative MPs—we are still having to argue the case five years on. I hope that the Minister is not going to trot out the usual Home Office line that the law does not allow for indefinite detention, an assertion based on semantics. She knows full well that by “indefinite”, we mean “without fixed or specified limit”—to quote one dictionary definition.
It is the absence of a fixed or specified limit that is so problematic. In particular, it has been shown to contribute to serious mental distress among detainees, a point made in the literature review conducted for the original Shaw report, and reinforced by subsequent reports, including by the Joint Committee on Human Rights, the Home Affairs Committee and, most recently, by the Jesuit Refugee Service this year. That report emphasises the trauma experienced by detainees, which stretches beyond the period of detention itself and is relived indefinitely over the years to come. It found that the lack of a time limit laid down was particularly problematic, and that
“not knowing when one would be released was central to an uncertainty that pervaded the experience of detention. Both long detention and the indefinite nature of detention were also seen as increasing the injustice of its practice.”
When debate on this amendment started, the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, asked the Committee to imagine how we would feel with that uncertainty—that draining away of hope. Gabby—not her real name—a woman helped by Women for Refugee Women, to which I pay tribute for its work in this area, put it powerfully. She said that
“indefinite detention destroys people. People who are imprisoned in detention already have mental health issues when they get locked up—and the longer you stay there, the worse it gets. My hair started falling out, and I had flashbacks to what happened to me before”—
she was referring to having been trafficked—
“Not knowing when you will be released had such an effect on me. I kept thinking: will I be kept here forever?”
I know the Minister will retort that no one is detained for ever—her definition of “indefinite”—but that is how it can feel when you do not know when it will end, which is the usual definition of “indefinite” in this context. Gabby was in Yarl’s Wood, and it is welcome that no woman is now being held there. Can the Minister say if any women are being detained elsewhere and, if so, where and how many? If she cannot answer now, will she write to the Committee afterwards?
The release of many detainees into the community in recent months demonstrates that detention does not have to play such a significant role in the immigration system—a point made powerfully by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, the other day. In this context, will the Minister update the Committee on how the alternatives to detention pilot is going?
Turning to Amendment 70, damage to mental health is a common thread in the case for all these amendments. It was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, when he introduced the amendment. Medical Justice, to which I am also grateful for a briefing, wrote about the “devastating” health impact of segregation. It says that it has been found to lead to increased rates of anxiety, perceptual disorder, hallucinations, paranoia and suicidal thoughts, as well as serious physiological effects. The mental health risks for those with pre-existing conditions and other vulnerabilities are especially high. In particular, anyone who has suffered segregation as part of past torture might be re-traumatised by it.
Medical Justice also makes the point that segregation can be counterproductive. The Government’s argument that restrictions on segregation would jeopardise IRCs’ safety and security serves to ignore the deeper systemic problems that contribute to the “need” to remove people from association—for example, poor standards of healthcare, abusive or bullying attitudes or behaviour, oppressive regimes and the impact of indefinite detention itself. If the Home Office addressed these systemic problems, fewer people might behave in such a way as to call for segregation. The Home Office does not publish data on the use of segregation of vulnerable people. Could the Minister explain what they do not and commit to publishing this data?
Finally, as I read the Minister’s complacent response to the amendment in the Commons Committee alongside the briefing for Medical Justice, it seemed like the Minister was living in a parallel universe from the organisation on the ground. Indeed, the Member who moved the amendment made a similar point. I am confident that the noble Baroness will not display the same complacency, but I hope she will accept that there is a real problem here that must be addressed, even if she is not willing to accept the amendment itself.
My Lords, the campaign for a time limit on detention has deservedly gathered pace over the past 10 years. As the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, mentioned, two parliamentary committees reporting in 2019—the Joint Committee on Human Rights and the Home Affairs Committee—urged a 28-day limit. The Joint Committee on Human Rights made two important points. The first was that indefinite detention—the noble Baroness dealt with that term—
“causes distress and anxiety and can trigger mental illness and exacerbate mental health conditions where they already exist.”
Secondly, it pointed out that
“the lack of a time limit on immigration detention reduces the incentive for the Home Office to progress cases promptly which would reduce both the impact on detainees, and detention costs.”
It therefore called for a 28-day limit.
The Home Affairs Committee pointed out that some people are being held for more than three years, which is intolerable. It said:
“Failure to provide justification for continued detention will only compound detainees’ frustration and may lead to self-harm and violence in immigration removal centres.”
It welcomed the Home Secretary’s commitment at the time that he—that must have been Mr Javid—would
“consider ending indefinite immigration detention in response to Stephen Shaw’s follow up report.”
It went on to say that
“a maximum immigration detention time limit is long overdue … lengthy immigration detention is unnecessary, inhumane and causes harm.”
I understand that the Government’s policy guidance says that there should be no detention without a realistic prospect of removal, but this appears to be routinely breached.
Subsection (3) of Amendment 39 is designed to prevent cat-and-mouse detention by barring re-detention unless there is a material change of circumstances. Amendment 40 would impose important tests of “strictly necessary” and the ability to be removed “shortly” on a person’s detention. Amendment 41, to introduce a requirement for early judicial oversight, would bring in an important safeguard. Amendment 70, introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, and signed by my noble friend Lady Hamwee and others, would impose a test of necessity on segregation.
It is worth bearing in mind that many millions of pounds are paid out every year as compensation for illegal detention. Someone recently received £22,000. Given the noble Lord the Minister’s insistence in our discussions last week on fees that the Home Office had to watch the pennies, it seems reckless to waste public money because of unnecessary and unjustified detention. I hope the noble Baroness the Minister will respond positively to these amendments.
My Lords, this amendment is about basic human decency; I am very pleased to support it. Personally, I would like to scrap immigration detention altogether. It is inhumane that we as a country are doing this to people. Convicted murderers and paedophiles get better treatment than refugees and asylum seekers fleeing war, famine and persecution, often as a result of our own foreign policy. They just want to find a better life.
This amendment would place important restrictions on the dehumanising practice of solitary confinement. Solitude is often used as a psychological torment to break a person’s spirit and enforce compliance. It should be used in only the most extreme cases, as set out in the amendment, and be subject to many safeguards. The noble Baronesses, Lady Lister and Lady Ludford, covered some of the issues I wanted to talk about, including time limits, so I will cut my remarks short. Will the Minister please take all these amendments away and work with your Lordships ahead of Report? I hope she will be able to give that assurance.
My Lords, I shall also speak to Amendments 39 to 41. I say from the start that I broadly support the Government’s policy on all these matters. All these amendments would have a similar effect. They would make it very difficult to detain a person who claimed asylum for more than a few days, irrespective of the facts of the case. It is surely perfectly obvious that such measures will make it extraordinarily easy for any claimant simply to disappear into the very large community of illegals—perhaps 1 million—that we already have in the UK.
We have to consider these amendments against the background of current events. A substantial and growing inflow of migrants across the channel is, understandably, very unwelcome to the public. They rightly perceive that they have nearly all come from a country that is safe, whether France or Belgium, and that they are not in fear of their lives. This is confirmed by Home Office evidence to the Home Affairs Committee on 3 September, which said that, of those crossing this year, 98% claimed asylum, half of which had been considered so far, and 80% of that number had been refused. Some 71% were refused because we are not the responsible country. That, of course, is because they travelled through a safe country before they arrived here.
It follows that for those who are concerned about genuine asylum seekers—I of course accept that many noble Lords and noble Baroness are concerned about them—the situation has to be tackled if public support for the asylum system is to be maintained. However, limiting detention to 28 days, as proposed in Amendment 39, would exacerbate the crisis of immigration enforcement and undermine support for asylum generally.
People need to feel confident that the asylum system, which costs the taxpayer £1,000 million per year, is producing a worthwhile result. The main effect of a 28-day limit on detention is that false asylum claimants would have only to spin out their claim or make some false statement that could not be refuted in the allotted time before being released and potentially disappearing. Indeed, the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration has found
“little evidence that effective action was being taken to locate the vast bulk of absconders”.
It follows that illegal immigration—which, by the way, 77% of the public consider a serious problem—would intensify. The credibility of the immigration system as a whole would also be further undermined.
Some Members will remember that, on the first day of Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, rightly pointed to the crucial importance of the integrity of the immigration system in the eyes of the public at large. It is a continual surprise to me that others in the political arena seem to have failed to get this absolutely central point.
My Lords, this is a very important amendment. So many of those involved have been through unspeakable, disturbing—even horrific—experiences. Detention is really not appropriate for any of them but, if there is detention, it must be strictly monitored and should certainly be for only a limited period of time; 28 days is surely more than long enough for the authorities to be able to establish reasons for declining residency to people who are in detention.
The practice of detaining people, as referred to by Amendment 70, is unspeakable when you think of the kind of backgrounds many have come from. The other practical point I make is that, in the overwhelming majority of cases with which we are dealing, people are ultimately released from detention. This makes it all the more obvious that something is wrong. The system needs very close attention; these amendments help us to provide that kind of focus.
My Lords, I speak in favour of this group of amendments and, in particular, address my comments to Amendments 39 and 40. I concur with the excellent points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, in the introduction to this debate, as well as those made by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, and others who have spoken since.
I would like to further emphasise the human and moral cost of our current and proposed detention system. The effect of indefinite detention, which lasts in some cases for months or even years on end, is devastating on the mental and physical health of detainees. Hopelessness promoted by a lack of knowledge over what comes next and flashbacks to past trauma are common experiences.
I offer an illustrative example, collected by the Jesuit Refugee Service, of the impact of our present system. Oliver was conscripted into the army at 17. He had no choice—he was taken off the street one day on his way home from school. He managed to escape after eight years but was captured, imprisoned underground and tortured. He was the victim of human trafficking twice, once being sold into slavery and once when he was taken to Europe. He arrived in the UK in July 2015, immediately made himself known to the authorities and claimed asylum. He was taken into immigration detention at Dover and moved to Harmondsworth IRC.
Oliver spoke no English. He had committed no crime. The incarceration triggered flashbacks to his imprisonment underground in his home country. He was examined by doctors and found to be suffering from PTSD. He had clear injuries on his body, which were ratified by a medical examination as being signs of torture conducive with his experience. After three months in detention, he was released to Section 4 accommodation in Cardiff. A year later, he was suddenly detained again and taken by taxi from Cardiff to Dorset. This time he was released after 18 days and finally granted indefinite leave to remain in 2019.
I could have filled a much longer speech with many other examples, including those of children, victims of trafficking, slavery and sexual abuse, and of people repeatedly detained in a highly traumatic environment that served no purpose in protecting the wider public. These amendments do not dispute that detention can serve a valuable, even critical, purpose, including—in a small number of cases—the protection of the public. What these amendments would do, however, is demand that the purpose of detention is clear and justifiable in each case, and cannot be of unlimited duration or used repeatedly in ways which have been shown to be immensely harmful to detainees. Unlike the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington, I believe that the public recognise that detention for long periods is not the way that we treat human beings in our country. We all want a better, respected asylum system, but detention detracts from that. I hope that the concerns in these amendments can be addressed.
My Lords, it is quite some time since my colleague and noble friend Lady Hamwee introduced this group of amendments with such eloquence and in her customary informed, thorough way. I would contrast her remarks with the assertions made by the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington. In speaking on this group of amendments, I wish to take us away from the traditional route of making policy by assertion and look towards some evidence.
In normal times, there are usually between 1,500 and 2,000 people detained under immigration powers at any one time. When the pandemic kicked in earlier this year, in March, there were about 1,400. According to Detention Action, that number then fell because of the fears of Covid striking in both prisons and IRCs. By 21 April, the total number of people had fallen to 708; 368 of those were detained in IRCs and 340 under immigration powers in prisons. So the number of people had roughly halved in a very short period of time.
What was the effect of that—on public safety, on levels of absconding or on anything at all? We all know the public cost of detention; it is about £30,000 per person per year. We know from the eloquent testimonies across the House about the cost to the health of individuals of being detained—and, principally, of being detained indefinitely for long periods. Can we begin to talk about the cost and benefit to the Government of indefinite detention? We hear very little about that.
As I will not be speaking again, I want to address one other issue. The Minister quite rightly told us at the beginning of our debates that this legislation was simply a matter of unifying the way in which the country treats people making asylum or immigration claims from the EEA and Switzerland with those from the rest of the world. She will not be surprised to hear that I think we treat LGBT asylum seekers from all over the world appallingly. We have spoken about this many times.
Can the Minister tell us whether, since the initial round of training, which she was once responsible for, there has been any further training for immigration staff on the handling of LGBT issues? Will the training be repeated and updated to deal with the numbers of people who may be making asylum appeals on the grounds that they come from countries such as Poland and Bulgaria, where the treatment of LGBT people daily becomes worse, and in some cases murderous?
My Lords, here we are again. I recall many occasions like this in the past, and I see some familiar faces. This is my first intervention on this Bill, and in view of what has already been said, I will be very brief.
As we have heard, these amendments contain the accumulated wisdom of several legal experts and several trusted organisations over many years. Put simply, not only is it wrong and inhumane under our normal rules and customs to lock up detained people for long periods, we do not have to do it, except in very few cases. The right reverend Prelate made it clear that people must not be locked up indefinitely. Look at the consequences: the noble Baronesses, Lady Hamwee and Lady Lister, mentioned cases of self-harm, trauma and suicide.
No one should be redetained. Removals are necessary—they have to be done—but they must be arranged more efficiently so that the relevant documents are in place. If they cannot be so arranged, and removal is not imminent, there must be an automatic bail hearing with judicial oversight.
This generous amendment, which has been carefully crafted, provides six months’ grace for the Government and will save them a lot of money. I know immigration is causing a lot of problems, but surely the Home Office should finally accept this amendment now or before we have a vote on Report, which otherwise seems inevitable.
My Lords, I apologise for not taking part in this Bill until now—perhaps a relief to your Lordships. However, I would like to emphasise that the hybrid proceeding is no way to conduct the Committee stage of a Bill with so many implications. I asked the usual channels to look seriously at what the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, said last Monday on returning to more normal procedures.
I support Amendment 39 and the others in this group. In connection with bail, is there now a backlog in applications for bail from immigration detainees? If so, what are the Government doing to ensure that such applications are promptly heard?
These amendments point to a much wider need to reduce the use of immigration detention, which is expensive and harms the mental health of detainees, sometimes leading to suicide. I understand that the UK is the only European state to allow detention for an unlimited period. Even in the case of foreigners convicted and jailed, with a recommendation for deportation, better co-ordination between the Ministry of Justice and the Home Office should ensure that deportation takes place immediately on release from prison. I hope to have a positive reply on this point to a Question for Written Answer recently tabled.
In conclusion, I note that the June report from the National Audit Office stated that total voluntary and forced returns to other countries had fallen dramatically since 2015. This is perhaps understandable, given coronavirus and a lack of flights. The report also spotted regional variations in enforcement. Much intelligence is still not being assessed or used. I trust, therefore, that enforcement will soon improve and that official statements will avoid terms that increase fears and xenophobia, such as the labelling of all unofficial landings or arrivals as “illegal”. I trust that progress will be made on all angles of this group before Report.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, does not wish to speak. I call the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark.
My Lords, this debate has focused on several new clauses which are to be inserted after Clause 4. I have signed up to Amendments 39, 40, 41 and 94, along with my noble friend Lord Rosser and the noble Baronesses, Lady Ludford and Lady Hamwee, who opened this debate last Wednesday. I am also supportive of Amendment 70, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham.
The risk here—it is all about risk—is that many people will not have their status sorted and will not have put a claim in, and are then at risk of detention. Immigration detention is something that should happen only in the most necessary cases and for the shortest period of time possible. My noble friend Lady Lister of Burtersett set out, with examples, the effect of detention and the damage of not knowing when you are going to be released on individuals and their mental health. We need to think about that: we can all accept that being locked up and not knowing when it is going to end is not a good place to be.
Taking that into account, can the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Trafford, when she responds to the debate, tell us what safeguards will be put in place to ensure that the minimum number of people are detained and for the shortest possible time? The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said she expected to be told that most people are released from detention after a short period of time, but we need to think about those who are not.
There is also the risk of redetention: when a person reports who is required to do so and then finds themself detained by the authorities. How long will it take for an application to remain to be considered? As we have heard, Amendment 39 would impose a strict time limit of 28 days and ensure that detainees could not be redetained unless—I emphasise “unless”—there has been a specific change in circumstances.
Amendment 40 sets out the conditions for a person to be detained in the first place and Amendment 41 provides for bail hearings during the initial detention period of 96 hours. Amendment 94 brings in the provision six months after the Bill comes into force. This gives the Government time to get all the procedures and regulations correct. I agree with the comments made in that respect by the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich.
As I said earlier, I am supportive of Amendment 70, spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, and others. This amendment raises the issue of those individuals in immigration detention who are segregated and at risk of being locked in their cells for up to 23 hours a day. I fully accept that there must be rules and that people must be protected from either themselves or from others, or from causing harm to others. However, we also must be mindful of the effects that detention—of being locked in a cell for long periods of time—can itself have on someone’s mental health. Again, my noble friend Lady Lister of Burtersett made reference to this in her contribution. I look forward to the response from the noble Baroness.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham said in his contribution that these people have committed no crime. They themselves may be the victims of horrific crimes, and periods of detention can be long and re-detention is a real risk. When considering these amendments, we have to think about the effect of the risk of being re-detained on individuals who may, in the end, be given leave to remain in the United Kingdom. We must remember that these people have committed no crime here in the UK.
I will leave my remarks there; I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate. To address the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, about regretting the hybrid procedures, I am very glad of them; they protect noble Lords from the numbers, which are clearly going up.
This is another group of amendments that are not relevant to the Bill. I am sure that noble Lords know that, and I know that they are keen to discuss this issue. They feel very strongly about immigration detention, which has been discussed at great length in this Chamber, but that makes it no less important.
We must have an immigration system which encourages compliance and protects the public. Where people no longer have the right to be in the UK, we must be able to carry out their removal if they do not take the opportunities we provide them to leave the UK voluntarily.
The noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, and the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, talked about the concept of unlimited detention. The noble Lord asked me to list the safeguards to ensure that decisions to detain and to maintain detention are not unlimited. When someone is referred for detention, an independent detention gatekeeper assesses that person’s suitability for detention. Since 2016, the gatekeeper has rejected more than 2,300 referrals for detention. After an individual is detained, their continued detention remains under regular review at increasing levels of seniority, especially where there are any significant changes in circumstance.
Anyone detained can apply to either the Home Office or the courts to be released on immigration bail at any point during their detention. In addition, independent panellists and specialists within case progression panels provide really important oversight of the appropriateness of anyone being detained under immigration provisions at three-monthly intervals. Automatic referrals for bail also occur at the four-month detention stage for non-foreign national offenders, providing additional external oversight of detention decision-making. Immigration removal centres also provide those who are detained with access to legal advice should they need it.
The introduction of a detention time limit would severely limit our ability to remove those who refuse to leave voluntarily, as the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington, pointed out. It would encourage and reward abuse and, as I have said, there are a number of measures in place to safeguard against any prolonged or unnecessary use of immigration detention.
The decision to detain people who no longer have the right to be in the UK is an integral part of the removal process, but we do not detain indefinitely. There must always be a realistic prospect of removal—I see the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, shaking her head—within a reasonable timescale, and this requires a case-specific assessment to be made for every single person whose detention is considered. It is already used sparingly: 95% of people who are subject to removal from the UK are at liberty in the community, and the detention estate is now almost 40% smaller than it was five years ago, with 8,000 fewer people entering detention in the year ending December 2019 than in 2015.
The noble Baroness, Lady Barker, rightly pointed out that during Covid the detention figures were right down. That is because we detain people for the purposes of removal and do not detain them indefinitely. She asked, rightly, about the upshot and what we have seen as a result. If I have some of that data, I will send it to the noble Baroness and others, but I suspect that we have not quite seen the whole picture, given that it appears we are still in the middle of the pandemic. Any additional information that I can get her, I will. The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, talked about a backlog. Because we have not been detaining as many people, I suspect that there is no backlog in that sense, but I will also get information to him.
Only in the most complex cases, most frequently those involving foreign national offenders, where serious criminality is involved, does detention exceed 29 days. Some 74% of people were detained for less than 29 days in the year ending December 2019, and only 2% were detained for more than six months.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, mentioned, we do consider alternatives to detention, including satellite tracking to monitor foreign national offenders on immigration bail. She mentioned the pilot scheme; in fact, I understand that there have been several pilot schemes, and the UNHCR has appointed the National Centre for Social Research to independently evaluate them. An inception report was published on 28 August, and we expect the full evaluation of the pilot to be available next spring. Most importantly, we expect those results to contribute to some of the global research on detention alternatives. I hope we will have a very good outcome from that.
The noble Baroness also asked about women; she recognised that none were being held at Yarl’s Wood. I have not got the figures on women and where they are being held, but I will get that information for her and make it available to others as well.
We take protection of the vulnerable extremely seriously. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham outlined a really moving story to us, and we take this terribly seriously. The adults at risk in immigration detention policy has strengthened the presumption against the detention of vulnerable people, ensuring that people are detained only where evidence of their vulnerability is outweighed by immigration considerations. The noble Baroness, Lady Barker, asked for an update on training. I have not got it to hand, but I will let her know what is happening at the moment.
Everyone in detention has access to round-the-clock healthcare at the standard that can be expected in the community. We have also increased the ratio of staff to detained individuals in immigration removal centres, to ensure that people can access support and advice should they need it. Of course, I have referenced access to legal advice as well.
Noble Lords have spoken of their shame that we are the only European country without a time limit on detention. However, no other European country has adopted anything close to a time limit as short as that which is proposed in these amendments. Acknowledging the complexity of securing arrangements for the return of people with no legal right to remain, the European Commission itself recently proposed that a new minimum detention period of three months be put in place. Other comparable jurisdictions, such as Australia and Canada, have also not imposed time limits.
Under these amendments, foreign national offenders would automatically be released after 28 days, regardless of the risk that they pose to the public, even when they have deliberately frustrated the removal process by physical disruption, or otherwise refused to comply with the Home Office’s lawful instructions. A snapshot of those offenders from the EU who were detained at the end of December 2019 found that, if a 28-day limit were in place, we would have been required to release into the community 127 foreign national offenders who were being held under immigration powers to effect their deportation. To go directly to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, of these offenders, 25 had committed some very serious crimes, including rape, offences against children and other serious sexual or violent offences. Letting these offenders on to our streets seriously reduces our capacity to deport them and undermines our commitment to public safety. That said, I take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, that many people are completely innocent, but there is a cohort who you would not want to be back on our streets.
Finally, these amendments would establish an intolerable prejudice against people who are not EEA or Swiss citizens. The amendments would impose a time limit on detention for people of those nationalities but not others. At the heart of this Bill is a commitment to open and equal treatment of immigrants from all nationalities as we exit the transition period. The amendments would be a great injustice and lead to an unequal system that would provide for differential treatment of people based only on their nationality, regardless of the facts of the case. The amendments, and the time limit that they would introduce, would impose a significant restriction on the UK’s ability to effectively and fairly remove people who have no right to be here. It would allow those who wish to frustrate the removal process to run down the clock until the time limit is reached and release is guaranteed, regardless of the circumstances of the person’s case. It would potentially place the public at higher risk, in particular through the release of more foreign national offenders into the community.
I briefly move on to the proposed new clause on the arrangements for removing people from association and the use of temporary confinement within immigration removal centres. Again, I make it clear that this amendment is not relevant to the purpose of this Bill and the ending of free movement for EEA citizens, but I think that noble Lords know that. Removal from association is only ever used as a last resort when other options have been tried—almost to quote word for word the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy—but failed, and only as an effective response to the safety and security risk presented by an individual in detention.
The current immigration detention centre rules already set out the strict basis on which removal from association will be considered
“where it appears necessary in the interests of security or safety.”
The rules are supported by further, more detailed guidance within a detention services order. The published guidance makes it clear that other options should be considered before removal from association is considered, based on specific circumstances. Other options might include transfer to another residential unit within the centre, transfer to a different centre or closer supervision on normal location. The focus throughout is on a positive engagement with the person involved to ensure that they are able to return to the normal regime as soon as possible.
This amendment seeks to unnecessarily amend the criteria for considering removal from association and would require all those subject to these provisions to be returned to association with others after an absolute maximum of 24 hours, regardless of any continuing risk that they pose to themselves or others. This is an unacceptable risk and one that could place both detained individuals and staff working within removal centres at risk. If an EEA citizen poses a risk to the safe and orderly running of an immigration removal centre, it cannot be right that options for managing this risk should be constrained, as compared with the options for managing risks posed by a detainee who does not benefit from the provisions of this proposed new clause. To do so could endanger the safety and security of detainees in a centre generally including, paradoxically, other EEA citizens.
The noble Baroness, Lady Lister, asked me for numbers. I have management information—so they are not official numbers—that in the three months of January to March 2020, removal from association was used 184 times within the detention estate, and the average duration was 45 hours.
I hope that, with those explanations, the noble Baroness will be happy to withdraw her amendment.
I thank the Minister for her detailed explanation. The problem that I have here is that this Bill will become an Act of Parliament, things will move along very happily and then, many years from now, when we are all no longer doing what we are doing now, all these problems will arise whereby things are not done properly. We could have immigration centres with Italian and French citizens, people who have lived here but have not regularised their situation, being locked up and held for days and things—and that is just an anathema. My worry is that sometimes things are done and then, many years later, different people come along, things are not done so well, and there is a problem.
I am concerned about the innocent people. I am not concerned about people who have committed offences, who need to be dealt with—this is about innocent people who have done absolutely nothing wrong. They potentially could have been our friends and neighbours, living in our country, who have not regularised their situation. Unfortunately, mistakes happen, for all the assurances, and people find themselves taken away, probably quite unfairly, locked up and stuff. I want to hear a bit more about how we are going to deal with those sorts of situations. I am talking about the innocent people. How are we going to look after those people, who have done nothing wrong? We are all agreed on those who are criminals and have done bad things, but what about the innocent people, who are treated unjustly? That is what I want to hear about.
We will be talking about the EU settlement scheme in future groups. As I will go on to explain, the scheme does not end, in the sense that, if people are here, certainly between now and 2020, and want to regularise their status, they can do. Of course, the reasonable excuses rule will go on indefinitely as to why people have not regularised their status.
Obviously, these amendments have nothing to do with the Bill, but I hope that I have outlined the various degrees of safeguards that will guard against people being detained indefinitely. We will go on to talk about the EU settlement scheme and some of the safeguards that go around that, particularly ongoing, with people who have missed the boat. I hope, with those explanations, the noble Lord is happy.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, is absolutely right about the numbers of people who may find themselves in a situation—and not even be aware of it—which is not regularised. Yes, we will come on to talk about the settlement scheme, and perhaps we will pick up the Minister’s words about the possibilities of applying some way into the future.
The Minister started as I expected, by saying that these amendments are not relevant to the Bill and that if we were to include them, we would be discriminating against people who are not from the EEA or Switzerland. It is entirely open to the Government to apply these provisions to everyone, as I think they should be. They are relevant to the Bill. My noble friends Lady Barker and Lord Paddick made it clear on an amendment last week.
We started debate on this group of amendments late on Wednesday and as a result some noble Lords were unable to take part, or cannot participate today. Two have asked me to make a short comment on their behalf. I hope noble Lords will indulge me if I include them now.
The noble Lord, Lord Cashman, said: “It is now time for the Government to put our values on civil liberties and human rights at the heart of our immigration and asylum policies and start treating others as we would want our citizens to be treated. Indefinite detention must be brought to an end.”
The noble and learned Baroness, Lady Neuberger, said: “Detention is so deleterious to mental health.” She quoted the Centre for Mental Health, which tells us:
“The longer someone spends in detention, the more negative an impact it has upon their mental health.”
That is why detention must be limited, as the noble Baroness, Lady Lister of Burtersett, made clear. The noble Baroness, Lady Lister, also talked about loss of hope. She referred to the Jesuit Refugee Service’s report, which is very powerful, as did the right reverend Prelate, who talked about the moral case and the current situation being inhumane. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, also spoke of this.
Segregation is particularly deleterious to mental health. I said at the start of this group that I supported the amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham.
I reiterate that Amendments 39 to 41 and 94 are a package. Amendments 40 and 41 deal with criteria and applications for bail. I make the point they are a package in case we come back to the issue on Report.
It is suggested that people would disappear if they were not held in detention with an indefinite period. I do not understand that to be the experience elsewhere. I do understand the UK to be something of an outlier, which is not consistent with the Minister’s view, though I dare say we will find that we are both right. Most people are held for a short time and return to the community and do not disappear—a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Judd—so I do not think that the argument holds. I disagree with the noble Lords, Lord Green of Deddington and Lord Adonis, that the public should have confidence in our immigration and asylum system. That does not detract from the arguments in support of the amendments.
We have heard from the Minister about the effectiveness of the gatekeeping system—in fact, when I was a member of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, it found the contrary—and that the situation will be kept under review, but the problems will remain and we would reward abuse. I reject that; there is a legal position people can take advantage of. They should be allowed to and be protected by lawyers who are not gaming the system, they are applying the law. We should by now have a handle on the effect of releases because of positions taken at the start of the Covid lockdown.
I now have so many notes scribbled on the bottom of my paper that I can hardly read them. I think they amount to: I do not agree with what we have been hearing from the Government Bench.
On Wednesday I referred to evaluating how to deal with people in the community. I am glad to hear that there is an evaluation of the pilot. We need to get on with this. However few people are subject to detention for more than 28 days, without knowing when that will come to an end, this is a cohort of individual people for each of whom we should have concern. We have heard the argument that our amendment would allow very dangerous criminals to be released on to the street. For criminals who have committed crimes—that would be the definition—and who have been sentenced, if they are eligible for deportation, that is what should happen. The noble Baroness, Lady Lister, was shaking her head; I am too. But my conclusion must be at this point that I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 39 withdrawn.
Amendments 40 and 41 not moved.
We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 42. 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 this group to a Division, should make that clear in the debate.
42: After Clause 4, insert the following new Clause—
“Right to rent (EEA and Swiss nationals)
(1) The following provisions of the Immigration Act 2014 shall cease to apply to EEA and Swiss nationals and their dependants.(2) The provisions are sections 20 to 37 and Schedule 3 (right to rent).”Member’s explanatory statement
This new Clause would require the Secretary of State to ensure that landlords do not carry out immigration checks on EEA and Swiss nationals under the Right to Rent scheme.
My Lords, in moving Amendment 42. I will speak also on Amendments 50 and 71. These amendments deal with the so-called hostile environment measures. That phrase is used by the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, in her Amendment 71, which extends to the Data Protection Act; that is the subject of the next group. I am aware the term used now by the Government is “compliant environment”, but I am concerned with the substance not the terminology.
We have turned citizens, our public services and the police into border guards. We have dumped on them the enforcement of immigration control. The policies encourage us to be suspicious of each other and undermine trust in our public services. People are deterred from seeking medical treatment for fear of a large bill or being reported, detained or deported. An answer to this would be that emergency treatment would not be withheld. A condition not an emergency today may still need treatment and it may become life-changing or life-threatening.
To what end is the hostile or compliant environment? I understand that the Home Office acknowledges that the “vast majority”—I quote that term—most of whom are people who came here legally but subsequently lost status, have done nothing wrong. Landlords are required to check the immigration status of potential tenants and face huge fines or imprisonment if they fail to check or get it wrong. Can it be any surprise that many landlords take the easy course and look for tenants who are British passport holders? They must regard this as being simply practical, not discriminatory. It is—though without any real sanction.
The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, whose action against the Home Office continues, says on its website:
“It takes BME people and migrants up to twice as long to find a home to rent as a white British person.”
Recently, the organisation the3million commissioned a poll of employers in connection with its campaign for physical documentary proof of EU settled status; we will come to that shortly. The poll seems relevant to this issue. It was a poll of professionals with authority over hiring decisions. It said that it was worth noting that the picture is bad when considering all employers in the UK; the fact that the poll was online means that there will be a certain amount of oversampling of employers who are more comfortable with digital technology. This affects EEA and Swiss citizens in the immediate short term, but the Government aim to roll out the digital-only status to an ever-expanding group of immigrants.
The poll’s findings included the fact that employers are very concerned about the consequences of getting it wrong. This creates an incentive to play it safe and avoid recruiting people from outside the UK, so there is just the same risk of discrimination as in the landlord/tenant sector. Thank goodness the “Go home” vans were short lived.
We can address only address legislation through our amendments. The legislation sets out the policy, and from the policy, practice flows.
A week ago, Ian Birrell wrote an interesting and powerful article in the i about the impact of our arrangements. He talked about the large number of people who
“had never bothered applying for passports, while the Home Office had lost their papers”
and then discovered that they were “technically undocumented”. One young woman who found herself in that situation was precluded from attending university, for which she had qualified, and is behind a report showing how lives are “distorted and damaged”—her words—by a
“callous bureaucratic system that sows division, hurts mental health and condemns families to more than a decade of massive financial strain … Talk to these young adults and you hear tales of life on the edge as they are pitched into a Kafkaesque process that is complex, intrusive, often incompetent, demands huge and constantly rising fees”—
the fees are no little part of the picture—
“yet make one mistake and, like a dystopian game of snakes and ladders, applicants slide back down to start the torturous … process to citizenship again.”
I will discipline myself and not quote further from the article, but it ends by saying that
“the horrors of the hostile environment have not faded”.
The Government talk of welcoming people from the EEA making a home here within the Immigration Rules, but the application of the hostile or compliant environment legislation does not say, “Welcome to the UK.”
I beg to move.
My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 71 in my name and also to Amendments 42 and 52 in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Hamwee and Lady Ludford. They cover parts of Amendment 71 and also Amendment 43, which covers data sharing.
I pay tribute to the campaign group Liberty for its help with my preparation of this amendment and for its support through its unfortunately unsuccessful struggle to see its scope allowed to cover everyone affected by the hostile environment, rather than just those who face being newly affected by it—for whom, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said, the digital-only status is likely to create particular issues.
In short, Amendment 71 would introduce to the Bill a series of sunrise clauses that would prohibit the Secretary of State from making regulations to commence the end of free movement until the estimated 3.6 million people newly affected by the hostile environment were exempted. I will continue to use the term “hostile environment” because, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said, that is the practical reality and substance of what it is.
I will outline briefly three elements of this. Subsection (2) of the new clause proposed by Amendment 72 would ensure that people have the right to rent a home, receive essential healthcare, open a bank account and hold and use a driving licence. Subsection (3) of the proposed new clause would ensure that all migrants can access public funds, subject to a habitual residence test. Subsection (4) of the proposed new clause would prohibit data collected or held by essential public services being used for immigration enforcement purposes—known in shorthand as a data-sharing firewall.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, set out some impacts of the right-to-rent element of the hostile environment. It is worth noting that this was the subject of a legal challenge brought by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, in which both the High Court and Court of Appeal made factual determinations that it caused discrimination. The High Court went further and found that the discriminatory effects of the scheme could not be justified and made a declaration of incompatibility under Section 4 of the Human Rights Act. In allowing the Government’s appeal, the Court of Appeal said that it was up to Parliament to decide, so the matter has been put back in our hands. This is the first chance that we have had to have another look at the scheme in the light of the stark findings of the courts. It is a chance to remedy the discrimination it is causing. I note that research found that 42% of landlords said that they were less likely to rent to someone without a British passport as a result of the associated penalties.
In October this year, the NHS surcharge will rise to £624 a year. It represents an unjustified double taxation for temporary migrants who already contribute to the NHS through regular taxes. I note that the Government have made a U-turn and decided to remove the surcharge for NHS and care workers. But, following on from my Written Question HL5749, tabled on 16 June 2020, can the Minister confirm for me—either today or in future—whether all those who paid in funds without needing to have been refunded?
We know that many of the lower-paid workers likely to be affected by the surcharge are essential workers, as Covid-19 has made all too clear. Of course, there are both public health and individual health impacts from this. There is an exemption for Covid-19 testing, but it applies only up to the point when a person receives a negative test, at which point charging resumes for any other condition requiring treatment. The risk of a huge bill is likely to be a significant deterrent to people seeking care in a timely way. During this pandemic, that is a significant threat to public health.
Moving on to the banking point of the hostile environment, if a person is in the UK unlawfully, or is believed to be, banks or building societies must refuse them an account, yet bank accounts are an essential part of everyday life these days, particularly for paying for necessities. Of course, it is more expense to live if you cannot pay for many services particularly through direct debit. Denying people access to bank accounts leaves them with nowhere secure to put their money, which in turn leaves them vulnerable to robbery, reliant on cash-in-hand work and at the mercy of payday lenders.
On driving licences, bulk data-sharing arrangements between the Home Office and the DVLA allow them to check people’s entitlement to a licence. However, although more than 4,000 driving licences were revoked in 2017-18, in the previous year—there is no real reason to think that this has changed—250 wrongly revoked licences had to be reinstated, raising serious concerns about the accuracy of the data.
On illegal working, criminalising work and penalising employers for taking on undocumented migrants does not prevent them working; it simply pushes them into the shadow economy, where they are at risk of exploitation and harm. The fear of criminalisation is one of the primary tools used by traffickers to control exploited workers.
We now come to what this proposed new clause would stop applying to the 3.6 million people newly potentially affected: the offence of driving while unlawfully in the UK. Studies have shown evidence of discrimination in the use of traffic stops by police, with disproportionate targeting of black and ethnic-minority drivers. The offence and the search powers that go with it risk people being stopped on unfounded and stereotyped assumptions, resulting in deeply discriminatory stops that do serious harm to police/community relations—something that my noble friend Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb has often raised, as I am sure your Lordships’ House is aware.
On the data protection elements of this amendment, we have a situation in which the exemption from the general data protection regulation and Data Protection Act 2018 is likely to facilitate the development of the status-checking project. Given the quality of Home Office data management, this project is likely to result in people being denied access to essential services.
Proposed new subsection (3) is on “no recourse to public funds”, which I think has been exercised broadly elsewhere in the debate on this Bill. The High Court recently found that part of that policy is unlawful and that current instructions to Home Office caseworkers do not adequately account for human rights obligations. In the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, the effect of “no recourse to public funds” is even more significant. People are forced to continue to work even when it is not safe for them, and all of us, for them to do so. It is clear that “no recourse to public funds” keeps people in destitution, which is simply unacceptable in a civilised society.
Finally, proposed new subsection (4) would ensure that before ending free movement the Home Office is prohibited from processing, for immigration enforcement, data held for health, education, banking, driving, welfare benefits, employment, homelessness, local authority support and policing reasons. This data sharing often occurs without the knowledge or consent of the data subject and in some cases the trusted public servant who initially collected the data. We have seen some truly awful consequences of this. For example, take the case in 2017 when a woman who was five months’ pregnant reported to the police that she had been raped and was subsequently arrested on immigration grounds at a rape crisis centre. It discourages access for children to education, which is crucial to them, their future and rights. We also have the problem of inaccurate data, leading to the wrongful denial of services—as was the case for some of the Windrush citizens.
It may be that the Minister, in responding, notes that the Home Secretary recently announced a review of the hostile environment as part of the Government’s acceptance of the Windrush Lessons Learned Review. That may be cited as a reason not to accept this amendment, but there can be only one conclusion of any proper, independent, robust, evidence-based review of the hostile environment—to scrap it. This is an opportunity for your Lordships’ House to back that scrapping and prevent much further suffering.
My Lords, I support my noble friend Lady Hamwee in her opposition to the hostile environment in her Amendments 42 and 50—an argument eloquently and powerfully made by her. The hostile environment has turned our citizens into border guards and made us suspicious of our fellow citizens, even those legally in the UK. On right to rent, it is the safest option for landlords to rent to white people, or British passport holders if landlords go beyond seeing the white face in front of them.
The evidence suggests that the Government’s right to rent scheme is being seriously enforced against only those who require a visa to enter the United Kingdom and not those who are allowed visa-free entry. This again calls into question whether the Government are really serious about ending the free movement of EEA and Swiss citizens, or indeed the free movement of B5JSSK citizens. The only alternative explanation is that there is no way of legally enforcing right to rent against these citizens.
When I spoke to the first group of amendments a week ago, I referred to A Short Guide on Right to Rent, a publication in which the Home Office advises that landlords can establish a B5JSSK, EEA or Swiss national’s right to rent by checking their passport, which will have no stamp to show when they entered the UK, together with evidence of the date they last travelled to or entered the UK.
I have had the opportunity to go back to make sure that the Home Office advice I referred to was up to date. It is even worse than I thought. I quote:
“Acceptable evidence of entry to the UK may include (but is not restricted to) one of the following, or a combination of: An original or copy* of a boarding pass or electronic boarding pass for air, rail or sea travel to the UK … An original or copy* airline, rail or boat ticket or e-ticket … Any type of booking confirmation (original or copy*) for air, rail or sea travel to the UK”.
There is an asterisk by the word “copy” and an explanation that
“a copy can be a hardcopy such as a photocopy or an electronic copy such as a screenshot”.
The Government are clearly not serious about enforcing right to rent for citizens of these countries, as landlords have to see not even the original ticket, boarding pass or travel booking but an easily forged photocopy or screenshot.
Not only that, the guide goes on to say:
“Although these individuals only have six months’ leave unless they obtain a visa, landlords who have correctly conducted a right to rent check will obtain a statutory excuse for 12 months and must schedule a follow up check … before the end of the 12-month eligibility period if the individual is still occupying the accommodation.”
The Home Office’s own guidance talks about landlords being required only to do a follow-up check six months after EEA, Swiss or B5JSSK citizens should have left the country. At that point, the EEA citizen could produce another ticket, boarding pass or booking showing that they entered the UK within the last six months, and the landlord could then rent for another 12 months.
The question has to be asked, and I would like the Minister to answer this: why are the Government insisting on strict enforcement of right to rent against those who require a visa to enter the UK but apparently relaxed about those from B5JSSK countries and, at the end of the transition period, EEA and Swiss nationals? The Government either are not serious about enforcement of right to rent against these citizens or accept that it is unenforceable against them.
My Lords, I support all the amendments but particularly propose to speak to Amendment 71 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett. I declare an interest: I have a property that I rent out. It is let by agents, in part precisely because the idea that I as an individual know what I should be looking for, in terms of right to rent, becomes really quite difficult. I will not discuss that any further.
The amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, talks about the so-called hostile environment. My noble friend Lady Hamwee pointed out that it is now known as the “compliant environment”. There should never have been the concept of a hostile environment. We heard earlier, at the end of the previous group of amendments, the words of the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, uttered by my noble friend Lady Hamwee, reminding us of the importance of our values. As the United Kingdom prepares to end the transition period, it is as important as ever that we abide by our values that are open and tolerant.
The suite of regulations that is covered by the noble Baroness’s amendment are all with the proviso that the people who would fall under the amendment are EEA nationals who are already present at the start of the Schedule. These are people directly affected by the United Kingdom’s decision to leave the European Union but who had no say in that decision.
From June 2016 onwards, your Lordships’ House and the other place have talked about the rights of European citizens. Those rights will be removed, but surely it is appropriate that Parliament looks very carefully at how they are replaced. Simply to say that EEA nationals now fall under the wider immigration regime may be appropriate for someone who arrives from one of the EEA countries on 1 January 2021, but it should not apply to EEA nationals who are already resident in the United Kingdom but maybe have not already sought the right to reside. What guarantees do the Government intend to put in place for EEA nationals legally resident in the United Kingdom on 31 December 2020 to ensure that their rights are not removed overnight if they have not already put in a request for indefinite leave to remain? Otherwise, the amendment put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, seems to be wholly appropriate, and I wonder whether the Government could see their way to supporting it. However, I suspect the Minister has a whole suite of reasons that she can give us for why it is not appropriate.
My Lords, Amendment 42 seeks to repeal the right-to-rent scheme introduced by Chapter 1 of Part 3 of the 2014 Act. That chapter, coupled with amendments made to it by the Immigration Act 2016 and amendments made there to the Housing Act 1988, requires landlords and their agents to refuse accommodation to people who require, but do not have, permission to be in the UK. Landlords and agents may indeed face criminal sanction if providing accommodation in these circumstances.
As Amnesty firmly argued in its excellent brief, the impact of this regime is more widely harmful for people of colour. It essentially promotes homelessness and race discrimination—for example, because it becomes safer for landlords to avoid providing accommodation to people who are not white, do not have recognisably British accents and have non-Anglo-Saxon-sounding names.
Amendment 50 essentially seeks the repeal of other provisions of Part 3 of the Immigration Act 2014, which provides for an immigration health charge and restrictions on who may open a bank account or obtain a driving licence. It is particularly important to emphasise the need for a repeal of the immigration health charge. As Amnesty again forcefully argues, it is nothing more than a tax upon people coming to the UK to work, study or join family—people who are already taxed by immigration fees often set far above the administrative cost, over and above the taxes that they, like others, pay by reason of their living and working in this country.
In the sad legislation before us, we need to take these points very seriously indeed.
I do not know what is going to be included in the Government’s response to these amendments, but we have heard today, as we have on previous days in Committee on this Bill, that an amendment or group of amendments is not relevant to the Bill. I am assuming that that is being said purely as the Government’s view, since presumably, through the changes that it does or does not make to a government Bill, it is for Parliament to decide what should or should not be in a Bill and is therefore relevant to it. So I would be grateful if the Government could confirm that when they say an amendment or group of amendments is “not relevant” to the Bill, they are simply expressing a view and accept that that is an issue that Parliament will have to determine.
Amendment 42 in this group would exempt EEA and Swiss nationals and their dependents from the right-to-rent immigration checks by landlords under the Immigration Act 2014. Amendment 50 would exempt EEA and Swiss nationals and their dependents from some provisions under the Immigration Act 2014, including the NHS surcharge and immigration checks on opening bank accounts and holding a driving licence. It would also exempt them from provisions in the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act 2006, which disallows a person from being employed if they do not have a valid immigration status. Amendment 71 would exempt EEA and Swiss nationals residing in the UK immediately before the commencement of the Act from a variety of immigration provisions, including checks on renting, bank accounts, driving licences and illegal working.
We understand the concerns that these amendments seek to address. The experiences of the Windrush generation, when lives were ruined and families torn apart, simply highlighted the failures of the hostile environment policy, particularly the culture that it led to in the Home Office that determined how the policy was applied, and as reflected in the terms of the Immigration Acts in 2014 and 2016. Against that background, it is understandable why there is concern among EEA citizens living in this country about the impact that changes to their status following our withdrawal from the EU could have on their position in relation to the application of the terms of the Immigration Acts.
The Government could have used the Bill to signal the end of the hostile environment policy in reality, not just in name, and in so doing convince EEA citizens that their concerns were without foundation. The Government have chosen not to do so, and consequently these amendments seek to do what the Government have failed to do, by giving EEA and Swiss citizens exemption from some of the more contentious parts of the Immigration Acts, including in particular those parts of the now rebranded hostile environment policy that were effectively farmed out to private individuals and private companies to implement, such as the checks in relation to the renting of property or opening of a bank account.
I hope that when we hear from the Government, as we are just about to, we will hear some hopeful response to the thrust of these amendments and that the Government are equally determined to address—and how they intend to do so—the concerns that the amendments have raised.
My Lords, in thanking noble Lords for speaking on these amendments, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, that I am going to argue not that they are irrelevant to the Bill but that that they are discriminatory, in their own ways. They would undermine the commitment to the British people to introduce a single global system. They would also weaken the immigration system by reducing the incentive to comply with the UK’s rules and laws.
On right-to-rent checks, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, and to the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, that immigration does not begin and end at our borders; it is more far-reaching than that. Under our new immigration system, everyone will be required to obtain their current correct immigration status, and we will clearly distinguish between those who are here lawfully and those who are not, regardless of their nationality. The measures in question concern migrants’ eligibility to rent accommodation, to work, and to access healthcare, bank accounts and driving licences. These measures have all been approved by Parliament. They contribute to our efforts to tackle illegal migration and those who seek to profit from immigration offences, while protecting taxpayer-funded services. Exempting from these measures EEA citizens and their family members, including those who do not have lawful immigration status, would undermine the integrity of the new immigration system1 which we have promised to deliver.
Amendment 42 specifically relates to the right-to-rent scheme, the legality of which has recently been upheld by the Court of Appeal—to echo the point of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett. By disapplying these checks to all EEA citizens and their family members, this amendment would significantly compromise the right-to-rent civil penalty scheme. Under the current system, when a landlord is found to be letting to a disqualified person, the Home Office can issue a civil penalty of £3,000. A scheme that does not require evidence to be obtained for every tenant would render unworkable the Government’s ability to impose criminal and civil sanctions against unscrupulous landlords, as this exemption would serve as a blanket defence.
It is not clear how Amendments 42 or 71 would work in practice. Eligibility checks by landlords, employers and the NHS apply to everyone, including EEA and British citizens. Those carrying out the checks would not be able to ascertain who was part of the exempt cohort, as set out in these new clauses, and so would need to check everyone anyway. Alternatively, landlords and employers would have to take, at face value, a self-declaration of anyone who claims to be within this particular cohort. Amendment 42, for example, would make the right-to-rent scheme inoperable, as migrants who are unlawfully present or ineligible could self-declare as an EEA citizen, which could prevent the landlord from requesting further evidence of eligibility.
The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, asked who will check whether someone has UK immigration status. Particularly after the grace period, EEA citizens granted leave under the settlement scheme will use their digital status information to demonstrate to employers their right to work, to landlords their right to rent, and to other government departments and local authorities their right to access benefits and services—if they meet the relevant eligibility criteria. The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, pointed out the various documents that would be required. I am wondering whether he was questioning whether they were up to date, but I am sure he will come back to me on that if I have not made that clear.
For Amendment 50, I will focus on two aspects of the new clause. As noble Lords know, illegal working is a key driver of immigration offending. The ability to work without lawful status encourages people to take risks and to break our immigration laws, and leaves people vulnerable to exploitation—I refer to the point of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett—including being paid under the legal minimum wage. We are determined to continue to tackle illegal working, but this amendment would hinder our progress.
The proposal to prevent the application of provisions relating to healthcare charges to EEA citizens and their dependants would also have a significant negative impact. The immigration health surcharge is designed to help support the NHS, ensuring that temporary migrants who come to the UK for more than six months make a fair contribution to the wide range of health services available to them. By exempting such a large cohort, including those in the UK unlawfully, from being charged for accessing healthcare, this new clause would increase the financial pressure on the NHS considerably.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, talked about the reimbursement scheme for the immigration health surcharge. I do not know if she knows but, on 15 July, the Minister for Health announced that reimbursement will be paid in arrears of six-month increments, and the scheme will launch in October.
More generally, exempting from the measures in question all EEA citizens, including those who come to the UK after the end of the transition period, would result in different rules continuing to apply depending on a person’s nationality. It would be inherently discriminatory, given there would be no justifiable reason for this distinction between nationalities after the end of the transition period.
Amendment 71 introduces a new clause which limits the scope of those who would be exempt from specified measures to those EEA citizens and their family members who are lawfully residing in the UK by the end of the transition period. However, it is problematic for several reasons, not least because the amendment appears unworkable, as explained previously. If the aim of the amendment is to ensure that EEA citizens and their family members currently resident in the UK are not adversely impacted by these measures, I share that wish. EEA citizens who are already resident here, or who are resident by the end of the transition period, can apply to the EU settlement scheme to secure their rights in UK law. This allows them to access work and services on at least the same basis as they were before being granted that status.
Until the end of the grace period on 30 June 2021, there will be no change to the current process of checks by landlords and employers for EEA citizens. They will continue to be able to use their passport or national identity card to evidence their right to rent or work. Furthermore, landlords, letting agents and employers will not be required to conduct retrospective checks on existing tenants or employees.
As the Government have repeatedly made clear, we will also accept late applications to the scheme from anyone who has reasonable grounds for missing the deadline of 30 June 2021. Should they be granted status, they will enjoy the same rights from that point as if they had applied before the deadline. These amendments are, therefore, unnecessary and could even be detrimental by discouraging people from applying to the scheme.
Amendment 71 also seeks to remove EEA citizens from the immigration exemption within the Data Protection Act 2018. When this was debated in the other place, it was made clear that this exemption is a necessary and proportionate measure designed to protect the integrity of our immigration system. The High Court has also judged the exemption to be compliant with the GDPR.
In future, once free movement has ended, it is right that our measures apply based on whether someone has lawful status or not, rather than on their nationality. It is also important that we have an immigration system that encourages compliance with UK tax laws and rules, and which protects taxpayer-funded public services from abuse. These new clauses contradict the Government’s position on both fronts. I hope that, with these explanations, noble Lords feel happy not to force their amendments.
My Lords, I have received a request to speak after the Minister from the noble Lord, Lord Paddick.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for expecting me to speak after her. I have two points. The first is that we seem to be playing a whack-a-mole game about whether the amendments are relevant to the Bill or discriminatory. Let us hit the other one on the head: the only reason these amendments are restricted to EEA and Swiss nationals is that the clerks would not allow broader amendments, because they would not be within the scope of the Bill. They are not discriminatory; they aim to get rid of the hostile environment for everyone. That is the first issue.
Secondly, on the specifics, I apologise to the Minister for not making it absolutely clear which group of people I was talking about when I was saying that the right-to-rent scheme did not work. I was talking about EEA and Swiss nationals, at the end of the transition period, and all those other nationals who can now use the e-passport gates to enter the United Kingdom for six months without a visa.
I demonstrated in my speech that these individuals could rent for up to 12 months without a landlord being in peril of a civil penalty or any other penalty. Indeed, if during that 12 months they produced another ticket, boarding pass or travel booking—or a copy of any of those—they could further extend their rental with the landlord, because they had produced evidence that they had arrived in the UK within the previous six months. Therefore, you can see that they could extend and extend their rental of a property, completely undermining the right-to-rent scheme. Only those nationals who can use the e-passport gates, who get six months’ visa-free travel, can circumvent the system in that way. Those other foreign nationals who require a visa cannot do that because the landlord has to check digitally with the Home Office. The Minister may say that eventually everything will be digital, but this will not be digital. There will not be a digital way to check the rights of people who have six months’ visa-free entry to the UK. It will still be done on the basis of passports, tickets, boarding passes and bookings. That is the point I am trying to make.
I see the noble Lord’s point. We need a further discussion or, indeed, an exchange of letters on this before Report. The first letter that I sent him clearly did not do the trick, so we will have further discussions on this.
I know exactly why noble Lords have tabled amendments that refer to EEA and Swiss nationals, because it puts them within the scope of the Bill. It does not make it any less discriminatory technically and legally, however, but I get his point.
My Lords, having a “non-Anglo-Saxon-sounding name”, to use the terminology used by the noble Lord, Lord Judd, I am very conscious of the position. The Minister is, of course, quite right about why we had to confine the amendments to EAA and Swiss citizens, but it is disingenuous to say that we are being discriminatory. I said on the last group of amendments that we take opportunities where we can. We are very happy to invite the Government to apply the amendments to every nationality. Sadly, this is not open to us; as there are no Private Members’ Bills at the moment, our opportunities are pretty limited.
My noble friend Lord Paddick is not into whacking moles—because he is kind to animals, apart from anything else—but he may be very challenging to the Minister. I think it is wise to try to bottom out this issue after this stage.
Reference has been made to the black economy and how people who do not have status are driven into it and are vulnerable to exploitation. There is a big difference between our position and that of the Government. We see that as the outcome of the hostile environment provisions, not as a driver for them. I am intrigued by the points about forgeries that have been made, because it is the Government’s position that physical documents for the EU settled status scheme would open up the possibility of forgery, but we will come to that later.
We have done what we can, for the moment at any rate. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 42 withdrawn.
We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 43. 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 in this group, to a Division should make that clear in debate.
43: After Clause 4, insert the following new Clause—
“Data protection: immigration (EEA and Swiss nationals)
(1) The Data Protection Act 2018 is amended in accordance with subsection (2).(2) In paragraph 4 of Schedule 2, after sub-paragraph (4) insert—“(5) This paragraph does not apply if the data subject is an EEA or Swiss national.””Member’s explanatory statement
This new Clause would ensure that the immigration exemption in the Data Protection Act 2018 does not apply to EEA or Swiss nationals.
My Lords, I beg to move Amendment 43 in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Hamwee, and to speak to other amendments in this group. Amendment 43 seeks to remove paragraph 4 of Schedule 2 to the Data Protection Act in relation to EEA and Swiss nationals, and there is a reason why it is drafted only in relation to EAA and Swiss nationals.
These Benches and others have consistently opposed the suppression of data protection rights of migrants and free movers, which paragraph 4 of Schedule 2 imposes. My noble friend Lady Hamwee made a very powerful speech when moving an amendment on Report of the Data Protection Bill to remove said paragraph, which she said was “very far-reaching indeed” and even
“gives scope for quite considerable fishing expeditions.”—[Official Report, 13/12/17; col. 1588.]
One of the safeguards lacking from the Data Protection Act is the protection of Article 8, on data processing, of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. Because the Government refused to include the charter as retained EU law on exit, all we have is the European Convention on Human Rights, and once again there are rumblings about the ECHR. Yesterday, the headline in the Sunday Telegraph—I had to go out and buy it, which was rather galling, because it is behind a paywall—was:
“Boris Johnson set to opt out of human rights laws”
and that meant the convention. Here we go again. The Sunday Telegraph reported that Mr Dominic Cummings, no less, has previously attacked the European Court of Human Rights, and
“has warned that voters would expect the jurisdiction of European judges to end in the UK as part of the Brexit process”—
those pesky European judges. At least the newspaper had the grace to add that the ECHR and court were not part of the EU system, but there is that attempt to cross over and interlink the whole time. There is a connection between the UK’s adherence to the European Convention on Human Rights and the Brexit process, in the sense that the Government are resisting giving the EU a formal undertaking to adhere to the convention. The Justice Secretary told a radio programme this weekend:
“The idea that we’re going to leave the convention is for the birds.”
The trouble is, one might have thought the same about the idea that the Government might renounce part of the withdrawal agreement—until they did, in the Bill being debated in the other place this afternoon. Indeed, in April 2016, the then Home Secretary, Theresa May, said:
“The case for remaining a signatory of the European Convention on Human Rights, which means Britain is subject to the European court, is not clear.”
She said the case was not clear and she, of course, was subsequently Prime Minister.
The deputy counsel to the Joint Committee on Human Rights advised that implementing the GDPR—the general data protection regulation, the EU’s data protection law—would arguably not be enough on its own to ensure a data adequacy finding for the UK if the Data Protection Bill fell short of standards required by Article 8 of the charter. You can double this if our membership of the European Convention on Human Rights is also at risk. The knock-on effect if the UK fails to get a data adequacy decision will mean that the prospects for law enforcement co-operation with the EU, or business transfers of data to EU and EEA countries, will be dim indeed. This point was made repeatedly in proceedings on the Data Protection Bill and, indeed, on various Brexit Bills in this House. The weakness of human rights safeguards makes the loss of data protection rights for migrants even more significant.
Paragraph 4 of Schedule 2 to the Data Protection Act 2018 is unnecessary and disproportionate. Other provisions in Schedule 2 allow exemption from data protection rights in relation to criminal immigration offences, so that point would anyway be covered. The Equality and Human Rights Commission said that the exemption from data protection rights for migrants could
“permit the authorities to access and process highly personalised data, for example, phone or social media relating to sexual lives of immigrants claiming residency rights on the basis of their relationship with a British citizen.”
The data-sharing agreements that the Home Office has with other departments, plus the ability of private persons—such as landlords, employers, bank staff and so on, which was discussed in the last group—to access data mean that the scope of the immigration exemption from data protection rights is very wide indeed, with a commensurate breadth of potential harm to individuals. Strangely, the Government amended the Data Protection Bill to allow a person to rectify data held on them, but since they cannot access that data in the first place, it is unclear how they can know if it is accurate or inaccurate in order to rectify it.
Amendment 74, in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Hamwee, gives the Minister the opportunity to put on record “something that I understand”, as she said in a Peers’ briefing session during recess which sadly I was unable to attend. She said that the code given to a landlord or employer to check immigration status would not allow them to check, for instance, health information, or to use the information they obtained for any other purpose. I hope that the Minister will therefore be able to accept this amendment, which encapsulates something that she has told Peers.
Amendment 72, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, seeks to limit the use for immigration purposes of data gathered by certain public service bodies in healthcare and education, and where the person has reported a crime or being a victim or witness to a crime. The amendment is helpful in at least limiting the harmful impact of Paragraph 4 of Schedule 2 to the Data Protection Act, but that paragraph in fact needs wholesale deletion. I beg to move.
My Lords, my Amendment 72 complements my Amendment 71. I have spoken at length on these issues, so I will be brief. I also support Amendments 43 and 74, in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Hamwee and Lady Ludford. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, for making the same point as I made at the start of my speech. It might seem somewhat disingenuous to suggest that these amendments are discriminatory by choice, when we were actually given the option of applying these only to limited numbers of people. Everyone who has spoken on this subject has expressed their desire to see them used to end the entire hostile environment.
My Lords, the Data Protection Act is designed to fundamentally affect the way we use data to market, provide services and run our businesses. It also provides an obligation to warn people how their data will be gathered and used. My noble friend has already spoken about why the immigration exemption in the Data Protection Act 2018 does not apply to EEA or Swiss nationals. I support the arguments that have been advanced, particularly in the field of immigration.
Immigration is a fairly emotive issue and the use of data has caused serious problems in this country. There is an insatiable appetite to question migrants about their movements, but to put very little emphasis on what has been said. The Minister arranged a briefing session prior to Committee. I was not satisfied when I asked why some of the agencies can share the information collected but the police have been excluded from this arrangement. We need clarity on this issue, and I hope that the Minister will be able to provide that today.
I do not dispute the procedures, which are to admit those who are eligible and to remove those who are not, but in any administrative system questions arise about priorities. The administration of the immigration system is no exception and we know that the points system is to be introduced at the tail end of this particular withdrawal Bill. The purpose of the data collection is not in dispute. The administration of the immigration system about the need to exclude the ineligible is no exception. It has always been the case that to exclude the ineligible means that checks have to be made to determine who is eligible and who is not. The immigration officers have similar powers to those of the police in this matter. There is always a concern about fishing raids unless they are done on intelligence. The problem is that the more intensive these checks are, the more delay and expense there is to those who are eligible. The matter of proper documentation has been a point of dispute and likely to cause serious problems. We have seen this in relation to Windrush, which is so often mentioned in debates on this subject. Even today, after 70 years, we have not resolved this issue. We may head towards the EU settled migrants with similar problems if we fail to give proper documentation backed up by proper data collection and the proper use of information collected.
There are ample safeguards on how the information on individuals is to be used. It is explicit that such information may not be used for immigration control or enforcement. All we want to ensure is that there is less adversarial contact with migrants. The police need adequate information in their duties as providers of public services, as is the case with public service organisations such as the NHS and schools.
My Lords, I want to address my remarks to Amendments 43 and 74 in the names of my noble friends. As my noble friend Lady Ludford has so eloquently outlined, the exemption from data protection for migrants is unjustifiable. Indeed, as she said, the suggestion that we might even withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights only adds to the alarm that we should feel about that.
This issue goes back some way, as my noble friend Lady Ludford said. During the passage of the Data Protection Bill through Parliament, my noble friend Lady Hamwee raised this issue and sought to amend the Bill, sadly unsuccessfully at that time. She asked the Government to justify the exemption, but from my reading of Hansard, they either could not or would not. She also asked for reassurance from the Minister —and I believe it was the same Minister, the noble Baroness—but, sadly, she did not seem to get much. In fact, the Minister told the House that a decision on whether to apply the exemption could be exercised not only by the Home Office but by contractors who worked for the Home Office. She said that it would apply not only to migrants but to British citizens who supported the applications of migrants. The one piece of assurance that the Minister gave was that the exemption would be used in only a very small number of cases. She was quite explicit about that, so I hope that in her reply, the Minister will tell us how many times the exemption has been applied and, if not, whether she will undertake to write to us.
The truth is that the exemption gives huge discretion to the Home Office and its contractors to determine when access to data can be denied. The Government say that it would not be abused. That might be fine if we had not had the events of Windrush, which my noble friend Lord Dholakia referred to, and if we really felt that we could trust the Home Office and its contractors in this era of the hostile environment. However, in these circumstances it is very hard to do so. We have no way of knowing how the exemption is being applied, unless the Minister is able to tell us a bit more about that. Therefore, this is a matter of significant concern to us. As my noble friends have noted, we are seeking to remove the exemption from EEA nationals. I hope that we will not hear from the Minister that that is in some way discriminatory, as we want it removed from everybody.
Finally, and briefly, on Amendment 74, as my noble friend Lady Ludford said, we really want to hear an assurance from the Minister on this matter that will appear in Hansard.
As we know, the Data Protection Act 2018 provides for an exemption from some general data protection provisions where personal data is processed for the maintenance of effective immigration control. Of course, that allows an entity that processes data for immigration control purposes, such as the Home Office, to set aside a person’s data protection rights in a range of circumstances. It can also prevent people involved in immigration cases being able to request access to the data that the Home Office holds on them, and that could affect EEA or Swiss nationals applying for a new immigration status in the UK after Brexit.
As has been said, Amendment 43 would preclude the exemption from applying where the person in question is an EEA or Swiss national. EEA and Swiss nationals will become subject to this exemption as a result of our departure from the EU.
Amendment 72 would ensure that personal data belonging to an EEA or Swiss national resident in the UK before the Act that has been gathered through their use of public services cannot then be shared and used for the purposes of immigration enforcement. The relevant public services include primary and secondary education, and primary and secondary healthcare services, as well as where a person has contacted law enforcement to report a crime.
Amendment 74 would provide that a third party—for example, a landlord—given access to check a person’s settled status for specific purposes may not be allowed to use that access or information for any other purposes.
The issue is that there have been reports and evidence of data sharing as part of the Government’s rebranded hostile environment controls when people have, for example, access to education or report a crime to the police. In that latter regard, there appear to be examples of migrant women in particular suffering domestic abuse and being deterred from reporting a crime for fear of getting pulled into the immigration system. The comment has already been made about the independent Windrush Lessons Learned Review identifying a number of people from the Windrush generation who have been wrongly subject to proactive compliant environment sanctions, where the Home Office has shared data with other departments. Therefore, there is a lot of evidence that this data sharing goes on and that it has a detrimental effect on some individuals.
The Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration has found a 10% error rate in immigration status checks. Therefore, being unable to find out what immigration data the Home Office holds that led to an error—for the purposes of an appeal, for example—is of significance. The figure that I have been given—I am sure the Minister will correct me if I am wrong—is that, since the beginning of 2019, 60% of requests for disclosure have been denied. I hope that in their response the Government will, at the very least, say how they intend to address the concerns raised by this group of amendments.
I thank noble Lords for the points that they have made on these amendments. Perhaps I may address Amendments 43 and 72 together, as they both concern data protection.
I appreciate the concerns to protect data subjects’ rights and to ensure that data sharing for immigration control or enforcement purposes does not prevent people living in this country accessing public services to which they are perfectly entitled. However, I cannot agree to these new clauses, because they would not be proportionate or constructive amendments to the Bill, or indeed address the concerns behind the amendments, and I shall say why.
They would restrict immigration authorities in performing their lawful duties in respect of immigration control, including being able to confirm a person’s immigration status, and they would be unable to prevent potential prejudice to the immigration system. Essentially, the new clauses would expressly prohibit the Home Office from using a necessary and lawful exemption in the Data Protection Act 2018, should it have cause to do so. The immigration exemption has been debated previously in this House and concerns raised have been addressed on those occasions.
The exemption applies to restrict specified data subjects’ rights where the maintenance of effective immigration control, or the investigation or detection of activities that would undermine the maintenance of effective immigration control, are likely to be prejudiced. Rightly, it should apply to anyone who is subject to immigration control, including EEA and Swiss citizens. The new clause proposed in Amendment 43 would therefore constitute a difference in treatment on the grounds of nationality. We do not believe that that can be justified, as one purpose of the Bill is to ensure that there will be no difference in treatment between EEA citizens and those from the rest of the world when it comes to immigration policy.
Amendment 72 would have a similar effect in creating a difference in treatment based on nationality. The effect of the amendment in the clause would be to maintain the current position, so that one particular aspect of the compliant environment—data sharing—would not apply to those who now benefit from free movement. The amendment would have no effect as far as non-EEA citizens are concerned, and data collected in relation to them could still be used for immigration control or enforcement purposes, thereby treating them unequally under the law.
With regard to the immigration exemption dealt with in Amendment 43, it might help if I expand on the safeguards built into the Data Protection Act. The exemption can be applied only on a case-by-case basis and only where it is necessary and proportionate to do so. It cannot be, and is not, used to target any group of people, be they EEA citizens or otherwise. Nor does the application of the exemption set aside all data subjects’ rights; it sets aside only those listed in paragraph 4 of Schedule 2. A further limitation is that the exemption can be applied only where compliance with the relevant rights will be likely to prejudice the maintenance of effective immigration control. This “prejudice” test must be applied first, and, as a result, the situations in which the exemption can be used are significantly limited. The noble Lord, Lord Oates, asked me to give numbers. I cannot do so at this point, but I will see whether I can access them.
Furthermore, the exemption may be applied only so long as the prejudice can be seen to be evidenced and must be removed thereafter. It is not used to restrict access to personal data that would allow a person to further a claim; it is used only where we need to restrict access to sensitive data—for example, details of ongoing enforcement operations.
The exemption has been found to be lawful by the courts, and the ICO has issued robust guidance on how and when it may be used—guidance that the Home Office adheres to. Furthermore, the Home Office has robust safeguards and controls in place to ensure that data is handled securely, lawfully, ethically and in accordance with all relevant data protection regulations. I say again that the Home Office must at all times comply with the GDPR and the Data Protection Act 2018 when data is shared.
Similar to Amendment 72, Amendment 74 seeks to limit the use of data. To reiterate the points that I made to noble Lords during the recess, I reassure them that the services that we provide to third parties for checking immigration status information about EU settlement status can be accessed and used only to check an individual’s immigration status and the rights associated with that status.
I will explain how users can view and prove their immigration status under the EU settlement scheme. Individuals can authenticate securely on the “view and prove your settled or pre-settled status” online service, where they can view their immigration status information and choose to share it with third parties for a variety of reasons. To take the example of right-to-work checks, the individual selects the option to share their right-to-work information and is given a time-limited code, which can be emailed or given to the employer. The employer uses the share code, along with the individual’s date of birth, to access just the information needed to confirm the individual’s eligibility to work, via the “view a job applicant’s right to work details” service on GOV.UK. The information provided to the employer can be previewed by the individual and contains only information relating to their right-to-work entitlements, along with the individual’s name and facial image for verification purposes and the expiry date of the leave, where appropriate. I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, who asked me to reiterate this point, is satisfied with my explanation.
For other services such as health, benefits and banking, users can share basic information about their status under the settlement scheme and the process works in exactly the same way. Checking organisations can access the information on a time-limited basis, via the “check someone’s settled or pre-settled status” service. The information provided in this service represents the minimum amount of data required for those checking organisations to perform their duties, and again includes the individual’s name, facial image, the leave they have been granted and the expiry date where applicable.
Third parties do not have access to the immigration database. An individual must choose to share their immigration status through the “view and prove” service before it can be viewed by third parties such as employers. Picking up on the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, the police do not have access to the EU settlement scheme or the immigration database, but we are working with other parts of government to develop system checks to share immigration status for specific purposes such as health and benefits. For example, we will provide information to the National Health Service to support it in establishing whether an individual is entitled to access free healthcare.
I hope that noble Lords are now assured that we are committed to delivering immigration status services for the purposes of checking immigration status information only. These services have been designed to protect the personal information of those with EU settled status and have been built around GDPR principles, including that of data minimisation, ensuring that the information available to third parties is only what is absolutely necessary. I hope that, with those words, the noble Baroness is happy to withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for her answers but the first is, again, the disingenuous objection that the amendment focuses only on Swiss nationals and is therefore discriminatory on the grounds of nationality. I repeat something that my noble friend Lady Hamwee has said at least twice: it is up to the Government to extend it to all migrants if they wish.
Can the Minister tell us—she may have to write to me—whether any other EEA countries have exempted immigration data in their implementation of the general data protection regulation? Also, she said that the Data Protection Act was compliant with GDPR, but that remains to be seen. I think it is doubtful because that regulation, which I worked on as an MEP, provides no blanket exclusion of immigration data. The Minister did not respond on the prospect of a data adequacy decision from the European Commission. Winning this decision is of huge significance to our security and our businesses.
The combination of this part of the Data Protection Act, not retaining the charter and constant noises about the European convention is not designed to increase the confidence of the European Commission in granting a data adequacy decision. Not getting that will seriously prejudices the chances of the cross-border police co-operation that is vital to this country. The UK has made a huge contribution in that area in building up the EU justice and security measures, as was shown when Theresa May was Home Secretary about six years ago and we had the mass opt back in to all the vital measures. If we are unable to continue that, we will not be able to access information required to catch serious criminals and it will prejudice the security of British citizens. Also, if we do not get a data adequacy decision, it will be much more difficult for businesses to transfer data across the EEA—tech businesses are particularly reliant on data—using other, clunkier routes.
Already, a shadow has been cast on the ability to get a data adequacy assessment by the surveillance provisions in the Investigatory Powers Act and others; that has been the subject of several court cases in Luxembourg and Strasbourg. It is dangerous to undermine further the chances of a data adequacy decision. There are higher things than the Home Office’s wish to have constant access to this data.
Hope springs eternal. I thank the Minister for what she said on Amendment 74, which I will read carefully in Hansard. Unfortunately, she is not giving me any comfort on the other amendments, including Amendment 43, which I moved. However, at this stage, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 43 withdrawn.
We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 44. 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 from this group to a Division should make that clear in debate.
44: After Clause 4, insert the following new Clause—
“Late applications to EU Settlement Scheme
(1) The Secretary of State must, before 30 June 2021, publish a report setting out proposals for dealing with late applications to the EU Settlement Scheme and a motion to approve the report must be debated by both Houses of Parliament.(2) Until the report has been debated and approved by both Houses of Parliament, the EU Settlement Scheme must remain open for applications and the Secretary of State must extend the deadline for applications accordingly. (3) “The EU Settlement Scheme” means the scheme for settled or pre-settled status under Appendix EU of the Immigration Rules.”Member’s explanatory statement
The new Clause will ensure that the EU Settlement Scheme will remain open until such time as the Minister has published proposals as to how to deal with late applications and that report has been approved by Parliament.
My Lords, I beg to move Amendment 44 and will speak to the other amendments in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Ludford—Amendments 45 and 46—and to Amendments 52 and 96, in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Rosser and Lord Kennedy.
This group of amendments brings us to the EU settled status scheme, which is dealing and has dealt with huge numbers of applications. I do not seek to deny that, but the task is huge to ensure that all EU citizens in the UK at a given date are able to remain when they have the right to do so. These amendments address aspects of the scheme. Later today we will continue with Amendment 49, in the name of my noble friend Lord Oates, which is about how to prove that status.
I am grateful to Ministers and officials for meeting me and representatives of the organisation the3million to discuss applications for settled status after the deadline of 30 June 2021 has passed. When I asked in June of this year as to the proposed criteria for accepting applications made after the end of the period, the Minister’s response referred to the Government’s “compassionate and flexible approach”, and I do not want to suggest that they will not be compassionate. She then gave examples, including
“children whose parent or guardian failed to apply on their behalf”;
I would add to that children who will be less than five years old and will not have completed five years in the UK. The Minister’s examples also included
“people in abusive or controlling relationships who were prevented from applying, and those who lack … physical or mental capacity”.
I understand that guidance for caseworkers is to be published, probably in January.
Before that meeting, the3million had talked with the Minister about the range of circumstances which might cause someone to miss the June deadline. Its examples included students, who will have completed a lot of formalities in order to be here as students. A lot of them think that because they are not settling in the UK, a scheme called “settled status” really is not about them. People who have been here a very long time already feel settled. They feel integrated and have done so for years. They simply do not believe that the scheme can apply to them. People who have obtained a permanent residence document do not think they need to do any more, which is understandable when they have a document that they can wave.
I accept that Home Office messages and posters mention that all EU citizens have to apply, and that holders of permanent residence status have to apply again. However, we all know what real life is like. People switch off before they read the small print, making an assumption that the topic simply does not apply to them. We could have a huge number of ordinary people who simply forgot or did not think it applied to them, or who were scared or overwhelmed by the process. Perhaps they did not have smartphones or see the advertisements. Perhaps they did not have children or grandchildren to prompt them. People may believe that they are ineligible, as the Migration Observatory has pointed out.
The examples in the Written Answer which I mentioned are regularly given. I understand that the Home Office wants to discourage people from thinking that the scheme can be left and picked up after next June, but its approach to what are reasonable grounds may not accord with that of affected individuals. The3million is urging EU citizens to get on with their applications but it believes—and I agree—that having a clearer idea of what is likely not to be considered reasonable would be helpful. I am therefore moving Amendment 44, so that the scheme should remain open until Parliament has dealt with a report on it. Amendments 52 and 96, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, have the same objectives.
Amendment 45 deals with something which worries me very much: someone who, on the closing date, has not been in the UK for five years but has been granted pre-settled status so that he can subsequently apply for settled status when five years’ residence has been achieved. It would be all too easy for that further application to be overlooked, so the amendment provides for various notifications from the Home Office. If you are granted pre-settled status, you should be told straightaway about what else is required to be done; similarly if it is
“after this Act is passed”.
There would be another notification at least six months before your entitlement expires through that status.
I do not suppose that we can prove this but given the large proportion, so far, of grants of pre-settled rather than settled status, my concern is that when an application is not straightforward—because the applicant can prove only the last two or three years’ residence and not the longer period that he has in fact been resident in the UK—the caseworker grants pre-settled status rather than delving into those extra years and the applicant thinks “Oh, that’s okay”. As of 30 June, or possibly 31 July—I am not entirely sure from the website—almost 1.5 million grants of pre-settled status have been made, which is 41% of all concluded applications. Ministers refer to grants of just status, but that tells only a part of the story.
At the meeting to which I referred, the Minister and her officials talked about the communications strategy that they will roll out to remind people of the significance of next June’s date. The Minister teases me when I talk about GOV.UK, which I find extremely useful, but I am sure she agrees that it is not everybody’s daily reading. If you do not know that you need information, you are not going to look for it. I understand that the strategy includes contact with specialist groups who themselves have contact with relevant individuals and through embassies, but of course most embassies do not have information about their own citizens who are here. Much of what is in contemplation sounds likely to replicate what had been done already. From what the Minister said, I had the impression that the approach would be rather what one might expect in a commercial context by a company working in the commercial sector. I would be grateful if the Minister could give more information, perhaps by letter, on the selection of whoever is to be appointed to carry out the work, the appointment process and the specification for the job.
As we have been reminded, when the UK switched to digital television there was a huge campaign that was regarded as massively successful. Even so, 3% of people who needed to switch did not do so and were left overnight with a television which did not work, and 3% of 4 million, the number for which applications are now heading when by definition the relevant total must be higher, is 120,000. It would put 120,000 people in a precarious position. If you have pre-settled status and have not converted it you will need to leave the UK when it has expired and, during your residence, you do not have the same rights as under settled status, notably to welfare benefits. That is why I am so worried about this and why I tabled Amendment 45.
Amendment 46, on applications for citizenship from people with settled status, takes us to the issue of comprehensive sickness insurance. For citizenship, are we talking about something more than settled status and people who have exercised treaty rights? I know that my noble friend Lady Ludford has done a lot of work on the requirements for comprehensive sickness insurance, so I am sure she will cover that. I beg to move.
My Lords, I support Amendment 44 on late applications, to which I have added my name, especially in the light of the pandemic, with people perhaps not being well for quite some time or not knowing that they need to register. I hope that there will be explicit provision in the Bill for late applications. I also support Amendment 96, which would require publication of reasonable grounds for late application. Again, that would help people to understand that there is the wherewithal, for those who have missed the deadline, for genuine reasons to be catered for.
I also support Amendment 46 in the light of the information we have received from members of the public who are concerned about their lack of sickness insurance. I would be grateful if my noble friend could address that issue and what deliberations there have been in the department that might address the issues raised in this group of amendments. I look forward to hearing from my noble friend.
My Lords, I regret that I was deterred from joining the crowded ranks for the Second Reading of the Bill. I support all the amendments in the group and I shall speak to Amendment 46, to which I have added my name. The noble Lord, Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth, has asked me to reiterate his support for it, as he cannot be here today.
As we have heard, Amendment 46 concerns the retrospective requirement for comprehensive sickness insurance to have been taken out before settled status is granted throughout any period of self-sufficiency or as a student. This requirement has borne disproportionately hard on Roma people, with consequent unjust refusals of applications for naturalisation. This has been brought to my attention by the Roma Support Group, since it has particularly affected Roma women who have been looking after children full time, and thus are self-sufficient—neither employed nor self-employed—and who have applied for settled status using such documentation as they had, such as rental agreements or council tax bills, which were of course deemed insufficient. The requirement also prejudices the children of parents who have settled status but who did not acquire comprehensive sickness insurance themselves. The fees are usually out of their reach.
In answer to my Question HL6271 on this matter last July, the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, said that having comprehensive sickness insurance
“has always been a requirement”
under EEA regulations, implying that students and self-sufficient people should have known about the requirement and ensured that they had the insurance. In fact, the CSI requirement results from the Home Office’s specific interpretation of EU regulations, which the European Commission considers to be in breach of EU law. I quote the European Commission’s own text:
“Under the Free Movement Directive, EU citizens who settle in another EU country but do not work there may be required to have sufficient resources and sickness insurance. The United Kingdom, however, does not consider entitlement to treatment by the UK public healthcare scheme (NHS) as sufficient. This breaches EU law.”
Secondly, the noble Baroness’s reference in her Answer to customer guidance and the implication that students and self-sufficient people should have known about the requirement also causes difficulties. Before the comprehensive sickness insurance scandal broke in early 2017, CSI was largely unheard of by anyone who had not had dealings with the Home Office, including the vast majority of EU citizens. It was never required in daily life or requested when accessing the National Health Service. Because of the surge of EU citizens applying for proof of permanent residence under EU rules after Brexit, it transpired that about 28% of applicants were being refused proof of long-term residence in the UK, mostly because of the CSI requirement. In October 2017, Theresa May publicly promised EU citizens that she would scrap the unfair requirement for the new EU settlement scheme. Why has this promise not been fulfilled?
Furthermore, the UK Government decided not to require pro