Consideration of Lords amendments
I must draw the House’s attention to the fact that financial privilege is engaged by Lords amendments 4 and 5. If any Lords amendment engaging financial privilege is agreed to, I will cause the customary entry waiving Commons financial privilege to be entered in the Journal.
After Clause 1
Impact of section 1 on the social care sector
I beg to move, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 1.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Lords amendment 2, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 3, and amendment (a) thereto, and Government motion to disagree with Lords amendment 3.
Lords amendment 4, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 5, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 6, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 7, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 8, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 9, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 10, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 11.
I am sure colleagues will see that a large number of Members wish to contribute to this debate. We have had two quite lengthy statements, so there is pressure on time. That means we will be imposing an initial six-minute limit on speeches from Back Benchers. I hope that Front Benchers will keep their remarks as brief as possible in the circumstances to allow others to contribute.
This Bill delivers on a key manifesto commitment to end the EU’s rules on free movement, and to deliver our fairer and firmer points-based immigration system. I am pleased the Bill has passed its Third Reading in the other place, led by my colleague Baroness Williams of Trafford. For such a short Bill, there has been substantial debate on a wide range of immigration issues. There are issues on which Members disagree with the Government, but we must now enact this Bill and deliver on our promise to the British people. I will speak to each amendment in turn.
Lords amendment 1 requires publication of an independent report on the impact of ending free movement on the social care sector. Although it is well intentioned, the amendment is unnecessary because we already have independent reporting in this area through Skills for Care and the Migration Advisory Committee, which is now free to work to its own commissions in addition to those given to it by the Government.
The Department of Health and Social Care funds Skills for Care to deliver a wide range of activities to support the Government’s priorities for the social care sector. This includes programmes to support employers and the workforce with skills development, promote and support recruitment into the sector, and support leadership development. The Department of Health and Social Care uses the data produced by Skills for Care and the trends identified to inform its policy development to support the adult social care sector to recruit, train and develop its vital workforce.
The social care sector is a typical example of where cheap EU labour has been brought in to undercut our own labour force. The public are really worried that, as EU migration has declined, so migration from other parts of the world has increased. I want the Minister to give a categorical assurance that, whatever happens with these negotiations, we will get a grip on migration from other parts of the world and we will not undercut our own workforce.
We have been very clear that we will have a points-based system that will respond to the needs of the United Kingdom’s labour market and workforce, and that our migration system will not provide an alternative to investing in and rewarding those who work in critical sectors such as social care.
As Members will know, I have previously spoken at length about the role of the Migration Advisory Committee, which now has an expanded remit to examine any aspect of the immigration system and to provide annual reports that Parliament can, and almost certainly will, debate. I have also outlined the Government’s continued commitment to keeping all policies, including the skilled worker route, under review. We do have the flexibility to adapt and adjust on the basis of experience and evidence. Hon. Members will have heard me say before that the immigration system cannot be the solution to issues in the social care sector. We must not continue to rely on people coming to the UK when the focus should be on the domestic workforce to address shortages in the sector. As was just touched on, migration policy should not be an alternative for employers to offering the type of rewarding packages that care staff deserve.
To deliver change to the social care sector, we need to make changes to the way that we train, recruit, attract and retain staff. The Government are focused on working alongside the sector, including through Skills for Care, to ensure that the workforce can meet the increasing demands and continue to deliver quality, compassionate care. Immigration must be part of our overall strategy for this sector’s workforce, not a handy alternative for employers to—
The Migration Advisory Committee has effectively recommended a significant increase in the pay of social care staff, which they urgently need—and they have been under immense pressure this year. Will the Minister accept that recommendation from the Migration Advisory Committee?
The right hon. Member will have seen the recommendations of the Migration Advisory Committee, and I know that my colleagues in the Department of Health and Social Care will consider them closely. I certainly hope that if she is keen on the MAC, she will support the Government’s position on the amendment in the Lobby later.
I am conscious that I need to make progress.
Lords amendment 2 seeks to continue certain family reunion arrangements provided by EU law—the so-called Surinder Singh route. It would require us to provide lifetime rights for British citizens resident in the European economic area or Switzerland by the end of the transition period to return to the UK accompanied or joined by their non-British close family members on current EU free movement law terms. In effect, that means that these rights would continue perpetually. Family members of British citizens resident in the EEA or Switzerland at the end of the transition period are not protected by the withdrawal agreement in terms of returning to the UK. However, we have made transition arrangements for them. British citizens living in the EEA or Switzerland will have until 29 March 2022 to bring their existing close family members—a spouse, civil partner, unmarried partner in a long-term relationship, child or dependent parent—to the UK on EU law terms. The family relationship must have existed before the UK left the EU on 31 January 2020 and continue to exist. Those family members will also then be eligible to apply to remain in the UK under the EU settlement scheme. Now that we have left the EU, we have to be fair to other British citizens, whether they are living overseas or in the UK, and to UK taxpayers who can be called on to pay the costs when family life is not established sustainably in the UK. In the long run, the same rules should apply to all, not continue indefinitely to give preferential treatment to those relying on past free movement rights that have been abolished. This is what a global immigration system means. However, I respect the points that my right hon. Friend the Member for North Thanet (Sir Roger Gale) has made to me, and, as with other things, we will continue to keep this area under review.
Lords amendment 3 provides for children in care and care leavers who lose their free movement rights to obtain indefinite leave to remain. I pay tribute to the noble Lord Dubs, who sponsored this amendment in the other place. The Government agree on the importance of protecting the rights of children in care and care leavers, and other vulnerable groups, as we end free movement. I have also appreciated the points made in a letter I replied to from my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton). We are providing extensive support to local authorities, which have the statutory responsibilities for this cohort, to ensure that these children and young people, like other vulnerable groups, get UK immigration status under the EU settlement scheme. This support includes the settlement resolution centre and grant funding of up to £17 million, to cover last year and this year, to organisations across the UK to support all vulnerable groups in applying to the scheme.
A survey of local authorities by the Home Office has so far identified fewer than 4,000 children in care and care leavers eligible for the EU settlement scheme, with over 40% of those having already applied for status under it, and with most of those who have applied having already received an outcome of settled status. The Government have made it clear, in line with the withdrawal agreement, that where a person eligible for status under the EU settlement scheme has reasonable grounds for missing the 30 June 2021 deadline, they will be given a further opportunity to apply. We have also made clear that those reasonable grounds will include where a parent, guardian or local authority does not apply on behalf of a child. Therefore, if a child in care or a care leaver misses the deadline, they will still be able to obtain lawful status in the UK. There is no time limit to what may be reasonable, so an application today from a person who is a child aged eight would be reasonable if they discovered at age 18 that their local council had not applied for them.
The Government are not, therefore, persuaded of the need for this amendment. Applicants under the age of 21 are already granted immediate settled status under the EU settlement scheme where a parent has that status. The idea of applying such a provision retrospectively runs counter to the general operation of the immigration rules.
I have to make progress.
I will now turn briefly to Lords amendment 4, which relates to family reunion and unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. I understand the important issues that this amendment seeks to address, and confirm the Government’s commitment to the principle of family unity and supporting vulnerable children. The Secretary of State for the Home Department, my right hon. Friend the Member for Witham (Priti Patel), recently announced at the Conservative party conference our intention to reform our broken asylum system to make it firm but fair, and we intend to bring forward legislation next year to deliver on that intention. Our reformed system will be fair and compassionate towards those who need our help by welcoming people through safe and legal routes; it will, though, be firm in stopping the abuse of the system by those who misuse it— especially serious or persistent criminals—simply to prevent their removal from this country.
We have a proud record of providing safety to those who need it through our asylum system and resettlement schemes, and we have granted protection and other leave to more than 44,000 children seeking protection since 2010. The UK continues to be one of the highest recipients of asylum claims from unaccompanied children across Europe, receiving more claims than any EU member state in 2019 and 20% of all claims made in the EU. However, now we have left the European Union, it does not make sense in the long term to have a different set of provisions for those in fundamentally safe and democratic countries than for those in the rest of the world, unless those provisions are based on effective reciprocal agreements relating to returns and family reunification. We have made a credible and serious offer to the EU on new arrangements for the family reunion of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, and it remains our goal to negotiate such an arrangement, but the UK does provide safe and legal routes for people to join family members in the UK through existing immigration rules, all of which are unaffected by our exit from the European Union, such as the provisions under part 11 of the immigration rules.
Lords amendment 5 would require the Secretary of State to offer a physical document free of charge to any EEA citizen who applies for leave or has been granted leave under the EU settlement scheme. As announced earlier, this amendment engages financial privilege, so I will not debate it specifically, but I will point out that the House has considered that proposal on a number of occasions, and has declined it each time. We have made such a move across our migration system: in particular, we are looking at the British national overseas visa route, which will also use an electronic system. Again, that is similar to other countries: for example, Australia has had such a system since 2015.
I am going to have to start making some progress.
Lords amendments 6, 7 and 8 relate to detention time limits—an issue that is not directly relevant to the purpose of the Bill, which is to end free movement. In addition, at the heart of the Bill is a commitment to a global system and equal treatment of immigrants of all nationalities as we exit the transition period. On the broader point, imposing a 28-day time limit on detention is not practical and would encourage and reward abuse, especially of our protection routes. No European country has adopted anything close to a time limit as short as that proposed in these amendments, and comparable nations have not gone down this route at all.
However, I recognise the point made by those who are concerned about this issue. As I said when we discussed a very similar amendment tabled on Report, we want to reform the system so that it makes a quicker set of decisions, and for our position to be clear that detention is used when there is no alternative, or when there is a specific need to protect the public from harm.
My hon. Friend will be aware that many of us across the House are concerned about the fact that there is not a limit. He is absolutely right that what is required is an international convention and international agreement on this issue. Nevertheless, for some people to be detained indefinitely having committed no crime is a matter of concern, and I would like my hon. Friend’s commitment that he will keep this matter under review within the Home Office.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his constructive intervention. We will absolutely keep it under review. I gently say that it is not possible to detain someone indefinitely as such; they can apply for immigration bail, and we have to meet a test that says there is a reasonable prospect of their removal. My right hon. Friend will appreciate that, similarly, there are instances where it is out of the Home Office’s hands, or even this jurisdiction’s hands, and we cannot immediately remove someone by a particular day.
I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that the law on detention is very similar to that pre-2015, when he was in the Cabinet. Immigration detention is part of our rules, but we have been reducing its use over recent years; again, it should be a last resort when other methods cannot be used. However, I say again with regret that introducing a 28-day limit would allow people to exploit the system and would actually run contrary to our ability to run an effective system.
I turn to Lords amendment 9. I appreciated the chance today and over the weekend to have significant conversations on this subject with my right hon. Friends the Members for Maidenhead (Mrs May) and for Staffordshire Moorlands (Karen Bradley), who have had a strong passion and commitment to this area over a long period. Lords amendment 9 would require arrangements to be made in the immigration rules for the granting of leave to remain to confirmed victims of modern slavery who are EEA citizens, in specified circumstances. We believe that the amendment is unnecessary, for reasons that I will briefly set out.
Currently, confirmed victims of modern slavery who are foreign nationals from non-EEA countries and who do not already have immigration status are automatically considered for a grant of discretionary leave to remain. By “automatically” I mean they do not have to apply for it. Our national referral mechanism arranges for that consideration if, after a decision has been reached, there are conclusive grounds to believe that someone is a victim of modern slavery. EEA citizens are not automatically considered in that way, as many are likely to be exercising free movement rights and therefore do not require a grant of discretionary leave under UK immigration rules. They may, however, apply for discretionary leave if they wish.
However, to address some of the points that have been made, following the end of free movement, EEA confirmed victims who do not already have permission to stay in the UK, for example though our EU settlement scheme, will be treated in the same way as other foreign national victims and therefore receive automatic consideration for a grant of discretionary leave. The published policy will be amended to make that clear beyond 1 January 2021; the recent publication reflects the guidance that needs to be followed today, with free movement rights still in place.
My hon. Friend knows that I spoke overnight to the Home Secretary and we agreed that this was an anomaly and needed to be sorted, so I am pleased that he now commits to doing it. Will he also, however, commit to having a full and proper set of discussions with Lord McColl, me and others about the possibility of introducing modern slavery victims support legislation to iron out many of these anomalies?
I thank my right hon. Friend for his constructive intervention. Yes, certainly; I am more than happy to engage with him about how we can look at this process. He will realise that it is not just in this area where there has traditionally been a difference, because EEA nationals have freedom of movement rights, so it would be odd to grant them status under immigration rules, but I am certainly happy to have that conversation. I also reassure Members that we would consider someone’s being held as a modern slave as reasonable grounds for a late application to the EU settlement scheme. I say gently that it would be unhelpful to have two very similar sets of criteria, one under the immigration rules and one under policy, so we do not accept Lords amendment 9.
Having been through the more contentious areas, I hope that Members support Lords amendment 11, which was introduced in reaction to feedback in the other place. I hope that Members accept the reasons I have outlined why the Government cannot accept the Lords amendments that we ask the House to disagree with, but I hope that they have a sense of the Government’s commitment to the issues raised.
It is a pleasure to be at the Dispatch Box for the return of this incredibly important piece of legislation. I thank peers in the other place for their detailed work on the Bill. We welcome the amendments that have been secured, most of them with significant majorities; several of the improvements before us today demonstrate cross-party support.
Lords amendment 1 would require the Secretary of State to commission and publish an independent assessment of the impact of ending free movement on the social care sector. The Government’s intransigence on this matter has been beyond disappointing. This Bill has been an affront to those migrant workers working on the frontline in social care. To have clapped them on a Thursday night and then told them that they are unskilled and therefore not welcome on a Monday is both disrespectful and shameful.
Members on both sides of the House have witnessed the vulnerabilities across our health and social care sector, which, despite the best efforts of its dedicated workforce, has been pushed to the limits over the course of the pandemic. Unison, the UK’s largest trade union, represents our dedicated public sector workers, including social care workers, across the UK. We have worked closely with Unison, which has supported and represented workers throughout the pandemic. With its in-depth knowledge of the sector and foresight, it has articulated its vision of social care in its “care after covid” campaign to address the fault lines that were so exposed throughout the last six months. To propose a Bill that will make radical changes to the recruitment of social care workers without considering the impact is simply negligent and careless governance.
The Minister referred to the Migration Advisory Committee; in its recent report, commissioned at the request of the Home Secretary, it expressed concerns about the social care sector and argued that if necessary funding and pay increases do not materialise urgently, it would expect the end of freedom of movement to increase the pressure on the social care sector. That would be particularly difficult to understand at a time when so many care occupations are central to the covid-19 pandemic frontline response.
These remarks should unsettle the Government and spur them into action, and I fully expect that if the Government do not listen, on the day that the new points-based immigration system is implemented we will still be deeply entrenched in the battle against coronavirus. If we do not do our due diligence by adopting this amendment, the Bill is set to undermine social care recklessly at a time when we can least afford it, so we urge the Government to reconsider their position, commission the impact assessment and understand the impact of the Bill on the social care workforce, on visas and on the consequences for recruitment, training and staff terms and conditions.
Amendment 4 would ensure there are safe refugee family reunion routes after Dublin III ceases to be available in the UK following the end of the UK-EU transition period. I want to place on record my thanks to the brilliant and inspirational Lord Dubs for his tireless work and leadership on this amendment in the other place.
A great deal has been said about immigration over the summer and we on the Labour Benches want in the strongest possible terms to distance ourselves from the Home Secretary’s dangerous rhetoric and to thank those lawyers who play such an important role in ensuring that the UK is upholding its international and legal obligations. The amendment demonstrates the future for one of the safe and legal routes we have all advocated for over the summer.
The Dublin III regulation is for family reunion and represents legal routes to safety from Europe for children seeking to come to the UK. Family reunion under Dublin III is currently the only legal pathway to reach the UK from the EU for the purposes of claiming asylum. It will no longer apply after the transition period. If we do not seek to address this issue, I fear that we will see more images of people making precarious and life-threatening journeys on dinghies across the channel.
The Government will say that they have a draft proposal for family reunion; however, it is apparent that their proposal is woefully inadequate. The proposals remove all mandatory requirements to activate family reunions. They remove the child’s right to appeal against refusal, and some children would not be covered by the narrower definition of family which Parliament passed in a 2017 Act.
Other safeguards have been removed, too, such as deadlines. According to one non-governmental organisation, 95% of people helped by NGOs to obtain a right of passage would fail the test proposed by the Government. Existing immigration rules also fail to cover this specific area, and therefore this amendment gives Parliament a chance to enshrine in law the basic principle of family reunion.
This issue is incredibly salient and our thoughts are still fixed on the suffering and horrors caused by the fire at the Moria refugee camp in Lesbos. The scale of that tragedy could have been minimised.
We all heard the pleas before the incident to the Greek Government for help with numbers at the camp, yet the calls were ignored by the people in power.
It is worth noting that the number of people who have come in under Dublin III has historically been very small. Up to 2014, there were 10 or 11 a year, and since 2016, a little over 500 have come in under it. We hear about the Government’s proposed fairer borders Bill on asylum, but those children cannot wait. We are asking the House to use its power to give transformative opportunities to innocent children who, through no fault of their own, have found themselves fleeing persecution and destitution.
Lords amendment 6 would limit the maximum length that an individual can be held in immigration detention to 28 days. As well as implementing that backstop, the amendment would ensure that re-detention cannot be used as a matter of routine and will instead only be justified where there is a material change in the detained person’s circumstances. The Secretary of State’s decision to detain a person would, after 96 hours, be subject to judicial scrutiny at a bail hearing. Unless there are exceptional circumstances, the Secretary of State should only detain a person if they are in a position to set removal directions and carry them out within 14 days of the initial bail hearing.
This amendment commands cross-party support and has done so throughout the Bill’s passage in both Houses. It is overwhelmingly apparent that serious systemic problems exist in our current detention system. The courts and all parliamentary and inspectorate investigations in recent years have found fundamental failings. Long-term detention of mentally ill and vulnerable detainees remains a serious problem. The adults at risk policy does not provide a sufficient level of protection.
Throughout the passage of the Bill, defenders of the current system have stated that detention for more than 28 days is limited to those who have committed serious offences. That simply is not the case. In reality, we have seen examples of people with no offending history, including survivors of trafficking, detained for periods exceeding 28 days. On the basis of human rights alone, the amendment should be accepted, but this is also a question of the general efficacy of our detention system. It causes unnecessary human pain, and it is a waste of resources to trap people in detention indefinitely with no definitive answer provided on their immigration status. That is why we and so many others feel so strongly that the case for immigration detention reform is long overdue.
Lords amendment 3 would fast-track settled status for children in care and care leavers. I think all Members would agree that the Government must do all they can to ensure that everyone who is eligible to apply for settled status via the EU settlement scheme is aware of the scheme. There is a profound and well-founded fear that EEA and Swiss children in care may be left behind. The Home Office has estimated that there are 5,000 looked-after children and 4,000 care leavers in the UK who will need to apply under the EU settlement scheme, yet analysis from the Children’s Society has found that 153 out of 211 local authorities across the UK have identified only 3,612 EEA and Swiss looked-after children and care leavers, with only 11% having so far secured status.
The Government have produced non-statutory guidance for local authorities on the EU settlement scheme regarding their roles and responsibilities for making or supporting applications for looked-after children and care leavers. Nevertheless, many local authorities are unaware of those responsibilities and also blissfully unaware of the stark consequences and immigration enforcement measures that face children in their care if they fail to register under the EU settlement scheme. That risk is now compounded by the coronavirus crisis, as local authority resources are being diverted elsewhere. Identifying and assisting children in care who need to apply for immigration status, which is seemingly non-urgent, will inevitably be deprioritised. Implementation of this amendment would facilitate local and national Government working together to ensure that no child in the care and responsibility of the British state becomes undocumented.
Lords amendment 2 would guarantee the right of UK citizens who have moved to the EU to return home to the UK, accompanied by their close family, without financial restrictions. Under the Bill as introduced, British citizens who moved to other EU countries while the UK was a member will lose their right to return to their country of birth with a non-British partner or child unless they can meet financial conditions that are beyond the reach of many. If they need to return to look after an ageing parent—an example shared with us on numerous occasions—thousands will now have to choose between returning to the UK alone, leaving their family behind or abandoning their parent to stay with their non-British family overseas. Nobody should have to face a choice like that, especially in the unique circumstances brought about by the pandemic, which has caused stress and anxiety for so many people.
The Government plan to use the ending of free movement as an opportunity to make British citizens meet the minimum income requirement for family reunion for the first time. The minimum income requirement is such a significant barrier that a study found that 40% of UK workers would not reach it.
Without Lords amendment 2, we would end up in the perverse situation of the Government discriminating against their own citizens. While British citizens who have moved to the EU or EEA before the end of 2020 will face these new restrictions, EU citizens who have moved to the UK before the end of 2020 will not. They will have the right under the withdrawal agreement to bring family members here for life, as well as keeping their existing right to return to their country of birth with families they have made in the UK.
Lords amendment 5 offers a sensible method of safeguarding the rights of all EEA and Swiss citizens registered through the European Union settlement scheme by providing them with physical proof of their status. In the largest survey to date on EU citizens’ experience of the EU settlement scheme, carried out by the3million, 89% expressed unhappiness about the lack of physical proof. Simple physical proof would provide citizens with definitive reassurance and provide instant recognition of settled status, meaning that people could continue to live in the country seamlessly following the transition period.
I warmly endorse the last intervention the hon. Gentleman took. Governments of all stripes surely have enough experience of digital disasters to know that people need to have something tangible on which they can rely if they request it and if they feel insufficiently confident that a digital system guarantees that they can prove their status.
The right hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point. We need to ensure that there is documentation, because we have seen the failings of other IT systems in the past and cannot allow that to happen again, especially on an issue as important as people’s rights.
Although we are open to the Government’s aspiration to move towards a digitally-focused system for all UK immigration, we are also aware of the internal failings that prevail within the Home Office. With that in mind, we urge the Government to think again about adopting Lords amendment 5.
Lords amendment 9 would give EEA and Swiss nationals who are victims of trafficking at least 12 months’ leave to remain and access to benefits during their period of recovery after being confirmed as victims of modern slavery. I thank Lord McColl for all his work on this issue and congratulate him on garnering considerable cross-party support. There is an unfortunate absence of domestic statutory provision in England and Wales for confirmed victims of human trafficking on their rights to support and assistance. Over the years, that deficiency has been filled by EU law.
As things stand, following the end of the UK-EU transition period on 31 December, human trafficking victims will be left in an undefined legal vacuum. Following the end of the EU settlement scheme, victims of human trafficking who are EEA or Swiss nationals will be able to apply only for discretionary leave to remain. The criteria for that are very narrow and it is unclear whether the same treatment as that for non-EEA nationals will apply.
Lords amendment 9 would provide much needed refuge and support to people who have suffered unimaginable uncertainty and abuse. We hope that the Government will support it. We must tackle the systemic factors that lead to modern slavery, provide support to those who are affected, and encourage more people to come forward to end the perpetual cycle of abuse and crime. I heard what the Minister said, and we wait with interest to see what the Government will come up with, particularly in respect of support for victims of modern day slavery.
To conclude, this is a bad Bill: it is reckless and ignores the evidence. The Lords amendments, many of which have cross-party support, are a genuine attempt to address those failings. If passed unamended, the Bill will lead to staff shortages in our care system at a time when it is perilously close to collapse; encourage dangerous crossings, as it fails to address safe family reunion routes after Dublin III; and lead to a lack of safeguarding and support for victims of modern day slavery. The amendments have been well debated both here and in the other place, and I urge the Minister to accept them.
I am grateful to be called to speak at this particular point, Madam Deputy Speaker. It was the Centre for Social Justice, which I set up and had the fortune to chair, that published the original document that pushed the Government into passing the first modern-day slavery legislation, a matter of which they are rightly very proud, and that made the UK the first country in the world to bring forward such legislation. That legislation now needs overhauling. That has been the case for some time. The recent report, “It still happens here: Fighting UK Slavery in the 2020s” states:
“For many, having no recourse to public funds poses further barriers to moving people on safely, putting victims at risk of homelessness and destitution, and making it more likely that they will fall back into exploitation and trafficking.”
The one thing that we can learn from recent events in places such as Leicester, where we have uncovered the most appalling abuse of individuals who have been victims of slavery, working for a pittance and living in terrible accommodation, is that we really do not want to see that repeated in the UK. That is the point that I want to make in my speech today.
There must be some kind of recourse to public funds for victims of modern slavery, which will make them more secure than they are at the moment. We need to make that case in legislation. I am pleased that the Government have moved on the issue of European economic area nationals and recognised that there was some contradiction in what they were proposing in their guidance. I notice that a paragraph was inserted into the guidance after Lord McColl’s amendment had been passed, which, had it been there originally, might have meant that there would have been no need for this particular amendment. Two contradictions were made but I do not have the time to go through them now, so Members will have to read about them themselves. None the less, I am pleased that the Minister said from the Dispatch Box that the Government have now rectified that matter and that non-EEA and EEA nationals will now be treated the same when it comes to discretionary leave to remain. That is a really important move. Having spoken to the Home Secretary and got that guarantee from her, it is a great pleasure to hear it from the Dispatch Box.
There has always been a problem with discretionary leave to remain and it was made worse by a Minister back in 2017 saying that there must be exceptional or compelling reasons to justify granting it. The bar has been set too high, and it is really important for us to recognise that people who come here having suffered the real persecution of slavery need to have a little more consideration shown for their position. They are not in the same boat as pure asylum seekers. In fact, those people can get a much longer period of time; whereas somebody who has genuine problems and who has been abused finds their time curtailed. That is why we need to look further than just at what the Government are doing here. I recognise that, perhaps today, this Bill is not the right way to try to press this matter forward, but I do say to the Government that there is another way.
I recognise also that the problem on that score is that a confirmed refugee can get five years’ leave to remain, but a confirmed—I repeat “confirmed”—victim of modern slavery gets no leave to remain at all. It seems to me that we have got ourselves in a twisted position, not because the Government—or any Government—want to be there, but because we have an anomaly, which we now need to rectify. That is the point that I really want to make in the short time available.
It is expensive for us to take someone through the national referral mechanism, conclude that they are genuine victims of modern slavery, but not provide adequate care. Those people remain very vulnerable and are quickly re-trafficked. As I said earlier, Leicester is a very good example of that, but there are other cities in the UK where people are drifting into these terrible conditions because they have nowhere else to go, or, for that matter, going into the national referral mechanism but facing uncertainty over ongoing care. They do not have the capacity to give evidence in court against their traffickers and that is the one thing that we want them to do. We need to be able to prosecute the traffickers to make sure that they never do it again. We need to think about this very carefully, so I have an ask of the Government—I said this when I intervened on the Minister. He needs to make sure that the change to the guidance is included and seen in the other place and that, critically, Lord McColl and others recognise that this has been done and that it is not just a gesture.
Secondly, I ask the Minister seriously—he said he was prepared to do this—to bring all this together in a new Bill that deals with the problems that we have now found. This is a good Bill, but we now find problems coming through relating to the abuse of people who are confirmed as having been brought in under modern-day slavery conditions and who we need to give support. I recognise that the Government are worried about people using modern-day slavery provisions as a route in, but the numbers coming in and getting a claim are so tiny that we can surely manage this. I understand the position in respect of failed immigration and people on asylum, but this is a very peculiar group that needs our care. If the Minister can commit to a discussion about future legislation with myself, Lord McColl and others in this place who would wish to be part of that, we may be able to make some progress on that.
I just want to end by saying this: it is the mark of a civilised and decent society that when people have been tortured and persecuted and they flee—to this country of all countries—they get treated well. Why? Because that is who we are. Everybody from Karl Marx through to Garibaldi came to the UK when they ran into difficulties and were persecuted. Can we please today give our commitment that we will open our doors and welcome those people who are proved to be victims of modern-day slavery?
It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith), who always speaks so expertly on issues of modern slavery.
The Lords amendments ask three important questions of MPs. First, are we going to protect and promote fair treatment for families and family unity? Secondly, will we look out for the most vulnerable? And thirdly, do we listen to legitimate concerns raised by communities impacted by migration policy? If the answer to those questions is yes, as it should be, we must oppose the Home Secretary’s motions and support the amendments made in the House of Lords.
Let me start my whistle-stop tour with Lords amendment 2, which is designed to protect families. The fact is that in the UK we have some of the most restrictive family visa immigration rules in the world, splitting up tens of thousands of British citizens and children from their spouses and parents. Sadly, that regime is now to be extended to British citizens and settled persons who happen to fall in love with European nationals. There is now little we can do to stop that, but we can stop the rules applying to British citizens who are already living elsewhere in the EEA with non-UK spouses and their families.
When such citizens left here and established family life elsewhere in the EEA, they had absolutely no reason ever to suspect that their ability to return would be restricted. This is not, as the Government have tended to suggest in some debates, about avoiding or circumventing rules; it is about British citizens having a legitimate expectation of an unrestricted right to return with their family. The Government should respect that expectation. On the one hand, the Government have, to an extent, recognised the particular circumstances of this group by providing a grace period, which is good in so far as it goes, but the grace period does not solve the problem; it simply postpones this deep unfairness for a couple of years. Basically, the Government are saying to many families, “You need to decide by March 2022. You can come back before then, uprooting your family, even in the most difficult of circumstances; otherwise, you will need to stay away altogether.” What the Government should do instead is simply remove the unfairness altogether and exempt this fixed and finite cohort from the rules forever. I really cannot see why that is such a difficult ask of the Government.
Lords amendment 4 is also about the importance of family unity. It is about protecting some of the most vulnerable people out there: people, including unaccompanied children, seeking asylum. It is not just common sense but common decency that says that this is the right place for an asylum claim to be considered if the applicant has a family connection here or if it is in the best interests of a child. As Lord Dubs said in the other place, this is not about the UK taking responsibility for all unaccompanied children; it is about taking our fair share of responsibility.
The Dublin system is far from perfect, but so many families have benefited from it, and indeed the UK has benefited from the system as well through the contribution that those asylum seekers and refugees have made. Alternative options in immigration rules, such as the exception route, are way too limited in scope and just will not do as an alternative. Whatever is or is not happening with negotiations, these people should not be the victims or the latest bargaining chips.
Lords amendment 3 would benefit another vulnerable group—children in care and care leavers—by fast-tracking their access to the settled status scheme. It would allow all children in those groups to proceed to fully settled status, rather than creating another cliff edge for a later date with pre-settled status. The Government have themselves acknowledged—the Minister acknowledged it today—that fewer than half of eligible children in those categories have applied to the settlement scheme with just eight months left to go.
The new approach in the Lords amendment is a practical, reasonable and now, I would say, urgent compromise, after Government arguments against an earlier iteration of the amendment that referred to deemed leave. It is just a practical way to assist the Government in achieving as broad a reach as possible for the EU settlement scheme. Having said that, I echo what Lord Dubs said when moving the amendment, which was that local authorities and the Home Office must also make sure that children entitled to British citizenship have full access to that without unnecessary fees and barriers. Although welcome, it is not enough for the Government to state that late applications from these groups would be accepted; although that is better than not accepting such late applications, we should be doing everything possible to avoid any period of their being undocumented, and all the huge difficulties and stresses that that can entail. So we support this amendment, and my amendment (a) would simply increase its scope to include another group of care leavers under legislation in Scotland, something that the Scottish Government have written to the Minister about.
Lords amendment 9 relates to a group of people who could not be any more vulnerable: the victims of the awful crimes of modern slavery. I pay tribute to Lord McColl and various other members of the all-party group on human trafficking and modern slavery, including the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green, for their relentless pursuit of this issue. Our party will always support immigration leave being granted where that is required for such victims to put their lives back together, and that is exactly what Lord McColl’s amendment seeks to do. I agree with the observations of the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green—I was listening to the exchange between him and the Minister, and we will follow the progress in that regard—that we need to go further still. There are rights being lost for the victims of modern slavery from the European economic area, and we have not got ourselves into a place yet where those rights are being adequately replaced.
On the detention amendments, too many victims of modern slavery, far from being given a short grant of leave to remain to help rebuild their lives, end up instead in our hideous immigration detention estate, along with scores of others who should never be there. During the pandemic the numbers detained have dropped significantly and we should be aiming to keep numbers as low as possible. As the Minister said, detention should be a matter of last resort, and it should be for the absolute minimum period necessary, but the figures show that a majority of people detained are simply released again into the community. It is a badge of shame that the UK continues to be an outlier in failing to place any defined limit on detention. We are dealing with basic but fundamental principles: the right to liberty and the requirement for speedy judicial oversight of any deprivation of liberty.
Lords amendments 1 and 5 highlight the Government’s failure to listen to serious concerns. As we have heard, Lords amendment 1 flags up the huge danger that an end to free movement and the design of the future immigration system pose to the care sector. It is similar to an amendment tabled when this Bill was first in this place by my hon. Friend the Member for Argyll and Bute (Brendan O'Hara). It is totally wrong to talk of cheap labour undercutting the resident workforce here; we should be expressing our gratitude for the amazing work that EEA citizens are doing in our social care workforce. The danger to the care sector has been spelled out by the sector and by the Government’s own Migration Advisory Committee, not just last week but repeatedly. Yes, the long-term future of care will require greater investment and better pay, but the Government have shown no indication or inclination to suggest that they are going to fix that any time soon, never mind in the two and a half months between now and the end of free movement. So to take this step in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic is just jaw-droppingly reckless. As the MAC said, ending free movement will
“increase the pressure on the social care sector, something that would be particularly difficult to understand at a time when…care”
“central to the… pandemic frontline response.”
The Government are not listening to the MAC, but perhaps a review that would follow this amendment would force them to listen.
Finally, let me close by discussing Lords amendment 5 and paying tribute to those in the3million campaign group for their perseverance, even when it seems that the Government do not listen. Now their modest ask is that they are not used in the Home Office’s moves to go digital; they are simply asking that, like everybody else, they are provided with the physical means of proving their status here. The Minister referred to the example of Australia, but it spent five to 10 years trialling that system with a physical document as back-up. This is first about technology: the fact that someone’s legal status and rights can be verified only by a Home Office system, and all the risks inherent in that.
Absolutely, and it would be the perfect trial of the Home Office system; if it really works as the Home Office anticipates, there will not be a demand for it. If the Home Office has confidence in the system, it should have nothing to fear from this. It is about not just technology, but human nature. We know that discrimination is a feature of the hostile environment policy, as private citizens are forced by the Government to do checks. They face harsh penalties if they get those checks wrong, so they will, as a result, play it safe. The danger is that a property will be let to, and a job will be offered to, a person with a passport and a visa, instead of to a person with a piece of digital code, all other things being equal. The3million is simply asking to have the same reassurance that everybody else has access to, and we should provide that.
The amendments could have a transformative effect for many marginalised and vulnerable people. They would enhance family unity and provide additional reassurance for those most directly impacted by Brexit. They could be a small silver lining on what we regard as an awful Bill. We should stand by the House of Lords’ amendments.
I rise to speak to a number of amendments. I declare my interest as co-chair of the all-party group on human trafficking and modern slavery, which I chair with the noble Baroness Butler-Sloss from the other place.
I will not repeat what my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith) said, because I agree wholeheartedly with every word, but, if I may, I will add to his comments. Just today, the organisation ECPAT published a freedom of information request which found that just 28 children who were confirmed victims of trafficking were granted discretionary leave to remain in the UK between 2016 and 2019. I therefore say to the Minister that the statistics do not stack up with the words we are hearing from the Dispatch Box. I know he is a good man and he wants to do the right thing, but we need to deliver as a Government so that the statistics back up what is being said.
The key point here is that we want to see prosecutions. We will not break the cycle of this horrendous crime if we do not bring the perpetrators to justice. That means having victims here in the United Kingdom who are able to testify, able to give evidence and able to bring the perpetrators to justice. It is incredibly important that the Government bear that in mind, because, as with all hidden crimes, without support given to the victims, who are the most vulnerable people imaginable and who have been through the most hideous experiences, we will never break the cycle and bring the perpetrators to justice.
I urge the Minister not just to support what my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green said about support for victims, but to implement all measures from the Modern Slavery Act 2015. That was an excellent, groundbreaking and world-leading Act—we are using lots of clichés—but so much of it has not yet been implemented. If it was implemented fully, we would see so much more success with prosecutions, which is what we all want.
I will speak very briefly on Lords amendment 3. I urge the Government to deliver on this matter. Communication is absolutely key. We need to ensure that people who are entitled to claim settled status know about it. The international reputation of the United Kingdom is at risk here. Getting this wrong will not enhance the view of us by others in the world. We need to make sure that we get it right.
I want to focus the majority of my time on Lords amendment 4. I thank all Ministers for their engagement over the weekend. I spoke to Minister on the Front Bench—the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster)—and to other Ministers in the Home Office. I know there is concern to make sure we get this right, but again it goes back to the point that we must help the victims, because we can never break the cycle of crime that is getting people to the point where they are in Calais, Dunkirk and Zeebrugge unless we can help the victims.
I gently say to the Minister—he is not guilty of this, but I gently say it to all Ministers—that we must not think of victims as good victims or bad victims. When a constituent who has been the victim of a fraud or other crime comes to our surgery, we might well think to ourselves, “Well, buyer beware, and you should have realised when this too-good-to-be-true offer was put in front of you. Maybe you should not have accepted it or given your bank details,” or whatever else it might be. However, we do not judge. We do not say, “We are not going to take your case, because you’re a bad victim who brought it on yourself.” Instead, we say to our constituents, “Of course we will take your case to Parliament. Of course we will raise it with Ministers. Of course we will take it to the highest authorities.” The same applies to the victims of traffickers. If somebody has been trafficked to Calais, Zeebrugge or Dunkirk, it is because they believe there is a chance of a better life. Whether they are educated and should have known better or whether they are very vulnerable victims, they are still entitled to be listened to and heard. It is clear from so many hidden crimes that until victims are believed and listened to, we cannot break the cycle.
It is absolutely vital that we have a safe and legal passage available, and we do not have that at the moment. When we are out of Dublin III, what will the safe and legal passage be? We need to make sure that there is one. Just last week, the APPG took evidence on the role that traffickers play in the migrant crisis in the channel ports. It is clear that the organisations that operate on the ground have had the most success when there is a scheme to which they can direct people. The reality is that very few end up using the scheme, but they come forward to authority—they come and trust authority—and these are people who have been abused by authority. So if we want to stop the small boats and if we want to stop migrants being under the wheel arches of vehicles—if we want to deal with this—we need to do so by making sure that there is a safe and legal passage.
To quote Bishop Desmond Tutu:
“There comes a point where we need to stop just pulling people out of the river. We need to go upstream and find out why they’re falling in.”
I urge the Minister to work with the Home Office and the newly created Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office to make sure that upstream, we are dealing in source countries with how we stop people falling into the river, because we cannot deal with that problem just in the channel.
I am very pleased to follow the right hon. Member for Staffordshire Moorlands (Karen Bradley), and I agree with the points that she made.
Last month, the Home Office published its comprehensive improvement plan in response to the Windrush scandal, with a big focus on listening to what outside organisations say, presumably with the intention of taking some notice of it. Simply ignoring the concerns that people have raised and ploughing on regardless is the reason why we ended up with the Windrush scandal in the first place.
In her foreword to the comprehensive improvement plan, the Home Secretary said:
“Today, the Home Office is already a very different place. We are listening to community leaders and organisations and urgent change is underway”.
I was hoping that that was not just hot air, but there is absolutely no hint of that change of heart in what the Minister has said to us this afternoon. He has rejected out of hand all the Lords amendments. He was speaking for the old Home Office, not the new Home Office that we have been promised in the comprehensive improvement plan.
I will focus my short remarks on one of the amendments in particular—Lords amendment 5—which was raised in the excellent opening remarks from my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Bambos Charalambous), as well as by the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Stuart C. McDonald), the SNP spokesperson, and it was supported in interventions by Members on both sides of the House. Support for the amendment has been underlined by a community organisation in my constituency. I will refer to that in a moment but I underline again that, as elsewhere in the Bill, community organisations, trade unions and businesses all agree. I quote in particular what the business group, London First, said about Lords amendment 5:
“With so much immigration control now being delegated to banks, landlords, and employers, the complicated system being proposed (involving websites, emails, passport numbers, passcodes, and security questions to prove one’s status) leaves everyone in an uncertain position. Legitimate migrants will struggle to prove their status and employers, service providers, and landlords will be reluctant to take part in, or to trust, such a convoluted procedure. A piece of physical proof that can be produced on demand would give everyone the certainty they need.”
London First is absolutely right. Why is the Minister, contrary to the assurance in the comprehensive improvement plan for the Home Office, not taking a blind bit of notice? This is purely about administrative convenience for the Home Office.
Support for Lords amendment 5 has been highlighted to me by the Roma Support Group, a long-established organisation doing excellent work in my constituency. The EU settlement scheme statistics show that Newham, the borough I represent, had a total of 91,000 applications submitted—the biggest number of any local authority—and within that, Romanians account for the biggest cohort, at about a third of the total.
The Roma Support Group pointed me to the European Commission’s digital economy and society index 2018 country report on Romania, which shows that by 2018 only 61% of Romanians were regular internet users—the EU average is 81%—and, looking at basic digital skills, the figure is 28% for Romanians compared with 57% for the EU average. The assessment of the Roma Support Group is that only 3% of its clients, and it has over 5,000 in my borough, are able to complete an online EU settlement scheme application independently, and it also estimates that only 20% of the families it deals with have an IT device, such as a tablet or laptop, available to them at home.
The Roma Support Group has told me about a Newham resident, Nicoleta, a single mother working in the hotel industry. She paid somebody to help her make the EU settlement scheme application in 2019. She did not know that free support was available. After she was granted status, the third party she had paid gave her a confirmation letter from the Home Office and told her that that paper would be the confirmation she needed. In July this year, she realised that the status she has is only digital and that she does not have the details needed to access her online account. She had to get somebody to call the Home Office and change the details on it.
Nicolaie works in the construction industry. In April this year, his work stopped due to the pandemic and he was told to make a universal credit application. He was asked to provide his EU settlement scheme details, for which he had applied with help from a local organisation, and he got into trouble as well because he could not access his digital status statement.
Of course, everybody can see the benefits of moving in the direction the Government want to, but the fact is there is a large number of people—thousands of people—who will not be able to make this work in the short term. I do say to the Minister that he should heed what he has signed up to in the comprehensive improvement plan, and accept Lords amendment 5.
It is a privilege to follow the right hon. Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms). I declare an interest as a barrister who has worked within the care system for many years.
I am delighted to be speaking in this debate at all, because it is further evidence of the fact that this House is making the necessary laws and arrangements for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union. The Government were elected on a mandate to deliver departure from the EU in clear terms, and reform of the present broken immigration system is very much part of that mandate. I receive many emails from my constituents in Derbyshire Dales who are pressing for such reform.
The primary purpose of this Bill is to end the free movement of persons in UK law, and to make EU citizens and their families subject to UK immigration controls. It is the Government’s clear intention that, at the end of the transition period, citizens of the EU and their families will require permission to enter and remain in the UK. For me, this is the logical result of our leaving the EU and becoming independent once more. I should mention that the Bill protects the immigration status of Irish citizens once free movement ends. This is only proper, and it is enshrined in a long-standing Ireland Act 1949 and subsequent legislation.
As is often the case, the Lords amendments seek to water down or negate the purpose of this important and good piece of legislation. I am of the view that if the amendments are passed, I would be letting down my electorate in Derbyshire Dales. I therefore oppose the amendments and wholeheartedly support the Government this evening. It is time for a clear and logical reform of the present broken immigration system.
I would like to turn to the impact of ending free movement on the social care sector. Lords amendment 1 requires the Secretary of State to publish an independent assessment of the impact of ending free movement on the social care sector within six months. This is wholly unnecessary. The Government already work with Skills for Care, which carries out independent reporting, and rely on the information of the independent Migration Advisory Committee, which will be providing annual reports on our new immigration system will be working. I am of the view that immigration is not the solution to the challenges the care sector faces. The solution to those problems rests at home. The Government are investing vast amounts of money, including £1.5 billion more funding in adult and children’s social care, and have launched a national recruitment scheme in this sector, which I support. The covid-19 pandemic has shown us how important this sector is and how important it is to treasure, train and retain social care workers in this country.
No, I will not give way. Our focus needs to be investing in this country for more young people and older people to be retrained to work in this sector and to be valued with proper wages. We have a fantastic resource at home. In Derbyshire Dales, I have spoken to several care workers. They all work incredibly hard and we treasure them. For those reasons, I oppose Lords amendment 1.
Lords amendment 2 would amend clause 4 of the Bill. I cannot go into as much detail as I would like because of time constraints, but the change suggested would provide preferential family reunion rights under EU free movement law indefinitely. The people of this country did not vote to leave the EU to go on to grant such indefinite rights. It would provide an unfair situation for all other UK nationals who wish to live in the UK with family from outside the EU. The suggested creation of a lifetime right for one group of nationals over another—UK nationals living overseas who have families from other parts of the world—would be grossly unfair to our citizens. We are not leaving the EU and taking the EU’s broken immigration rules with us. European Union free movement simply needs to end.
Lords amendment 3 relates to children in care. The proposal is over emotive and simply not necessary. The Government are providing extensive support to local authorities, which have a legal responsibility already for applying on behalf of eligible children in care to get UK immigration status under the settlement scheme. In my practice at the Bar representing guardians, children, parents and local authorities, I witnessed such circumstances frequently. Furthermore, the Government have made it clear that they will accept late applications. The amendment is just political and wholly unnecessary.
I am not going to be able to spend much time talking about Dublin III, but it is worth remembering that this country is now a sovereign country and we can make our own laws. We have a strong record of supporting vulnerable children, refugees and asylum seekers, and we will do that. We have an admirable record internationally, and I do not accept the naysaying and doom that we hear from the Opposition. The fact is that we have an electoral mandate to fix the problems that exist in our broken electoral system, and I very much look forward to the great ideas of the Government for new legislation in that area next year. We will continue to provide a safe haven to those fleeing persecution and oppression and tyranny, but we will not allow organised criminals to continue to exploit people, and we will have to stop what is happening in bringing people who are exploited across the channel.
Briefly on Lords amendment 5, I say that we do not need to rely solely on written documents. Physical documents can get lost, stolen and are often tampered with. The online scheme is safer and more reliable. I therefore oppose the amendment. As I am running out of time, I cannot go into detail, save to say that a time limit is necessary to be able to control immigration, and any suggestion otherwise is fanciful. I have no hesitation in supporting the Government in opposing the amendments today.
Can I say to the Government that I am disappointed that they are resisting all of the amendments from the Lords? Clearly, immigration legislation is needed, and new immigration rules are needed in time for January when the transition ends, but the purpose of Lords amendments is to try to improve those rules and the legislation.
I would say to the hon. Member for Derbyshire Dales (Miss Dines) that that is what this debate is all about—for the UK to decide what principles it wants to embed in the immigration system for the future, and many of the Lords amendments are about establishing principles around compassion and drawing on the history the UK has long had of supporting refugees and also supporting the vulnerable.
It is disappointing that the Government are not responding to the mild request to have a social care impact assessment. It is only a limited request, but it is the right response to the Migration Advisory Committee’s recommendation that something needs to be done. It recommended a pay increase, which I would strongly like to see. In the absence of that, it said that social care should be added to the shortage occupation list to make sure that that vital service is not overstretched as we go through another difficult winter. The Government have provided no response to that at all.
Lords amendment 3 supports some of the most vulnerable EU citizens: children in our care system. Many of them may not even know that they are not British, but nobody has put in an application for them on their behalf. The Minister said that there are fewer than 4,000 children and 40% have applied. That means that 60% have not applied. We are talking about more than 2,000 children, which is not that many from the point of view of the Government’s system, but for every single one of those children, it could have a huge impact on their lives for many years to come if they find that, in fact, they do not have the entitlements in place.
The Minister said, “That’s okay, it’ll be fine. The Home Office will sort it in future.” Unfortunately, the legacy of the Windrush scandal proves that the Home Office has not historically been good at resolving such things many years in the future when policies have moved on and institutional memory has been lost. That is why I support the powerful words of my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms) on why we should have a physical document—to learn the lessons from the Windrush scandal and what went wrong there.
I particularly urge the Government to look again at Lords amendment 4, which was put forward by Lord Alf Dubs, who came here as a child refugee as part of the Kindertransport when the UK rightly did its bit to support children fleeing persecution. The children and teenagers whom we are talking about are those who have fled conflict or persecution, and who have family here who could look after them. Some are in camps in Greece and some are sleeping on the streets in France, but they should be in a safe home with relatives who can care for them.
Safe Passage, which the Government have rightly worked with to support child refugees in the past, has warned that 95% of the children and young people that it has supported through the Dublin route to rejoin family members would be unlikely to qualify under the system that the Government are now proposing to replace the Dublin arrangements. The immigration rules that the Minister wants to fall back on prevent a child or teenager joining an aunt, older brother or someone who could look after them when they have already been separated from their parents—from those whom they love. It is not just inhumane to deny that small number of children the chance to rejoin a family who can look after them; it is also counterproductive and dangerous, because it puts them at the mercy of being exploited by trafficking gangs and criminal gangs that can otherwise suck them into exploitation.
Safe Passage has already said that some of the young people it has been working with in Europe, to urge them to go to the legal system to apply for asylum in those countries and then, where necessary, apply to rejoin family in the UK, are instead starting to panic because they think the system is being changed and they are starting to abscond. That means that they are starting to be sucked into the arms of those smuggler gangs. We all know that those boats coming across the channel are really dangerous. We should be taking action to prevent those lives being put at risk. That includes making sure that where there are young people who have family to care for them, they can do so legally.
Finally, I support the words of the right hon. Members for Staffordshire Moorlands (Karen Bradley) and for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith), who talked about the importance of providing support for victims of trafficking and modern slavery. The Modern Slavery Act 2015 put forward by the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), when she was Home Secretary was immensely important, but it is not working in practice if some victims of trafficking and modern slavery simply do not get the support that they need. It is possible to have a new immigration system that provides support for the most vulnerable and those who are victims of slavery. The Government should do that.
It is a pleasure to follow the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper). Like others, I would like to thank all those in the other place for their time and their attention to the Bill. The amendments that they have sent to us are undoubtedly significant improvements and, like the right hon. Lady, I regret that all we have had from the Government is a de plano refusal of them. There are not even any amendments in lieu, which would have shown a level of engagement.
This is particularly true in relation to Lords amendment 1, an eminently modest proposal that has elicited the quite remarkable assertion that, somehow or another, the purpose of immigration is to keep wages and salaries low in the British care sector. I have to say that I struggle with that somewhat. I just do not buy the idea that, if we were to increase the level of pay in the care sector, we would see a flood of local labour going back into it. Notwithstanding that, it is quite remarkable to think that the Government would not want to have an impact assessment for an area of public policy with whose financing we have struggled for almost as long as I have been in this House. Indeed, I cannot remember a time, in any part of the United Kingdom, when we did not struggle with its finances.
I want to touch briefly on Lords amendment 5, which was promoted in the other place by my noble Friend Lord Oates. Various points on this were made exceptionally well by the right hon. Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms). The promise made by the Government at the election last year was that there would be some sort of evidence-based settlement scheme, but now we are told that it will be enough just to rely on a digital provision. I strongly suspect that, inside the National Audit Office, there are alarm bells and lights that flash every time a Minister stands at the Dispatch Box and says that there will be a digital solution to a problem. In my experience, any digital solution generally creates a new problem, especially for those who are older and those who are digitally excluded, for whom this is going to create a further and unnecessary level of exclusion.
I want to focus the bulk of my remarks this evening on Lords amendments 6 to 8 and 10, which were promoted in the other place by my noble Friend Baroness Hamwee. Subject to your agreement, Madam Deputy Speaker, I hope that we might test the opinion of the House in relation to these amendments later this evening. It is worthy of note that the United Kingdom is the only country in Europe that locks people up indefinitely for immigration purposes. Detaining people for months on end without giving them any idea of how long they will be there is clearly inhumane, but it is also expensive and unnecessary.
I have long since given up trying to plead with Home Office Ministers on the basis of humanity and compassion, but I would have hoped that a case based on economy and efficiency would find some favour. However, even that seems not to be the case. When I made an intervention on the Minister, he deftly ignored my point that £7 million was paid out last year and that there were 272 cases of wrongful detention. That is the scale of the crisis in this area. It really worries me that there is so little concern about the fact that no fewer than 272 people were detained wrongfully. That is wrong, it is inefficient and it is expensive. Surely for those reasons at least, the Government should be looking to find a better and more humane basis for doing this.
That is indeed the case. However, the rhetoric and the reality do not always provide a perfect match in this regard. But in fairness, and at the risk of playing with semantics, it would not be that difficult to achieve a more compassionate system because we are currently starting from an exceptionally low base. At the end of June this year, even in the midst of the pandemic, there were 40 people who had been in detention for over a year and four people who had been in detention for more than two years. This has particular importance when one considers the other areas that we have discussed, such as the right to family reunion for child refugees. To pick up the point from the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith) in relation to amendment 9, I endorse his views on human trafficking. The problem in all these cases is that we do not get upstream because we do not get the necessary co-operation from the victims themselves. If the focus in our system was on catching those who are responsible for the trafficking, and not those who are the victims of it, we would be in a much stronger position. The issue of unlimited detention goes right to the heart of that. It is about which end of the telescope we see the problem through.
The amendments that are before the House this evening are all significant improvements. I hope that the Government, on reflection, will find a way to engage with this in a more constructive and compassionate way.
It is difficult, in six minutes, to do justice to such an important piece of legislation, with such a diverse set of amendments. I want to speak primarily to Lords amendment 3—the old new clause 2 that I proposed on Report—and Lords amendment 4, which is the old new clause 29 on the Dublin replacement. However, I also support Lords amendment 6, previously proposed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis), and Lords amendment 9, which my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith) spoke so eloquently about.
On Lords amendment 3, we had previous arguments about lots of children in care going under the radar. There are now just eight months to go until the end of the EU settlement scheme. The Home Office originally told us that it estimated that there were some 9,000 EU children in care and care leavers in this country, but now, after a survey completed by 90% of local authorities, it suggests that the figure is under 4,000. Why the drop? At a similar time, it estimated that the number of EU adults who would register to qualify for the EU settlement scheme would be 3 million, but it has turned out to be over 4 million. Why does the number for children in care go down and yet the number for adults has gone up?
These children are of course already in this country. Not a single additional child will be brought into this country under this legislation. It is about regularising status and giving those children safety and giving confirmation to children already in this country. That is why the amendment is still very important. We risk another Windrush scandal for a particularly vulnerable set of children growing up in care who inevitably have more chaotic lifestyles than most people.
Recent research by the charity Coram, “Children left out?”, highlighted the mixed practice among local authorities in identifying and supporting children in care through the EU settlement scheme, with fears that some authorities are making no attempt to identify children in their care who need to regularise their status. Of course, there is no incentive for authorities to regularise that status through citizenship when it costs £1,012, for every child, to do that.
My hon. Friend is drawing attention to a very important issue. Does he agree that the crucial point is that a local authority may have the statutory duty as the corporate parent, but if the child does not have documentary evidence proving their nationality—not their residence, which the local authority can prove easily, but their nationality—the local authority is unable to take forward the application at all? I hope the Minister will be able to address that issue when he responds to the debate.
That is absolutely right. It is very difficult to replace documents, and many people come here without any documents. We are relying on the timescales of high commissions and embassies in various EU countries, and it is not exactly a priority of social workers, who are snowed under with all the other safeguarding work they have to do.
This is a really important amendment. Interestingly, there was a judgment by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman against Liverpool Council. A care leaver complained that the council had failed to regularise his immigration status and failed to secure him British citizenship and a passport, which meant he could not travel or work. That complaint was upheld. The Government did not vote against the amendment in the Lords, so what has changed between then and tonight? This is a great opportunity for the Government to show why such a provision is necessary, without adding a single additional person to the immigration figures, if that is what they are actually worried about.
Given events of recent days and weeks, Lords amendment 4 on family reunion is more necessary than ever. It was strongly supported in the Lords, by 317 votes to 223. Many Members, including me, supported the same amendment in the Commons. We were told before that there was no need to put such amendments in Brexit legislation, as it would bind the hands of the negotiators. Then we were told in June that we could leave it to the negotiators and it would be part of negotiations, despite the fact that in May the Government produced a Command Paper which removed all the mandatory requirements on the Government to facilitate family reunions and will make a child’s right to join their relatives entirely discretionary. The text of the Command Paper intentionally avoids providing rights to children, has no appeal process and attempts to be beyond the reach of the UK courts.
As we have heard, before the mandatory Dublin III provisions were brought in, just 11 children per year came to this country under the scheme. Since 2016, the average number rescued—because that is what they are—has been over 500. It worked well, so we need a mandatory scheme, but there is no mandatory scheme up for negotiation. A new agreement with the EU to replace Dublin III is not under discussion in the negotiations and has not been for some time, as the EU has no mandate for member states—and of course, as of last week, there are no negotiations. We are at risk of leaving a large vacuum.
We need a scheme that is as good as Dublin III. The Minister says that we will use the UK scheme available for reuniting families from the rest of the world, but the UK scheme is restricted to unaccompanied children joining parents. If a child has fled Syria because their parents have been killed, they have no parents, so they would not qualify. A brother, sister or uncle who happens to be in the UK may be the only surviving relative of some of these kids. The UK scheme as it stands, without a replacement for Dublin III, would ignore all those children.
My right hon. Friend is right. I have met many of these children in camps in Calais, in Zaatari in Jordan and in some of the less well-run camps in Greece. These are real children, bereft of parents in many cases, with just a link in the UK. Without this amendment—without a replacement for Dublin III—those children have no obvious safe and legal route to get to the UK.
The Minister rightly says that we have been very generous in this country through various other schemes, and I agree. Some 7,400 family reunion visas were issued in the year to March, and there is also the vulnerable persons resettlement scheme and the hugely successful Dubs scheme, under which 480 children have come here. Like everybody, I pay tribute to Saint Alf Dubs for the fantastic work he does for this cause. It was a privilege to go to the United Nations and the Zaatari camp in Jordan with him. Of course, the Dubs scheme is full, and none of those other schemes is currently operating. From 1 January, there will be no effective mandatory family reunion scheme either, and there will be no safe and legal route for these children to come to the UK.
I am tough on the illegal migrant channel crossings. I think many of those people who can afford to pay people smugglers are effectively jumping the queue ahead of those who are in refugee camps, who are going through due process and who are abiding by the rules. If we are going to be tough—and, gosh, we need to be tougher on those routes, which line the pockets of people smugglers—we need to make sure we have alternative safe and legal routes for those genuine vulnerable refugees, particularly children, to whom we have a duty of care and can offer a safe haven in this country.
Of course, this has come at the worst time, as we heard from the Labour Front Bencher, after the fires in Lesbos at the beginning of September, in camps that were already five times over capacity, with over 13,000 people residing in a centre built for 2,757. There are now more than 1,600 unaccompanied children on the Greek islands, many whose basic needs are not being met, and many of these children have chronic illnesses. As of last week, there were more than 300 covid cases on Lesbos alone, with a hospital that has capacity for just 50 people. These are deeply vulnerable children, dangerously exposed to people traffickers and other exploitation.
Some 7% of these children are under the age of 14, yet we have no scheme to deal with them, despite having taken many reunification cases earlier in the year for such children. France has taken 350, Portugal 500, and Belgium, Croatia, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania and Slovenia are taking these children. What are we doing about it, Minister? The Government have said we do not have places for them, but more than 30 local authorities have identified 1,400 places if the Government will make the scheme work and will pay the cost of it.
We need a Dubs 2, and we need a family reunion scheme, regardless of Brexit. We need it. We have a great tradition of saving these children; if we do not have it in this Bill, come 1 January, we will have no safe and legal route for very, very vulnerable children.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton), who made a powerful contribution not only on amendments 3 and 6 but right the way through his comments. It is a testament to the House that almost every contribution thus far has been on the right track and has exuded the compassion that we want to show as a country, and none more so than that of the right hon. Member for Staffordshire Moorlands (Karen Bradley); I was greatly enthralled by what she had to say and agree with the sentiments she expressed.
On amendment 5, the Government have engaged financial privilege. They are asking this House to disagree on the grounds of the financial implications of the proof of status document and for no other reason: engaging financial privilege means that is the rationale for asking us to disagree to amendment 5. I ask the Minister to reflect on that in his comments. If the only issue is finance—if he recognises that a biometric residence permit, for example, is available for less than £20—I hope that, should there be a subsequent attempt in the other place to insert a similar amendment without proposed subsection (2), the Government will agree to it, because the argument is not only about digitalisation and the difficulties associated with online information, but about people’s sincere desire to hold a permit outlining their status. The Government should engage with this issue thoughtfully.
I have spoken on a number of occasions in this House on indefinite detention, and the Minister knows that I have quite a rigid position on the issue. I supported more keenly amendments that were previously before this House that at least gave the opportunity for an extension of an additional 28 days. I thought that gave Government more latitude in exceptional circumstances, but I still believe that indefinite detention is immoral and unjustified. I have not heard a justifiable rationale for it yet; it is unjustifiable.
We hear about the difficult and hard stories and we hear about the excessive cases. If someone breaks the law in this country, then we should arrest them and put them through due process. If somebody is going through an immigration application process, we should not put them in custody without any sense of how long the process will take. We should treat them as we would wish to be treated: humanly and humanely.
I will use the remainder of my speech to touch on amendment 9. I am pleased to speak in support of this amendment, which was supported in the other place through a powerful speech made by my colleague Lord Morrow, who as a private Member in the Northern Ireland Assembly brought through our seminal Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Criminal Justice and Support for Victims) Act (Northern Ireland) 2015. To those who talk about the United Kingdom Government bringing forward modern slavery legislation that is the best in the world, I say that it started in Northern Ireland. We are proud of that record. We are the first devolved Administration to bring forward such legislation, and we are proud of what was achieved.
I listened carefully to the opening remarks made by the Minister. I am grateful to him for a telephone conversation we had earlier today, and for the subsequent correspondence that he has shared. I think he knows from the tenor of contributions made by the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith) and others that there is still work to be done on amendment 9, and on changing the terms of the guidance available. I recognise the development that he has brought forward this afternoon, but I am still not sure from what we have heard that we should be convinced that that is a good enough reason for this House to agree with the Government and disagree with the Lords amendment.
The challenge is that any trafficked person from an EEA territory who arrives in the UK after 31 December will only have one long-term route to recovering discretionary leave to remain, whereas today, they have two. While the commitment to automatic consideration is progress, it does not change the fact that the then Government Minister spoke to the Select Committee on Work and Pensions in 2017 as part of that Committee’s inquiry on victims of modern slavery, and said that there must be
“exceptional or compelling reasons to justify a grant”
of discretionary leave to remain. One has to go through freedom of information requests—it should not be so difficult to get this information from the Home Office—to establish that 8% to 9% of applications from those certified as victims of modern slavery get discretionary leave to remain. That is far too low, and it is something that the Government need to consider. I fail to see why confirmed victims losing their right to recovery through treaty rights will be particularly reassured by the commitment that they will automatically be considered for something that, unlike recourse to public funds through their treaty rights, is only given in an exceptional situation.
The other difficulty with the idea that the introduction of automatic assessment for discretionary leave to remain is an effective replacement for recourse to public funds through treaty rights is that discretionary leave to remain is discretionary. It is not a right, but clause 12 makes it a right; Lords amendment 9 makes it a right. If a confirmed victim of modern slavery who is an EEA national meets the criteria in subsection (2), their access to leave to remain will no longer be discretionary, and that is what we should strive to achieve.
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate, and to follow the hon. Member for Belfast East (Gavin Robinson), who speaks with such compassion. As a child, I remember being told, “Virginia, life just isn’t fair”, but why can life not be fair? I believe in fairly rewarding people for the hard work they do. I believe in using our hard-earned taxpayers’ money fairly and responsibly to honour the effort that has been put into generating it, and I believe we must fairly give our gratitude to those who help others, such as Roy Fyles and the many hidden heroes who do so much for others in my constituency.
While we have been a member of the EU and have been abiding by the principle of free movement of people, we have been unable to make our immigration system fair, but that is now changing. As we near the end of the transition period, we are greeted with many new opportunities: from 1 January, we will give priority to those with the highest skills and the greatest talent—scientists, engineers, academics and other highly skilled workers—so that we are better equipped to deal with the challenges of the 21st century, whether those be the need for increased numbers of science, technology, engineering and mathematics professionals, or of doctors.
As the Member of Parliament for Ynys Môn, I receive many letters and emails from my constituents who simply cannot get an appointment with a doctor in Holyhead. These services are vital for their health and wellbeing. One of my constituents, Mr Barry Smith, wrote in desperation: “There are two GP surgeries in Holyhead, Longford and Cambria, who for some time have not had consistent or regular doctors. Is there anything you can do to bring forward a solution to the dire shortage of GPs in Holyhead?”
What is the solution? Keith Amos, head of service for managed practices, and his team at Betsi Cadwaladr have been working hard to ensure that my constituents can access the healthcare support that they need on the island, whether that is e-consultation, paramedics or occupational therapy, but there is an ongoing struggle to recruit GPs. Today, he told me: “In north Wales we are desperately short of GPs. The key is that we recruit doctors with the right qualifications.” However, a long-term solution is in sight. I am pleased to say that Bangor University’s new four-year graduate entry medical degree with Cardiff University is unique, and the pro vice-chancellor for learning and teaching said that she is delighted to be working with Cardiff on that step change. But what about the here and now? How can I help my Ynys Môn constituents get access to a GP?
Let me conclude by saying that we have one of the best healthcare systems in the world, and I pay tribute to everyone in it. The Bill will give us flexibility to recruit medical professionals from abroad and in specific areas.
It is a privilege to follow the hon. Member for Ynys Môn (Virginia Crosbie), who speaks with expertise and passion about healthcare in her constituency. It is a privilege, too, to speak to Lords amendment 1, which would require an independent assessment of the impact of ending free movement on the social care sector.
It was not so long ago that everyone in this House hailed our key workers as heroes and we stood on our doorsteps and clapped for our carers. It is care workers, cleaners, cooks and delivery drivers who keep this country running, but they are also the people this Bill would keep out of the country. One in five health and social care workers was born outside the UK. When I was a care worker, I worked alongside talented and dedicated carers from Zambia, Spain, Italy; we worked long hours to look after elderly people, yet the Government have the cheek to call them low skilled and to say that they do not belong here.
When I went back to work during the pandemic, I had to retrain. My day would look like this: getting up at five; making notes during handover; administering medication; dealing with someone who had had a fall; hoisting someone twice my size, and being alert at all times to small changes that might indicate a serious medical problem. I would try my best to brighten someone’s day and make them feel valued, knowing that I would probably be the only person they saw that day, all while meticulously recording everything that happened on every call.
Our key workers are not low skilled; they are underpaid. They should be rewarded with a pay rise, not threatened with deportation. The purpose of the Bill is to close our borders with Europe. Those who make over £25,600 a year will be allowed in, and those who are paid less will be kept out. That is what a points-based system looks like. It is free movement for those who can afford it and a hostile environment for everyone else.
This Bill will not solve the problems my community faces. It is not foreigners taking away jobs; it is this Government refusing to extend the furlough scheme. It is not migrants running the NHS into the ground; they are keeping it going. If the Minister is so committed to increasing wages, I urge him to listen to the Migration Advisory Committee and increase the wages of care workers to at least £10 an hour. Whether you are a retired miner from Mansfield, a Deliveroo rider in Nottingham or a Bulgarian mum who cleans this very building, we have more in common with one another than we ever will with those who try to divide us. We all want to protect our families. We all want to contribute to our communities. We all know what it is like to have no power, and we all know that it is Ministers who are making people powerless.
We have an enormous privilege as Members of this House, but being paid £80k a year does not make our lives worth any more than those of people being paid £8.72 an hour. We have a responsibility to vote for these amendments and to treat people—our neighbours, our friends, our co-workers—who were born on a different soil in the way that we would want to be treated ourselves and the way that we would want our families to be treated.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Nottingham East (Nadia Whittome), who spoke so eloquently about the impact of Lords amendment 1 and the importance of wages for people who do some of the most important work in our country.
I will speak to Lords amendment 6, which would place a time limit on immigration detention and was moved so well by the noble Baroness Hamwee in the other place. Immigration detention is the ghastliest aspect of the failed immigration system we inherited from the last Labour Government. However, we can no longer apportion the blame to them, because it was so very long ago.
This amendment provides an opportunity for the Government to start to modify the worst aspect of immigration detention, which is that we never tell people when they will come out. That is the most atrocious thing to do to anyone. Those of us who have been through the national lockdown or quarantine know how psychologically debilitating it can be. Imagine being in that position and never knowing when you will come out.
This is an opportunity to make change. This is an amendment that the Government could have adopted. It is an amendment that screams, “We can do better. Please accept this.” The Minister said in his opening remarks that 28 days was a very short limit. Of course, the Government had the opportunity to put in their own limit, if they had wished to. They did not do that. It is another indication of the lost opportunity we see with this amendment today.
Unfortunately I do not compliment the Minister on this too often, but I was very pleased that he did not use the usual Home Office trope that putting a time limit on immigration detention would let out the rapists, the murderers and all the other people they like to scare others about. As he well knows, that argument does not hold water. There were 24,500 or so people in detention in 2019, of whom 26% were detained for more than 28 days. That is 6,373 people—a vast number—who were detained for over 28 days. That has nothing to do with failures in the criminal justice system in processing people’s immigration claims while they are in prison.
As the Minister indicated in his speech and as others have said, we are looking towards a new system that promises to speed up application processes and make our asylum system more effective. I say gently to him that the Government cannot speed up a broken immigration system without causing more harm. It is better first to recognise the failures in the system we have before seeking to speed the process up, thinking that that will somehow provide a solution.
It is for that reason that I am so disappointed the Government have not taken this opportunity to put in a time limit or to say, “We understand the psychological problems that come when we detain someone without telling them they can leave.” As the Government come forward with the new system, I want them to say, “When someone comes here to claim asylum, we will provide them with access to the best psychological resources, so that we can understand what underpins why they have sought asylum.” I want people to have the best access to legal aid and legal rights so that their claim can be made with the greatest precision and so that honourable claims for asylum have the best chance of being heard and recognised.
Like other hon. Members, I rise to speak to Lords amendments 4 and 5. Lords amendment 5 would ensure that EU citizens received physical proof of settled status if they request it.
The Government have responded to calls for physical proof by saying that digital status
“cannot be lost, stolen, damaged or tampered with.”
What a great argument. Why don’t we move to digital passports next? For EU citizens living in the UK, their settled status certification could soon have similar importance to a passport. Also, the Government’s response is simply not true. Digital data is regularly lost and stolen. It is also not true that digital data cannot be damaged or tampered with. The3million has heard of just that from an EU citizen—the photograph of her digital status has been swapped with another, without her knowledge or consent.
Some 22% of people do not have the essential digital skills for day-to-day life in the UK. Those who struggle with digital skills will not be able to access their status when they need it without further help. It will mean widespread discrimination in a number of areas from finding employment or a place to live to opening a bank account. A survey from the Residential Landlords Association found that 20% of landlords are less likely to consider renting to EU or EEA nationals simply because it is becoming very complicated. Is it any wonder that the lack of physical documentation is causing real anxiety? Digital simply does not work. Lack of physical documentation will have very real consequences for EU citizens living in the UK. Amendment 5 simply ensures that EU citizens have the same quality of life, housing and employment. The callous disregard of this Government for people and their rights because we have left the EU has been sickening, and I simply do not believe that that is what the British people voted for.
I urge Members to protect children and families by supporting amendment 4. I simply cannot understand the cruelty that has driven this Government to decide not to guarantee family reunion. What has become of this once tolerant nation whose rules were based on a humane response to tragedy and hardship? All too often, it is now children who lose their lives in the dangerous attempts to be reunited with a family member. Those children are already traumatised by conflict, loss of family members, destitution and fear for their lives. Families must be together, and the UK should guarantee that. Removing safe and legal routes to the UK is cruel and counterproductive. Again, this is such a shame given that we once had a humane and compassionate response to people in hardship. It simply increases the risk of dangerous journeys and exploitation by criminal gangs and we have already heard much about that this evening.
Research from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees shows that children are especially likely to resort to people smuggling when access to family reunion is delayed or at risk. What is more, our communities are ready to support unaccompanied children, to give them a home and a chance to rebuild their lives. Councils have pledged 1,400 places for unaccompanied child refugees in Europe if only the Government would provide them with a legal route. It is inexplicable that this Government are not prepared to support the efforts of councils and local people whose hearts are simply in the right place. We have a choice about the sort of country that we want to be: do we callously turn our backs on those most in need, or do we uphold the values of compassion and humanity? I have not given up on urging the Government to listen to compassion and humanity. I urge the Government and Members across the House to please do the right thing.
I welcome this Bill, which ends free movement, takes back control of our borders, delivers on people’s priorities and paves the way for a modern, fairer, points-based immigration system that will welcome skilled workers from across the world to contribute to the United Kingdom’s economy, communities and public services.
I want to consider the amendment that proposes that children of EEA and Swiss nationals who are in care or entitled to care leavers’ support are granted automatic indefinite leave to remain under the EU settlement scheme. The Government have legislated through the EU withdrawal agreement Act to protect the residence rights of EEA and Swiss citizens and their family members who are in the UK by the end of the transition period. In addition, the Government fully opened the EU settlement scheme to such citizens and their family members in March last year.
The concern is that if eligible children are not identified and supported into the scheme, they will be at risk of being left here unlawfully through no fault of their own. This amendment would give EEA and Swiss children who are currently in the UK a default safety net to qualify under the EU settlement scheme if it were later found out that the necessary paperwork had not been lodged at the appropriate time by either a social worker or a local authority. No matter the circumstances in which these children find themselves here, they are innocent and, on the face of it, this amendment would be a sensible and humane measure to take. We cannot have another Windrush-type situation where children who have been legally in the UK for most of their lives apply later for a job or for accommodation as adults, only to find that there is no trace of them through no fault of their own.
It is of concern that looked-after children and care leavers who currently call the UK home are at risk of being left undocumented if they do not receive settled status through the EU settlement scheme. The Government have acknowledged that just 40% of identified looked-after children and care leavers have had applications made on their behalf some 18 months since the launch of the EU settlement scheme, which is extremely worrying. However, the Government have confirmed that they have focused on working closely with local authorities to ensure that vulnerable groups get UK immigration status under the scheme. I urge them to continue to support local authorities in those endeavours.
The Government issued guidance this year regarding children in care and care leavers. They have emphasised their commitment to provide protection for all vulnerable children. I have been reassured that Ministers have been clear from the start that, under the EU settlement scheme, where an eligible person has missed the deadline, the Home Office will accept late applications where there are reasonable grounds for doing so. Therefore, under the EU settlement scheme, if a child in care or care leaver misses the deadline, they will still be able to obtain lawful status in the UK.
The Home Office has said that late application cases will be considered on their individual merits, that it will take a pragmatic approach and that guidance for case- workers will be published to ensure that cases are considered consistently. The situation might be in the forefront of our minds now, and those of Home Office caseworkers, but might not be in 10 years’ time, so I urge the Home Office to ensure that the guidance actually details that, in the case of looked-after children and care leavers, if the necessary EU settlement scheme paperwork has not been lodged at the appropriate time by a social worker or local authority, those are reasonable grounds and, as such, the late application will be accepted.
I am honoured to speak in this important debate in support of the Lords amendments, particularly Lords amendments 4 and 5, which are reasonable amendments that were supported by great majorities in the Lords. Amendment 5 provides an option of providing physical proof of immigration status under the EU settlement scheme to prevent disenfranchisement of EU citizens.
In Wandsworth, there are 41,000 EU nationals, which is 13% of my constituents, so this is a big issue for my constituents in Putney. Two of those constituents, who have lived in the UK for 30 years, are French citizens and classical musicians with settled status in this country. They have written to me and said: “We are very concerned by the fact that we have no physical way of proving our status when we come back from holidays or trips abroad, and we are afraid that at any moment a similar situation to the Windrush population might happen to Europeans who’ve settled in this country.”
Moreover, Citizens Advice Wandsworth workers who support EU citizens are concerned about that aspect of the Bill. Access to proof of settled status requires digital skills, access to the internet and a suitable device. Time and again, they have seen that vulnerable people find it difficult or impossible to view or prove their status. That means that they are unable to prove their rights in the UK when they are seeking job opportunities, finding a place to live or even getting treatment in hospital. They find that they are discriminated against in those circumstances because they cannot have the physical documentation that they need to prove their status. That cannot be right.
Lords amendment 4 allows unaccompanied children and vulnerable adults to claim asylum in the care and context of their family, which will prevent dangerous journeys from being taken to join them. I have been to the camps in Calais—they were not really camps; they were a lot of bushes in an area near Calais—and I have seen the traffickers circling the area. I know that if any of my children were in that camp and their siblings were just across the channel waiting and able to protect them, I would do everything I could to reunite my family members. To narrow it down to just parents is not fair when many have lost their parents—that is why they fled their country and why we can rescue those children and show compassion.
On 20 December last year, the Prime Minister stood at the Dispatch Box and stated that the Government were “absolutely committed” to continuing family reunion. A Home Office statement on 15 January used exactly the same language, saying it was
“absolutely committed to the family reunion of refugee families”.
There has been commitment after commitment to family reunion, yet it is not in a good enough state in the Bill. That will leave children such as Lili, who fled Eritrea and was found by Safe Passage on the streets of Rome, in a highly vulnerable situation, instead of being reunited with her brother as she was. She wants to be a computer engineer. That is compassion—to allow those children to be here.
To conclude, unless we act tonight, 2021 will be the year in which child refugees in Europe lose the only safe legal route to sanctuary in the UK. Voting against this amendment would be quite wrong. I urge Members on both sides of the House—we have heard good arguments from Members on both sides for this—to think of children such as Lili, do the right thing and vote for Lords amendment 4. It is time to show our British values of compassion and justice, and to deliver for refugee children.
I have been pleased to support this Bill throughout its passage, particularly for its two primary aims of ending free movement of labour and introducing a points-based system. I wish to focus mostly on Lords amendment 1 and social care. As has been discussed, the amendment would require the Government to publish a report on the impact of ending free movement of labour on the social care sector. I spoke on Second Reading and served on the Bill Committee, and at every stage of my involvement in this Bill I have heard Opposition Member after Opposition Member try to claim that in some way the only way to fix labour shortages in the UK is by immigration. I simply do not agree with that analysis. In the Committee stage, we heard from Brian Bell, the MAC’s interim chair, that only 5% of social care workers come from EU migration. In constituencies such as mine, unemployment is standing at 10.5%. Are the Opposition genuinely trying to say that these jobs in the social care sector are not ones that more than 6,000 people in my constituency can have and that they are out of reach for my constituents? I do not agree.
Immigration plays a very important role in managing labour markets, but it does not solve all the problems all the time. The Government are tackling this issue of social care head on; we have seen the investment of £1.5 billion in adult and children’s social care, along with a national recruitment campaign for the sector. I absolutely support those two things. The Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), made a fair point about the MAC suggestion about pay. Every Conservative Member stood on a manifesto that pledged to look at social care and, importantly, at a way of redesigning it so that it is fairer for those who are cared for, their families and carers too. That is very important, and it is incumbent on all of us that we come to some kind of consensus across this House on that system. In the same way as we see a consensus on the NHS, we need to come to one on social care.
On the NHS, there will be times, including now, when there are gaps in the labour market, which is why I am pleased that the Bill contains provision for the health and care visa, which will be available for people to use to come to this country to work in the NHS. That is very important.
I conclude by saying that I am happy to support this Bill and will be voting to reject the Lords amendments, because I will be fulfilling my promise to my constituents to end free movement of labour, to introduce a points-based system and to deliver on a firm but fairer immigration system for this country.
This is a thoroughly depressing Bill, one that is entirely political and deeply impractical. That is the kind of Bill, or Act, as it will become, that does not stand the test of time. That we are celebrating the loss of the freedom of British people and thinking it is a good thing would be comical if it were not so tragic, confident though I am that this will not last.
Let us look at some of the details. The Lords amendments are entirely practical and reasonable. Indeed the Minister himself has accepted that, in principle at least, some of them fit that description. I want to focus on Lords amendments 4 and 5. Lords amendment 4 would of course provide the opportunity for family reunion—a safe and legal route. The Home Secretary herself, at the Conservative party conference just a few weeks ago, talked about the importance of safe and legal routes, but of course we are sleepwalking out of one of the safe and legal routes we currently have, the Dublin settlement, with no sign of any kind of meaningful replacement to take its place. If we are—and I am sure all of us here are—outraged and filled with compassion and horror at what we have seen in recent times as people have made the death-defying journey across the channel in rickety boats, taking desperate risks because they are desperate people, the answer is most certainly to provide safe and legal routes. Lords amendment 4 gives the Government the opportunity to have a safe and legal route, and to reject it is music to the ears of the human traffickers. I do not yet understand why the Government seek to turn down such a route via either compassion or practical application.
On amendment 5, it seems an absolute no-brainer that EU citizens with settled status granted to them by this Government should have physical proof of that status. I have had a number of my constituents in touch with me recently who are deeply concerned about the lack of physical documentation. I talked to a person working for a local school and people working in hospitality in Windermere and in Kendal who are concerned about the lengthy multi-step process involving passport, date of birth and a unique one-off code sent to their phone, their employer’s email addresses, business details and both accessing the Government’s website separately. Members have already spoken of the occasional tendency for Government IT schemes not to work completely perfectly. Like other issues that we are talking about tonight, this has huge resonance with the appalling Windrush scandal. While there may be some debate as to which Government bears responsibility for the heartbreak of the Windrush scandal, there will be absolutely no doubt whatever who is to blame for this one. They saw it coming and they voted for it.
Comments were made earlier about the minimum income salary threshold. The Lake district hospitality industry is possibly the most hard-hit part of the UK economy as a result of the coronavirus. May I point out also that 20,000 people working in that industry are from outside the UK, and if we say to 90% of them, “You are not welcome here unless you’re earning a figure that your employers cannot afford to pay”, that would deal an appalling hand to, and damage massively, an industry that is struggling to cope with the covid crisis? It is time for politics that is more practical and less political.
It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron), and although we will not agree on much, I am sure we both agree that immigration has often brought many delights to this country. In fact, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman knows, my grandparents on my mother’s side—Paul Kreciglowa and his wife Lilly —were refugees in the second world war. My grandfather was in a gulag in Siberia and managed to get out by fighting against Nazi Germany. My mother was born in a displaced persons camp, and they settled here. It has brought many delights to my family, so it is a cause that is very close to my heart. Nevertheless, we have to have a sensible immigration policy that we have control over and in which we actually have the right to say who we want and who we do not want in this country. I fear that the Lords amendments would undermine our ability to take back control of our lives.
Many people in Rother Valley voted to leave the European Union because they wanted control over their lives, and they wanted control of many issues, including immigration. This Bill, unamended, does take control back of our immigration system. Unfortunately, if we were to accept these Lords amendments we would undermine what I think is a key aspect of this Bill, and that is fairness. To me, fairness is one of the most important things in life, and fairness is one of the most important things to residents of Rother Valley. These amendments undermine fairness and I will highlight that in the short time I have available.
For instance, Lords amendment 2 seeks to ensure that UK nationals in the EEA or Switzerland have lifetime rights to bring their close family members to the UK on EU free movement terms, instead of under the UK’s family immigration rules. To me and to many residents in Rother Valley and across the House, this is desperately unfair. The purpose of the immigration Bill is to guarantee that EU and non-EU citizens will be dealt with equally for the purposes of immigration. My grandparents, despite coming from eastern Europe, were not members of the European Union, but they were treated fairly and they could settle here, and they could raise my mother and she could raise me. We did not need the EU to do that—they were treated fairly. EU freedom of movement will no longer apply, so why would we continue to favour EU citizens under the old European rules? This is biased. This is against fairness. It makes no sense. This Lords amendment seeks to create a perpetual right for EU citizens over and above everyone else, which is exactly what we voted to end.
The Government seek to build a new immigration system based on fairness. Fairness is treating all people the same, regardless of nationality. Fairness is giving people the right to migrate to Britain based on their merit rather than the colour of their passport. Fairness is allowing the people of Britain to choose who we need to strengthen our society and our economy, rather than being forced to take anybody and everybody. Fairness is giving EU citizens in the UK the right to apply for settled status and giving UK nationals until March 2022 to bring family members to the UK. The immigration Bill does all these things. This is fairness. Lords amendment 2, however, is simply not fair and it is not right. How can this House condone a biased system? We want a system of equality and a system of fairness, and this amendment undermines that completely.
Fairness does matter to the people of Rother Valley and EU freedom of movement was never fair, being blatantly discriminatory towards non-EU countries in favour of countries that are largely white and highly developed. That is not what the Opposition will tell us. We have much more in common with our friends in the Commonwealth than with many people in the European Union, but this Bill makes it fair for everyone with the right skills to come and settle in our country. That is why the Bill, unamended, is right.
Much has happened since the last time we debated the Bill in this House. We saw the worst of the pandemic, and we saw the ill-conceived words spoken in this House about who was low-skilled completely disproven, as those same people were our key workers who continue to see us through these tumultuous times. It was refreshing to see some of the regular scare stories about migrants displaced by splashes about migrant key workers. This Bill and the Government’s points-based system, which is not legislated for in the Bill, does not recognise that.
The Institute for Public Policy Research shows that the income threshold would mean that 69% of EU nationals currently here would not even be eligible to enter the country under these new rules. The trade union, Unison, has explained that there will be 122,000 shortages in social care, with projections from think tanks explaining that that could be up to 250,000 by 2030. This does not even help our workforce, our skills shortage or our economy, so what logical reason could there be not to have an impact assessment, as suggested in Lords amendment 1, unless it is a purely ideological one?
I will take some time to debunk some myths about refugees. Refugees are not obligated to claim asylum in the first safe country that they land in, and we are not overrun with refugees. In fact, we are below the European average for asylum applications, with countries such as Germany, France, Spain and Greece all seeing between two and four times as many as the UK, and 85% of all refugees live in developing countries. Our country has a proud tradition of accepting refugees, most notably the Kindertransport children, such as Lord Dubs, and I fully support Lords amendment 4 to continue arrangements to maintain unaccompanied child refugees and family reunion.
As the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) rightly said, without this amendment, there will be no safe and legal routes for vulnerable people. The idea that we would just turn away the most vulnerable is a disgrace, but so is a lot of this Government’s legislation of late. As the great Tony Benn once said,
“The way a government treats refugees is very instructive because it shows you how they would treat the rest of us if they thought they could get away with it.”
The Government have to understand why, following the ongoing Windrush scandal, EU nationals will not be content without physical proof of their status, for which Lords amendment 5 rightfully makes provision. I have said it before, and I will say it again: this is the second time in a decade that a Conservative Government have retrospectively changed the rights of migrants after they have settled in this country. Why should any migrant feel secure?
On the 28-day limit to immigration detention, the Minister has said again and again that there is no indefinite detention, so I would like to know, what is the current limit? I am heartened by the cross-party support that Lords amendment 6 has received and by the release of a number of immigration detainees during the pandemic, but recent outbreaks in Dungavel and Brook House have caused a lot of concern. We have already heard about how much is paid out in claims of false detention. Nearly 70% of those in immigration detention are eventually released and allowed to remain in the UK. Private companies such as Serco and G4S are paid by the Government to hold them. It has to end.
I am proud that the Labour party has consistently and unequivocally stood up to this reactionary Bill since its inception and all its iterations. Our hon. Friends in the other place have done a sterling job in amending some of the most reactionary parts of the Bill, and I support every single one of their amendments. They have tabled these amendments with consideration and compassion to a piece of legislation that so fundamentally impacts the lives of others. It is a disgrace that the Government intend to vote these amendments down, and I wholeheartedly believe that they will sincerely regret this decision.
It is a pleasure to follow my namesake, the hon. Member for Streatham (Bell Ribeiro-Addy). This Bill is about ending free movement. It is not the place for broader changes to immigration policy in the areas of detention, asylum and care. As ever, the amendments made in the other place are a mixture of the well-meaning but unnecessary and those that seek to undercut this Government’s manifesto commitments. I urge noble Members to reflect on the fact that we have won a majority for these measures. Those of us on the leave side also won the referendum, and continually trying to frustrate what we have repeatedly put to the British people is not a good way for the other place to proceed.
In the brief time I have, I would like to speak about Lords amendments 1 and 2. As the Migration Advisory Committee and the Minister have said, immigration is not the solution to the challenges of the social care system. It depresses wages, and bowing to pressure to exempt it from these rules, in the hope of increasing pay, makes no sense. I was struck by the eloquent speech from the hon. Member for Nottingham East (Nadia Whittome) about her experience in the care sector, and I pay tribute to her work in the sector before and during the pandemic. But our desire to change the immigration system in the future is not to denigrate those who have come here already and served this country so well, particularly during the pandemic. It cannot be the case that we cannot choose to change our system because we believe that that is somehow offensive to people who are already here. We are not proposing to throw people out who are here legally. We are saying that we choose a different future—a future that the British people chose when they chose to leave the European Union and end free movement.
I turn to Lords amendment 2. Under the terms of the withdrawal agreement, EU citizens who settled here before the end of the transition period can apply for settled status, so that the rights they currently enjoy are guaranteed. That is absolutely right. It was negotiated in good faith with the EU, and it applies both ways. But after the end of the transition period, it is right that EU and non-EU citizens should be treated in the same way. There should not be discrimination based on citizenship, and therefore EU citizens should meet the same requirements set out by our immigration rules— the points-based system that we will introduce—as non-EU citizens.
Lords amendment 2 would provide preferential family reunion rights under EU free movement law indefinitely. The result would be that family members of such UK nationals could forever bypass the immigration rules that would otherwise apply to family members of other UK nationals. It would be unfair to other UK nationals wishing to live in the UK with family members from other countries outside the EEA and Switzerland. The British people voted to ensure the creation of a new immigration system built on fairness, not on nationality. The creation of a lifetime right for one group of nationals would undoubtedly be unfair on other UK citizens living overseas who have family members from other parts of the world. When free movement ends, we should treat family members of all UK nationals living abroad equally. We have given a clear date of 29 March 2022 for people to bring close family members to the UK. That is fair. We are giving sufficient time for people to make changes if they wish to do so, but after that we will treat everybody the same.
I do not have time to go over the other Lords amendments, but by rejecting them we will pass the Bill as it was written. It a historic, important Bill. It is absolutely clear that delivering control of our borders, both in terms of the total numbers who come here and the skills that people bring with them, was what the British people—and my constituents in Newcastle-under-Lyme—voted for, and that is what the Bill will let us do. I am happy to vote to bring the Bill one step closer to law.
I am pleased to speak in support of the Lords amendments. I am proud to come from Liverpool, a city built on immigration from all corners of the world, which has contributed to the diversity and vibrancy of our culture and history and is what makes Liverpool great and the best city in the world. Liverpool is home to the longest-established black, Chinese, Yemeni and Somali communities, who have contributed massively to the development of our city. We have faced and continue to face discrimination and oppression, but despite that I am deeply proud that Liverpool is a city of sanctuary, welcoming people fleeing wars and oppression, with the devastation that that brings.
As a black woman, I am appalled by this Government’s treatment of asylum seekers, refugees and many migrants who seek to come here to contribute to our society. We witnessed the injustice of the Windrush generation, who came here after the war, at the invitation of the British Government, to help to rebuild the country. We took their service, their contributions and their taxes; then, towards the end of their lives, we took away their citizenship.
I know from first-hand experience the contribution that so many of our migrants—especially those in the care sector, in our NHS, in care homes and in the domiciliary care sector—have made to our society, but their reward is to be undervalued and poorly paid. The Home Secretary’s proposed immigration system does not even count workers in the social care sector as skilled. Care workers, who are low paid but in reality highly skilled, are an essential workforce for our most vulnerable residents, yet they do not even rate a mention in the Home Secretary’s plans. The average salary for a care worker is £19,104, meaning that they do not reach the £26,500 threshold that she proposes.
We currently have a national shortage of 100,000 care workers—or we did before covid—and projections show that that could double by 2030. We have a growing, ageing population, with many people with complex health needs, including dementia. We are going to need more care workers, not fewer, so why has social care been excluded from the shortage occupation list? Because this Government do not value them.
The pandemic has shown, like nothing else has or will, the crucial role that care workers play in keeping our elderly and vulnerable citizens safe and cared for. They put their lives on the line every day without sufficient safeguards, yet the IPPR found that 79% of the EEA employees working full time in the UK would be ineligible to work in the UK under the skills and salary threshold that the Government want to impose. As a former Liverpool City Council worker who worked in adult social care, I know only too well the crucial work that carers undertake, often without recognition, on low pay and with zero-hours and precarious contracts. I urge the Government to rework the shortage occupation list to include these jobs.
I want to live in a country that welcomes immigrants and the contribution that they make and that offers a refuge to those who need it. I support all the Lords amendments, but especially the call for an impact assessment for our care sector as a matter of urgency to provide the actual data on how the proposed legislation will affect the provision.
I am very conscious of time, so I am going to get stuck in straightaway.
I want to try to cover as many of the Lords amendments as I can, but I want to start by looking at social care. I represent an area where 16,000 people work in social care. I just want to pick up on one of the comments made by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Kim Johnson). She made a very eloquent speech, but I will say this. I care about my social care workers. I care about making sure they get the wages they deserve. I care about making sure they have the conditions they deserve. However, the amendment runs a real risk of tagging the social care debate—which we need to have, gloves off, because there are issues we need to discuss in an adult and appropriate way—into the migration debate. If we do that, we run the risk of pigeonholing it and not having the full broad-brush debate we need that covers everything from conditions to pay to the expectations we have of the sector.
Hon. and right hon. Members across the House have been absolutely right when they have said that during these times our social care workers have been heroes and it is about time we start giving them the respect they deserve—no more so than in my area of Sandwell, which has been one of the boroughs hardest hit by the pandemic. They have been on the frontline. I do not support the amendment because I think we run the risk of pigeonholing our social care workers in that way. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Gary Sambrook) is not in his place at the moment, but he raised the point that the Government have valued their commitment to social care. It was in the manifesto. We have seen the start of that through the £1.5 million promise, but, again, we need to keep having that debate.
On Lords amendment 2, look, my constituency voted 70% to leave the European Union. One reason it did so is that it wanted an immigration system that was a fair playing field. How is it fair when we create a two-tier immigration system that favours one group over another? That is my concern. Under the EU system, I could go to Paris and meet someone, have a family and bring everyone over, but if I met someone from outside the EU or the EEA, they would be under the points-based system. I do not understand how that can be perceived as fair.
I am really sorry, but I have not got the time. I am more than happy to pick up with the hon. Gentleman outside the Chamber if he wishes. [Laughter.] I am always open to a debate, Mr Deputy Speaker. I have been very open-minded in this place.
I am conscious of time, so I will turn to Lords amendment 5 on the IT system. It is important to have this discussion because one thing we have noticed during these times is the digital disconnect—the digital lockout. Hon. and right hon. Members on all sides of the House have pointed that out. I accept the arguments advanced by my hon. Friend the Minister on the merits of using a digital system, but we need to be really careful that we do not lock a generation out.
I know from my area that there are many people who do not have access to computers and digital. There is a reliance more widely across Government on digital—obviously, we are going into the future and it is going to be there—but we cannot lock people out. From discussions with the Minister, I am heartened by the way in which the Department is open to being agile in that space, but we need to be mindful that we cannot lock out a generation.
I want to wrap up my comments, because I am conscious I have only 30 seconds left, but I will just say this. I stood on a manifesto in my constituency to get Brexit done. I stood on a manifesto to bring in a fair immigration system that my constituents felt ultimately stuck by that principle of fair play. I believe the Bill, unamended, does that. However, there are operational points, which I am sure the Minister will pick up in his winding-up speech, that we need to address. If we do that, we can be absolutely sure that we refine this and make it work for that sense of fair play that my constituents voted for.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich West (Shaun Bailey), I am very much of the view that the Bill has the purpose of replacing the arrangements we had in the European Union. I will not be supporting the amendments this evening, because I feel very much that the issues highlighted are principally about matters of management and administration of the process, rather than operation of law. That said, I hope those on the Government Front Bench are paying close attention to what has been said across the House this evening about a number of particular points. The two I would especially like to draw attention to are: the circumstances of undocumented children in the care system, and the point about documentary evidence in the hands of those who are applying for settled status.
I thank my hon. Friend the Minister for his time and attention to the first issue relating to undocumented children. However, we heard Members across the House emphasise the vulnerability of those in the care system to finding themselves at risk of a future Windrush situation because of the retroactive nature of some elements of the applications for settled status. While it is welcome that the Home Office accepts that people will be able to apply in effect out of time—that is a positive thing—it does not address the fundamental problem that a local authority with care responsibilities, or indeed a family member with a special guardianship order for a young person, would face if they do not have the necessary documentation proving that young person’s nationality in obtaining settled status for them in the United Kingdom. Although I think we recognise that that group is a relatively small group, it is vital that their needs are addressed to ensure that we do not, in 10 or 15 years’ time, find ourselves regretting that we did not take more action on that tonight.
Another point which arises from that of course is the one raised by my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton), which is the significant cost of this. Local authorities paying that cost to the Home Office is simply a cost shunt from one taxpayer to another taxpayer, and I would urge the Home Office to give consideration to ensuring that, for children in care, those costs are either waived or substantially reduced to remove a final barrier.
I will finish on this point, time being tight. A number of Members have raised the issue of documentary evidence in the hands of the citizen. We have seen many examples in all different walks of life where we would have legitimate concerns about whether the digital record keeping, of all kinds of organisations and for all kinds of reasons, is sufficiently accurate. We all hear, as Members of this House, from our constituents about the issues that that causes them in their day-to-day life. For people who may be refugees, who may be facing a degree of digital exclusion or for whom English is not a first language, that is an even greater problem. I am reassured by the message from the Home Office that everybody who makes an application will receive a written response, with a number on it, that provides evidence of the status that has been granted, but I think it would be useful for all of us to hear a bit more in due course from the Home Office about how it proposes to ensure that that is something people appreciate the value of, and that it is kept and preserved so that the evidence is there for the future.
The UK has much to be proud of in the way that we respond to immigration. It is right that we keep this tight to the matters under consideration, but I trust that colleagues have heard the concerns across the House and that the Minister will address them in his summing up.
This has been an interesting and fascinating debate, which has mostly been reflective and reasonable. I hope colleagues will appreciate though that, in the seven and a half minutes I have, I will not be able to respond to every single point that has been raised.
I will start with the themes, and we have again had a lengthy debate on social care. I was pleased to hear the SNP spokesperson, the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Stuart C. McDonald), say he agreed with the MAC. He will recall the evidence that Brian Bell gave to the Public Bill Committee that considered this Bill, and I am glad to hear that he now agrees with that. I would say, however, that we are being clear again that the MAC has been free to make its own reviews and commissions, and to produce an annual report that can then be considered by this House. It will be able to do that independently, and it will almost certainly provide commentary on social care. To set up a body that is independent and free to make its own decisions, and then tell it all the reviews it needs to do does not make a great deal of sense. Similarly, we are keen that it is there, and it can be lobbied, including by the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Bambos Charalambous), about areas that it may wish to consider of importance. As we keep on saying, if the lesson people have taken from the last few months is that the solution to social care is to give employers an unlimited opportunity to recruit at the minimum wage, they have really taken the wrong lesson.
Moving on to the issues of modern slavery, we have again had some impassioned speeches and some very well-informed ones, particularly from my right hon. Friends the Members for Staffordshire Moorlands (Karen Bradley) and for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith). Again, I would say that we have obviously made the changes to guidance. We will bring forward those changes to guidance and have them in place on 1 January. He will appreciate why we will not do it before then, because people will still have free movement rights and we should respect that. But certainly we are happy to engage more widely around the position on what we can do and where we can ensure that the support these victims need is available to them, particularly as we remove the distinction between EEA victims who have free movement rights and non-EEA victims who do not, subject to the caveat that we will of course always look to see if a victim of modern slavery is eligible for the European settlement scheme.
Turning to the issues of family reunion and resettlement, I again point out that there are provisions under the UK’s migration rules that, certainly under part 8, go wider than purely affecting parents with children. We are in negotiations with the European Union, and the Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South (Chris Philp), is actively looking at what we can do. If we can get bilateral arrangements, then fantastic, but does it make sense in future to have a different set of rules for people in EEA countries versus those in the rest of the world? That is the core of this Bill, which is about free movement rights. If there is an agreement—a reciprocal arrangement—in place, then that would go beyond what we have as our baseline rules. Now that we have left the European Union, with the transition period and free movement coming to an end, whatever settlement we have in future—there is a debate to be had in this House about our asylum system, and we will have it at more length in the near future—it does not make sense to have a distinction between someone whose position is in the EEA and someone whose position is, for example, in Turkey, unless there are reciprocal arrangements that justify that difference of treatment.
The issue of children in care has rightly been a subject of some debate. I hear the point that has just been made about identification. Let me be clear: EUSS does not require a passport or an ID card; alternative measures can be used to prove entitlement through documentation. However, that issue is not particularly caused by EUSS because today you would need the same challenge to identify whether someone is a UK national, an EEA national or a rest-of-the-world national, given the impact that that has on free movement rights. However, we are happy to continue working with local authorities to see how we can help them to tackle these issues, and to work with high commissions to ensure that those who deserve their status receive it.
As we have said, there is a range of provisions around late applications and those who should make an application but do not. This is not just about children in care. We also include those under 18. If a parent does not make an application, and, at a later time, the child reaches the age of majority and they have to do a compliant environment check, for example, and discover that it has not been made, we would see that as a reasonable ground for a late application. As touched on, there is no specific time limit to that provision.
On detention, we have outlined our arguments. I am conscious that there are strong feelings on this in the House. We all want to see people swiftly moved out of detention and, if they have no right to be in this country, to be removed from it. We want detention to be used as a last resort. Its use has been declining over the past few years. That is partly because we cannot guarantee that a country in sub-Saharan Africa, for example, will issue us with travel documents for the person to be returned to it within the timeframe. In particular, we have to be clear that there is no ability to put someone in detention for no reason. We have to have a lawful basis for doing so, and that can only be where there is a reasonable prospect of removal or a threat to the public—although I accept that only a very small number of people are serious foreign national offenders.
On physical documentation, we are moving towards more digital statuses. For example, we are looking to see where we can use public services to automatically check status. In recent months, we have seen the advantage of EU citizens who already have EUSS—although they are not yet required to have it—being able to share that online and digitally when doing a range of checks, at a time when a face-to-face meeting to do so may be a lot less desirable. As touched on, it will not just be EEA nationals with status under EUSS who will be using digital status—we also intend the route for British nationals overseas, who will also be moving to digital. As touched on, countries such as Australia have had a system like this in place for some time. It was interesting to hear the hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse) talk about the idea of digital passports. We are starting to look to the future where people may well travel on their biometrics and with digital identities rather than travelling purely on passports—although that is probably a few years away given that it would require technology being reciprocated in other nations.
I particularly enjoyed some of the speeches. My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Aaron Bell) hit the nail on the head: this Bill is about delivering a manifesto commitment. This Bill is about ending free movement, as voted for in the general election and in the referendum back in 2016. It is not there to have the whole range of debate around immigration, but I respect the fact that people took the chance to do that. This Bill is about delivering a manifesto commitment, and that is why we should remove these amendments, which do not go to that core goal.
Order. Before I put the Question, I would like to say that I am expecting some Divisions this evening, and there is a distinction between “should” and “must”. When I say “should”, it is guidance; when I say “must”, you must do it. If there is a Division, those sitting on the Front Benches must leave by the door in front of me; everybody else must leave by the door behind me. It is not optional. Please keep social distancing throughout; if you can touch the person in front of you, you are standing too close.
Question put, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 1.
Lords amendment 1 disagreed to.
The list of Members currently certified as eligible for a proxy vote, and of the Members nominated as their proxy, is published at the end of today’s debates.
Proceedings interrupted (Programme Order, this day).
The Deputy Speaker then put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that time (Standing Order No. 83F).
Lords amendment 2 disagreed to.
After Clause 4
Children in Care and Children Entitled to Care Leaving Support: Entitlement to Remain
Motion made, and Question put, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 3.—(Kevin Foster.)
Lords amendment 3 disagreed to.
The list of Members currently certified as eligible for a proxy vote, and of the Members nominated as their proxy, is published at the end of today’s debates.
After Clause 4
Leave to Enter: Family Unity and Claims for Asylum
Motion made, and Question put, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 4.—(Kevin Foster.)
Lords amendment 4 disagreed to. The list of Members currently certified as eligible for a proxy vote, and of the Members nominated as their proxy, is published at the end of today’s debates.
After Clause 4
EU Settlement Scheme: physical documented proof
Motion made, and Question put, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 5.—(Kevin Foster.)
Lords amendment 5 disagreed to.
The list of Members currently certified as eligible for a proxy vote, and of the Members nominated as their proxy, is published at the end of today’s debates.
After Clause 4
Time limit on immigration detention for EEA and Swiss nationals
Motion made, and Question put, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 6.—(Kevin Foster.)
Lords amendment 6 disagreed to.
Lords amendments 7 to 10 disagreed to.
Lords amendment 11 agreed to.
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83H), That a Committee be appointed to draw up Reasons to be assigned to the Lords for disagreeing to their amendments 1 to 10;
That Kevin Foster, Tom Pursglove, Mike Wood, Andrew Lewer, Bambos Charalambous, Jessica Morden and Stuart C. McDonald be members of the Committee;
That Kevin Foster be the Chair of the Committee;
That three be the quorum of the Committee.
That the Committee do withdraw immediately.—(David Duguid.)
Question agreed to.
Committee to withdraw immediately; reasons to be reported and communicated to the Lords.