My Lords, European Union citizens make a huge contribution to our economy and society, and we want them to stay. The Government are making it as easy as possible for all EU citizens to secure their status after Brexit, and for long-term residents a number of simple options are available for them to do so.
My Lords, the purpose of asking this topical Question is to raise an issue highlighted by elderly Italian people living in Bradford. The BBC’s “Inside Out” programme in Yorkshire on Monday evening covered this admirably. I am talking about Italians, particularly ladies, who came to Bradford as mill girls 60 years ago and are now therefore mainly in their 80s. One of them said:
“We are foreigners in Italy, we are foreigners over here”.
They are old people; they are racked by dismay and anxiety. Many of them do not know what to do and are astonished that they have to apply for something which was granted to them—the right to live in this country—when they first came. On 15 January, the Bradford Telegraph & Argus had a headline: “Bradford Italians gripped by Brexit fear”. Do the Government understand that this group of people is in exactly the same position as the Windrush people? They are old and do not need the worry in their lives, which may put some of them into what a long time ago people called a decline. What are the Government doing to withdraw those threats from them and simply to leave them alone?
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for advance notice of his concern about this. Like any EEA nationals who settled in the UK before 1973, the Italians in Bradford already have indefinite leave to remain and do not need to apply to the EU settlement scheme. They can if they want make a free application to the Windrush scheme for documentation to confirm that status. In any event, the Windrush scheme is open to a person of any nationality who arrived in the UK before 31 December 1988 and believes that they have settled status in the UK.
My Lords, the Minister may know that some of these Italian women were recruited directly by Salts Mill to work in Saltaire. When I first moved there with my family, we had Italian-born as well as Polish-born neighbours. There is real concern among these elderly people, who in most cases have British citizens as their children and grandchildren. Many of them have been in care homes for several years and do not find filling in forms easy. I heard a TUC representative from Yorkshire describe the settled status scheme as an absolute shambles in Yorkshire. Is there anything that the Government can do to ease the anxieties of those people by making it absolutely clear that they are guaranteed settled status for the rest of their lives?
My Lords, the Government have made it abundantly clear that these people are welcome to stay. There are a number of routes open to them to confirm that status and the Government are doing everything we can to make this process as easy as possible. Of course, any party of government has a lesson to learn from the history of the Windrush generation, as the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, says, and we do not want a repeat of that.
My Lords, there has been quite a lot of highlighting of this, both in the press and by the Government. The Government will open the public phase of the registration scheme on the 21st of this month and we hope that more people will sign up to it; thousands have done so already.
My Lords, we have the lessons of history to learn and certainly the Windrush scandal—which happened, of course, over decades—helped in that endeavour. As time has gone on and identity assurance is much more important in the digital age, so these schemes will add to the confidence of both the public and the Government that we are assuring the right of people to be here and their identity.
My Lords, is it possible that the language could be changed? I spoke to a German woman who has been here for 67 years and finds the language of “You may be allowed to stay” quite difficult, as opposed to “You belong”, when she has children and grandchildren, she has been a taxpayer and all that. This goes deeper than simply being allowed to stay.
My Lords, I was somewhat stunned yesterday evening to hear the first thing the Prime Minister said after the withdrawal agreement went down in the House of Commons: that EU citizens were most anxious to know what was going to happen and to have certainty. Surely the Government could have given certainty to EU nationals, whether they arrived before 1973 or afterwards, before now. What certainty are they able to give? It is vital to give it immediately.