House of Lords
Wednesday 22 July 2020
The House met in a Hybrid Sitting.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Southwark.
Arrangement of Business
The following Acts and Measure were given Royal Assent:
Supply and Appropriation (Main Estimates) Act,
Stamp Duty Land Tax (Temporary Relief) Act,
Business and Planning Act,
Channel Islands Measure.
Retirement of a Member: Baroness Hanham
My Lords, I should next like to notify the House of the retirement, with effect from today, of the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, pursuant to Section 1 of the House of Lords Reform Act 2014. On behalf of the House, I should like to thank the noble Baroness for her very much-valued service to the House.
Oral Questions will now commence. Please can those asking supplementary questions keep them short and confined to two points. I ask that Ministers’ answers are also brief.
Covid-19: UN Sustainable Development Goals
[Inaudible.] It is clear, however, that Covid-19 poses yet further challenges to reaching the sustainable development goals by 2030 and that urgent action to accelerate progress is required. The UK is committed to this aim. To date, we have provided £769 million of UK aid to the international response and we are co-leading work through the UN Financing for Development work stream on sustainable recovery.
My Lords, this pandemic has proved the importance of the global goals. Sadly, last year’s Voluntary National Review was evidence that the SDGs were not prioritised by the top level of government, despite David Cameron’s early leadership role in their establishment. What practical and institutional steps are the UK Government taking to ensure that the SDGs are at the centre of their plans to “build back better” at home and internationally post Covid?
My Lords, I can assure the noble Lord that the sustainable development goals remain central to the Government’s plans, both internationally and domestically. We remain strongly committed to responding to Covid-19 and, in parallel, it is of course important to consider how we will recover. The SDGs are an important lens to help shape policies that will help us build back better from Covid-19 both here in the UK and in our international work.
My Lords, it is of course important both that we work with the private sector and that we champion localised action as well. We work very closely with front-line responders and southern women’s rights organisations; we know that those people are best placed to ensure that the response is informed by the voices and needs of those being affected.
My Lords, the department is being merged to form the new Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. The SDGs will remain at the centre of that department and the Cabinet Minister with ultimate responsibility for the SDGs is the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.
As part of our commitment to achieving the SDGs, Her Majesty’s Government have signed up to eradicate extreme poverty for all people, including those in the UK, and to reduce by at least half the proportion of men, women and children of all ages living in poverty in all its dimensions, according to national definitions. I welcome the fact that the Government have committed to developing the Social Metrics Commission measure of poverty as the UK’s measure but, given that the officials undertaking the work have been deployed to the front line as part of our Covid response, can my noble friend the Minister tell me when work will resume and, when it does, what the strategy will be for halving the proportion of men, women and children of all ages living in poverty in all its dimensions according to these national definitions?
My Lords, as my noble friend says, due to the current circumstances, work to develop experimental statistics has been suspended. DWP’s current focus is on supporting people financially in these unprecedented times. In the current uncertain climate, I am afraid that I am unable to provide my noble friend with a date for when this work will continue. It will happen only when we are able to do so and are sure that benefit payments and support to the vulnerable will not be put at risk.
My Lords, the global devastation caused by Covid-19 tells us that we must redouble our efforts to deliver the SDGs. This will require vision, finance and open and transparent collaboration between Governments and stakeholders, both public and private. Why are we dismembering the one department within government that is closest to those requirements? How will our experience be any different from Australia’s, where a similar merger led to a loss of over 2,000 years-worth of experience?
My Lords, as I said, the UK remains committed to the SDGs and to the underpinning pledge to leave no one behind as we strive to achieve them. The Prime Minister said in his statement to the UN high-level event on financing for development at the end of May that, following Covid-19, there is every need for us to work together to advance shared international objectives, including the SDGs. The SDGs will therefore remain central to the new department’s mission.
My Lords, given that Covid-19 has exacerbated gender inequality, pushing the rights of women and girls backwards, how will we ensure that more girls across the world are able not only to go to school but to stay in education at secondary level? Without girls’ education, SDG 5 will be impossible to achieve.
I completely agree with my noble friend. We know that we will not achieve all the goals without strong action on gender equality, and women and girls are key to their success. We absolutely agree on the importance of girls’ education. The Prime Minister and the department champion the right of every girl to 12 years of quality education.
My Lords, the pandemic has dramatically demonstrated the importance of having strong health systems everywhere in the world. In that context, what assessment have the Government made of progress towards universal health coverage—part of goal 3—and will they increase their support for achieving universal health coverage?
My Lords, the weakness of developing countries’ health systems is one of the biggest risks of the global impact and spread of Covid-19. Equitable, resilient and sustainable systems for health are the foundation for meeting all health needs and preparedness for future health threats. Working towards universal health coverage is more important than ever, given the increased barriers to, and needs for, accessible healthcare. The Government will continue to support access to universal health coverage.
My Lords, a globally accessible and affordable vaccine is, of course, needed to end the pandemic; we are working very closely with organisations such as the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations and Gavi. The noble Lord will know that recently we hosted the Gavi replenishment conference. We will work with the WHO on its ACT Accelerator and with partners across the globe to make sure that, if and when a vaccine is found, it is accessible to all.
In his Statement announcing the incorporation of DfID into the Foreign Office, the Prime Minister complained:
“We give as much aid to Zambia as we do to Ukraine … and we give 10 times as much aid to Tanzania as we do to … the western Balkans”.—[Official Report, Commons, 16/6/20; cols. 666-7.]
At a time when the number of those facing food insecurity and consequent health vulnerability is likely to double, according to UNDP, is it right to think of taking money from sub-Saharan Africa and giving it to middle-income countries which have been well supported by the EU and aided by the UK contribution to the EU budget?
The noble Lord is right to highlight the issue of food insecurity. Pre-existing levels, before Covid-19, were historically high and the impacts of Covid-19 restrictions on trading and supply chains are likely to increase food insecurity. That is why we are working very closely with the World Food Programme and UNICEF to ensure supply chains for food supplies and life-saving treatment for acute malnutrition.
My Lords, now that Covid-19 is affecting earning power, health and access to education worldwide, it is obvious that many girls in developing countries may not get a quality education, which will affect the SDGs. What plans do the Government have to meet their 2019 pledge of ensuring 12 years of education for more than 12 million children, half of them girls?
My Lords, the Covid-19 crisis has had an incredibly negative impact on the education of millions of children—at least 1.5 billion children in more than 150 countries were out of school at its height. We are working to ensure that we are pivoting our existing programmes to allow remote learning, through radio and television programmes. The important thing is to make sure that all pupils, especially girls, return to schools as and when they reopen. We know that children outside school are at risk of child marriage and violence, so the important thing is to get girls back into school and then ensure that we are doing more to deliver 12 years of quality education for every girl in the world.
Schools: Arts Teaching
My Lords, the department is committed to high-quality education for all pupils during this difficult time, including in the arts and other creative subjects. We have introduced several initiatives for schools and parents, including signposting to a range of online resources, including BBC Education, the Oak National Academy and other professional organisations, such as Music Mark and the National Society for Education in Art and Design. On 2 July, the department published detailed guidance to support the return to full-time education in September.
My Lords, there is considerable concern that so-called core subjects will be prioritised in the autumn and arts subjects sidelined, with particular worries about subjects studied in year 10—a worry further fuelled by the comments of the CEO of the Harris Federation. Will the Government ensure that, come September, a broad and balanced curriculum will mean precisely that from the off, and that students will have a wide GCSE choice, including arts and design subjects? Does the Minister agree that arts in schools are currently urgently needed to play a central role in the country’s mental recovery from Covid?
My Lords, I concur with the noble Earl that arts, PE et cetera, are vital to the well-being and recovery not just of children but of adults. Yes, the guidance makes clear that schools should return to a broad and balanced curriculum, with some flexibility, though, for teachers in relation to how pupils recover in the core subjects. Key stage 4 students should be expected to continue to study all their examination subjects. However, there may be exceptional circumstances where it is best that a pupil is not entered for the full range that they were intending to study next year, but we leave that matter with school teachers. As I say, it is exceptional: the noble Earl will be aware that Ofsted will begin visiting schools again in September, and the breadth of the curriculum is one of the matters it will be discussing collaboratively with schools.
I declare my chairmanship of the Baker Dearing Educational Trust, which sustains and supports 48 university technical colleges. I am afraid that I do not share the Minister’s optimism. There is a real danger that in GCSEs next year the arts and cultural subjects are likely to be dropped or made second rate—indeed, the advice from Ofqual and examining boards is to focus just on eight academic subjects. This is extremely disadvantageous, because these subjects are popular with disadvantaged and less gifted children and should be available. The Government should make sure that they are preserved. Since 2010, these subjects have dropped by 25% to 30%. What has happened to the broad-based curriculum I introduced in the 1980s?
The broad base is now the broad and balanced curriculum, which was introduced as the new Ofsted framework last September. My noble friend is correct that we want to see the broad curriculum taught from September. We are also aware that extra-curricular use of arts and music is important for arts subjects, for which we fund a number of initiatives, including the essential life skills course for opportunity areas, which focuses on extra-curricular activities for disadvantaged children in those areas.
I am afraid the noble Lord, Lord Baker, is absolutely right. Will the national plan, which expires in 2020, be continued and funded? Does the Minister agree that the acquiring of creative knowledge—the technique to play an instrument or sing—requires constant practice, which has of course been unavoidably broken? We need to replenish the minds and muscles of the young.
I assure the noble Lord that the national plan introduced in 2011 will be refreshed. Unfortunately, due to Covid, that and the development of the model curriculum for key stage 1 to 3 had to be put on hold. As someone who has recently taken up a musical instrument, I can only agree that practice is important. In our guidance issued at the beginning of the month, we have given flexibility to the curriculum that will enable not just core content in maths but core skills in music teaching.
In a reply to my Written Question on arts subjects in schools, the Minister said that all
“maintained schools are required to teach the full National Curriculum, including art and design, and music”
and creative subjects, while, as she knows, academies do not have to do this. Why is this? If she is keen to have a broad and balanced curriculum that provides opportunities for creative subjects for all pupils, surely this needs to be changed.
My Lords, the noble Lord is correct that teaching the national curriculum is not compulsory in the academies sector. However, Ofsted inspects all maintained and academy schools to the same standard of the broad and balanced curriculum; its inspection framework now includes whether children’s cultural capital is being improved. Ofsted judges all schools to the same standard.
My Lords, studies have shown that the arts can improve young people’s cognitive abilities and contribute to raising the—[Inaudible.]—particularly for children from lower-income backgrounds. The Secretary of State for Education seems to agree; two weeks ago he said that
“it is important that the curriculum is full, broad and balanced and includes the arts and humanities, sports and so much else”.—[Official Report, Commons, 2/7/20; col. 541.]
The guidance which the Minister just referred to contains similar aspirations. Can she explain how the Secretary of State believes this can be achieved while the Government maintain their policy of driving up the number of pupils sitting EBacc subjects, which narrow the curriculum?
My Lords, I hope I have got the tenor of the question—it was a bit difficult to hear. Although there have been fluctuations in the take-up of arts subjects at GCSE and A-level, over the last 10 years they have remained broadly stable. Any decrease in numbers was present before 2010, so it is not correct to link those fluctuations to the introduction of the EBacc. As I said, Ofsted inspects against a broad and balanced curriculum. It is important to remember that, although for students who want to specialise in arts subjects it is important to take the examinations, we fund specific initiatives to make sure that arts and music activities in particular are part of extra-curricular education for many more students than take examinations in those subjects.
Will my noble friend consider establishing an innovation fund for charities to support the adaptations the charity sector in education will need to make to provide specialist services to support the teaching of arts subjects, so that vulnerable children and young people can benefit from the extensive support which could now be unleashed by the charitable sector, focusing on digital innovations and access as we emerge from the crisis?
My Lords, in relation to music, one of the things in establishing the national plan and the hubs was that they would help in music practitioner training. An important thing we have seen in looking at the subjects undertaken is that art and design has become more popular over the last 10 years. However, we recognise—and fund—an enormous amount of initiatives, such as the National Youth Orchestra, to give young people opportunities to participate.
My Lords, dance is perhaps unique in the curriculum as it provides intellectual, emotional, social and physical education in a single subject. It is therefore particularly well placed to address the negative impacts of lockdown on children’s emotional and social skills, mental well-being and physical fitness. Can the Minister say why the published guidance makes no reference at all to dance? When can schools expect to receive guidance on specific safety measures related to the teaching of dance in or alongside the curriculum?
My Lords, dance is included in PE, which we have promoted particularly in primary education through the £320 million PE premium. However, the noble Baroness is correct that dance provides young people with emotional and physical exercise. She will be aware that for young people and adults we give dance and drama awards to those who are exceptionally talented, like the noble Baroness, so that they can go on to study at specialist institutions.
I remind noble Lords of my interests in the register. The initial focus for school leaders in September must be the well-being of children. Studying music is known to improve health and well-being as well as attainment. Given the restrictions currently in place on choirs and instrument lessons, as the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, asked, when will the Government renew the national plan for music education and show how we can resume the music education to which all pupils are entitled?
My Lords, unfortunately I do not have a timeframe for when the national plan will be refreshed. Although the noble Lord is correct that there is mention in the guidance about not singing or playing wind or brass in larger groups, there is a hierarchy of controls to enable those activities to take place in smaller groups, such as doing it outside, making sure that shared instruments are disinfected, et cetera. When the £1.57 billion to support the arts sector was announced, scientific research was also commissioned from Imperial College London and other institutions so that we could understand more about the risks of these activities.
Churches: Reopening of Buildings
To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the Written Answer by Lord Greenhalgh on 26 May (HL4184), what discussions they have had with (1) the Church of England, (2) the Catholic Church in England and Wales, and (3) other Churches, about the reopening of church buildings for private devotional prayer and public worship.
The Government have worked closely with all major faiths in England through the places of worship task force and regular faith round tables with leaders and representatives. These include Christian representatives from the main denominations. Our engagement has covered a wide variety of issues relating to the Covid-19 pandemic and plans to reopen places of worship. Individual prayer and communal worship are now both permitted.
My Lords, since social distancing could have been arranged so easily from the outset, was it really necessary to lock up all our churches for the first time since Pope Innocent III ordered their closure 800 years ago, with the Church of England going beyond official government guidance initially by banning private prayer in churches and forbidding its clergy to enter them even on their own? Is my noble friend able to tell the House how much financial support the Government have so far provided to assist the survival of our historic places of worship? Salisbury Cathedral, which is celebrating its 800th anniversary this year, was expecting some £2.2 million from visitors; it will be lucky to get £200,000. Finally, may I press my noble friend again on the urgent need for explicit guidance on the safe resumption of choral singing? The great composer John Rutter said recently:
“Some two million people in the UK engage in choral singing, and they are desperately missing this pillar of our national life.”
My Lords, the decision to close places of worship was not taken lightly, but it was in response to the fact that the virus is highly contagious, particularly in areas where people gather indoors. In recent months, historic places of worship have been able to apply for grants from Historic England and the National Lottery Heritage Fund of some £55 million, and listed places of worship can get around £200 million for heritage construction projects. I refer to the DCMS guidance on my noble friend’s third point.
My Lords, many of our churches and cathedrals are desperate to enable small groups of singers, perhaps four singers standing five metres apart from each other. Is there any possibility that that will be allowed soon? Secondly, will the Minister tell the House whether there are any plans for the compulsory wearing of face masks in places of worship?
My Lords, I will have to write on the policy regarding face masks in places of worship. We have announced that indoor musical performances to a live audience are expected to resume after 1 August, subject to a successful completion of pilots and provided that prevalence remains at around or below current levels.
Will my noble friend join me in congratulating the leaders of our religious faith communities on the way they have, despite restrictions, through innovation and enterprise, managed to find ways to allow worship to continue through the Covid crisis, especially by employing virtual networks and indeed by co-operating to maintain the spiritual health of the nation?
My Lords, discussions with the Minister confirm that the Government are concerned with the safety of all faiths. The attached risks to BAME communities are greater and there are important differences in the manner of worship, proximity of worshippers and layout of buildings. Will the Minister confirm that all these factors should be considered in government advice?
My Lords, churches serve many vital and often underrecognised purposes across our communities, which includes providing support to members of both their congregations and the wider community through food banks, childcare services and bereavement support, to name but a few, as well as providing both spiritual and practical support. Has the Minister engaged with churches of all faiths to understand what practical support they require to continue that important work?
My Lords, we have engaged with a series of virtual round tables, and the noble Lord is absolutely right that the response during the pandemic and the support for the vulnerable by all faith communities has been simply remarkable. I have also provided some input into a review that has been started by Danny Kruger MP to look into how that can continue during the recovery phase of the pandemic.
I join the tribute to those who helped organise the online worship and thank all those who held Zoom services and fellowships for all they have done. There must be hundreds of them throughout the United Kingdom. However, I also thank the broadcasting authorities, S4C in Wales and the British Broadcasting Corporation, which have been able to help people, especially older people, who are confined to their homes. This has made it so important that the licence fee for those over 70 be also now deferred. Without that companion of the television set, they would have been lost.
My Lords, given the importance of the voluntary and third sector in dealing with the Covid crisis, I am delighted to hear my noble friend tell us of his involvement in the faith groups round table. However, in future, will more of a government co-ordination effort be made in terms of fully utilising the resources, both human and financial, as well as geographical and infrastructural, of all faiths throughout the UK to ensure that there is less of an ad hoc approach in local communities but a unified support of the most vulnerable?
My Lords, we need to make better sense of how government can work beyond departments, and I have engaged with my colleague my noble friend Lady Barran in DCMS in that endeavour, and in the review conducted by Danny Kruger I have made representations precisely along those lines.
My Lords, I remind the House that I am a Church of England priest, and I was therefore delighted when churches could reopen for private prayer. However, I found out because a Minister tweeted the announcement at 10 o’clock on a Saturday night. We got a week’s notice, but there was not enough time for the guidance to come out. That was not very helpful. Preparing to reopen safely was tough enough for my church, which is blessed with a team of staff, but lots of churches rely just on volunteers. I gently ask the Minister whether it would be possible for him to reassure us that the Government will try to give more notice of future changes.
We recognise that the communication could have been better around individual prayer. I think that the guidance was shared with faith leaders in the places of worship round table some days in advance, so when we moved to communal worship, communication improved. However, I note the noble Baroness’s points.
My Lords, the importance of the message could well do with underlining. Does the Minister agree, without reservation, that the United Kingdom is a multi-religious country and that great care needs to be taken to respect all religions on all occasions, particularly when being referred to in your Lordships’ Chamber? That is equally applicable to churches, mosques and synagogues, to name but a few, for we are all servants of God.
My Lords, noble Lords have been quite right to point to the way in which various religious groups have managed to keep their congregations together and to outreach in the wider community, particularly to the vulnerable. As one local religious organiser said to me, in many ways they have been able to go out further than was possible before the outbreak. What will the Government do to help co-ordinate and ensure that this level of contact with the vulnerable is kept up?
Parliament: Restoration and Renewal Project
To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the letter from the Prime Minister to the Chief Executive of the Sponsor Body and Chief Executive Designate for the Delivery Authority for the Houses of Parliament Restoration and Renewal Project on 15 July, what their proposals are for the relocation of both Houses of Parliament during the restoration of the Palace of Westminster.
My Lords, as I said in my Answer on this last Monday, the location of Parliament is a matter for Parliament. Both Houses will need to review their sitting arrangements as part of restoration and renewal. The Government are keen to ensure that the restoration and renewal of the Palace of Westminster delivers best value for money and asked the sponsor body to advise Parliament on a range of options and consider decant locations outside London in its strategic review. The Government are not prejudging any particular outcome.
My Lords, do the Government remain firmly committed to ensuring that after restoration and renewal is complete, both Houses will continue to sit in the Palace of Westminster as their permanent home? Bearing in mind that only one bicameral legislature in the world, that of the Ivory Coast—we owe that information to the Lord Speaker—has Chambers in different geographical locations, does the Minister accept that it makes no constitutional or economic sense to remove either or both Chambers to any other city within the UK for just a few years?
My Lords, in the original debates on this subject, my noble friend rightly pointed to the heritage nature of this great Palace of Westminster, which I think we all hold dear. Indeed, heritage is one of the aspects referred to in the Prime Minister’s letter. So far as how the Houses will operate when decant—if decant—takes place, that is a matter for them. I would simply say that the broad and generous acres of Yorkshire are not in another continent.
My Lords, any suggestion about a move should have been made to the Speaker and the Lord Speaker, not in a letter to non-parliamentarians. I ask the Minister to remind the Prime Minister that he is not a president but is accountable to Parliament, which needs to be located close by so that the Prime Minister and Ministers can report to Parliament, no matter how much he dislikes having to do so. This is the nature of our democracy, and Parliament will hold him to it.
My Lords, the sponsor body is independent: that was the decision of your Lordships’ House and of the other place. The strategic review was announced in May by the sponsor body and it is for it to progress as it wishes. It is open to every Member of Parliament, not just the Prime Minister, to put forward their views to the sponsor body.
My Lords, I understand that the Prime Minister’s letter proposing that both Houses of Parliament might relocate to York had already been sent when the Minister answered questions on this on 15 July, yet he made no reference to it in any of his replies. Was that because he was not aware of the letter or because he chose not to inform this House that the Commons might also be moved?
On 9 July, in answering questions on the ISC report on Russia, he described suggestions that the Conservative Party had received large sums from Russian donors as “wild charges”. Now that several articles in the quality press and the published ISC report have substantiated that such sums have been accepted by the Conservatives, will he withdraw that reply?
My Lords, I think the second part of the noble Lord’s question is germane to the Question that follows; I am not sure if he has a chance to ask a question on that. The Conservative Party’s donations are declared, permissible and controlled. On the first part of his question, I stand by every word I used last week.
My Lords, I hope our democratic machinery will get a move on in taking a decision about relocation and will take a wholly common-sense view on what is appropriate, which I personally believe is to stay in Westminster. The great cities of this country have an important local leadership role and a role liaising with Westminster, but I do not think it makes any great sense for them to be considered as a location for our Houses of Parliament. The Minister is not necessarily in a position to support that, but I would be interested in his personal views.
My Lords, giving personal views from this Dispatch Box is probably not the wisest thing. On the timescale, again, the sponsor body is independent. It will conduct its review on the timescale it has set out, but I understand that it expects and hopes to report this autumn.
My Lords, the Earl of Devon was first summoned to Shrewsbury, so I am not averse to sitting elsewhere, but I am very concerned about delay. We passed the restoration and renewal Act last autumn with an urgent mandate to get to work immediately to save the Palace. Nowhere in the Act is the sponsor body empowered to second-guess that mandate. Under what authority is the sponsor body conducting its strategic review, and why is it not complying with its obligation to restore this key national heritage?
My Lords, again, the sponsor body is independent. It was obliged under the Parliamentary Buildings (Restoration and Renewal) Act, which your Lordships assented to, to prepare a strategy on this and to consult Members of each House of Parliament. That was published in May and, as I said, I hope and understand that the sponsor body will report in the autumn, but I take note of what the noble Earl said.
My Lords, I agree with the noble Earl because the situation is now confusing in terms of its accountability. Options seem to be coming out of No. 10 like chaff from an aircraft under missile attack. But given that we are in the season for crackpot ideas and bearing in mind that the furthest point from the sea in our great maritime nation is Coton in the Elms in Derbyshire at 45 miles, and that a large number of cruise ships that are now lying idle may in the future be available at very cheap rates, could not both Houses embark on a ship and operate from it while visiting all parts of our islands? I have raised this idea before on the Floor of the House and the Minister replying said that it would be looked at. Has it?
My Lords, I will have to take advice on the matter in order to respond to the noble Lord. Options coming out like chaff will have varying effects, as he will know. I repeat that this is a matter for the exclusive cognisance of your Lordships’ House and, in the last resort, of the other place.
My Lords, since the origin of the idea to move to York came from No. 10, perhaps we should carry on up to Barnard Castle. In the meantime, the real wake-up call for this House is that for the past 20 years, the Conservative and Labour Benches have frustrated any real and radical reform of this House. I ask the Lord Speaker to call together the leaders of all parties to consider such a programme of radical reform. While I know that turkeys do not vote for Christmas, unless we are willing to reform ourselves, we will certainly be plucked and stuffed by that cabal in No. 10.
I welcome the statement by my noble friend the Minister that this is finally a matter for Parliament and not one for the Government to order. Knowing the obvious benefits of the two Houses working together in many fields, I hope that the Joint Committee which is investigating this matter recognises the importance of ensuring the closest possible co-location of the two Houses, and that in view of the problems caused by the pandemic, it seems quite unrealistic to try to move Parliament elsewhere in the country because it will be difficult enough to operate it even in our present locations.
My Lords, a number of factors have been raised by noble Lords during our various exchanges of which I have taken careful note, and the considerations that my noble friend has put forward are among those. Indeed, they were alluded to in the Prime Minister’s letter, along with timelines, the effect on the work of Parliament and so on, which were specifically referred to.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, hybrid proceedings will now resume. Some Members are here in the Chamber, respecting social distancing, and others are participating remotely, but all Members will be treated equally. If the capacity of the Chamber is exceeded, I will immediately adjourn the House.
Intelligence and Security Committee: Russia Report
Private Notice Question
My Lords, the Government welcome the Intelligence and Security Committee’s report on Russia. We have been clear that Russia must desist from its attacks on the UK and our allies. We will be resolute in defending our country, democracy and values from any such hostile state activity. As set out in the Prime Minister’s Written Ministerial Statement of 21 July, yesterday the Government published a full response, and I commend it to the noble Lord.
My Lords, does the Minister not accept that this report reveals a catalogue of confusion and indifference in dealing with the threats from Russia? Will the Government now task the intelligence agencies with learning from our past failings and producing a plan to tackle interference in our democratic processes and the penetration of British society by Russia? Will the Minister tell us when they will introduce the legislation that has been announced to strengthen our capability to deal with espionage and the illicit dealings of the Russian elite with its agents and enablers in the United Kingdom?
My Lords, the noble Lord asked a number of questions there, which no doubt we can return to. On the first point, I do not accept that there is a catastrophic failure, as he puts it. In 2017, the Government implemented the Russia strategy and established the cross-government Russia unit, which brings together diplomatic, intelligence and military capabilities to maximum effect. So far as foreign resources are concerned, illicit money is not welcome in this country.
My Lords, it is no wonder that trust in this Government and the Prime Minister is in decline. On 9 July, the Minister claimed that the Government
“always take proactive action to defend our democracy”—[Official Report, 9/7/20; col. 1213.]
against the threat of Kremlin interference. This report, its blocking and the predictable rejection of justified calls for an inquiry into interference in the EU referendum and the 2017 election show his assurance to have been worthless. My noble friend Lord Foulkes high- lighted the most important of the report’s several recommendations, but the Minister did not fully address his question. I respectfully ask if he can confirm which of the recommendations the Government will implement.
My Lords, the Government have given a very full response to the inquiry. In the short time available, I cannot add further to the details of that response. As for the noble Lord’s question, it is the work of the intelligence and security agencies to assess any new evidence as it emerges; that is a continuing process. Given this long-standing approach, it is not necessary to hold a specific retrospective inquiry. If there were evidence available to be found, it would emerge through our existing processes.
My Lords, as a result of the report, is it not the case that the Minister and the Government are compelled to accept that the Government have been negligent of their responsibility to guard the democratic values of this country, that they delayed the publication of the report with fake news excuses so that it did not feature in the general election, and that the failure to allow a full-scale inquiry into Russian meddling will make it seem that the Government have something to hide?
My Lords, I have said before that I do not accept the noble Lord opposite’s narrative about delay. The intelligence committee has been reformed in this Parliament; it has published the report and the Government have responded to it in detail at the first possible opportunity.
My Lords, does my noble friend agree with Anders Fogh Rasmussen, speaking when he was Secretary-General of NATO, that
“Russia, as part of their sophisticated information and disinformation operations, engaged actively with … environmental organizations working against shale gas … to maintain European dependence on imported Russian gas”?
Will he agree to look into how much the debate on shale gas in the UK was distorted by Russian interference?
My Lords, my noble friend asks a detailed question; I will undertake to respond to him on that. In general, the threats faced are various, and there is no question that the UK is not fully aware of the efforts of external actors to intervene in our country.
My Lords, I declare an interest as a member of the committee in the last Parliament that produced this report. I am pleased to see that it has been recognised as a wake-up call to the Government about the dangers of the covert threat posed by the Russian state. Should there be a single government department responsible for countering hostile state activities in the United Kingdom, whether from Russia or any others, including against the integrity of our democratic processes?
My Lords, I pay tribute to the noble Lord and his work on the production of the report, which I have welcomed on behalf of the Government. It makes comments and recommendations about the management of activity within government, but I repeat that the Government’s coherent Russia strategy was established in 2017. Obviously, we always keep effective operations under advice.
The report says that while Russia poses a “security threat”, including to democracy, the Government
“took their eye off the ball”,
failing to provide oversight or strategic direction, and had a surprising lack of curiosity over the impact of Russian activities. The report called for enhanced transparency, and the Government promptly suppressed the report. Given that the Government’s responsibility is to keep the country safe, can the Minister reassure the House that the Prime Minister will implement the report’s recommendations?
My Lords, repeating the allegation that the Government suppressed a report that is not a government report does not make that allegation true. I repeat that the report has been published and the Government have responded in detail at the first possible opportunity. As for taking their eye off the ball, the Government have long recognised that there is an enduring and significant threat posed by Russia to the UK and its allies. That is why, to repeat what I said earlier, the Government implemented the Russia strategy in 2017.
My Lords, in the final 72 hours before the EU referendum in June 2016 there was extensive, disguised, unregulated and targeted digital campaign messaging. Ministers ignored this. Why? This occurred again last year, with shadowy Brexit-supporting groups spending hundreds of thousands of pounds and then disappearing. Ministers ignored this. Why? Given the detailed recommendations of the Electoral Commission and the Information Commissioner more than a year ago, and now of both Commons and Lords Select Committees, that those responsible and paying for such political digital messages must be made to identify themselves, why have Ministers dragged their feet?
My Lords, Ministers have not dragged their feet, and issues of electoral integrity are very much under consideration, as the noble Lord knows. Action will be taken in the course of this Parliament. On his central question, we have seen no evidence of successful interference in the EU referendum.
Does the Minister agree that no one should be permitted to interfere in the internal affairs of the United Kingdom? For example, Jean-Claude Juncker had to be restrained by David Cameron from interfering in the 2016 referendum. As for Russian interference in the referendum, was the Minister influenced by a Russian, or did he manage to make up his own mind?
My Lords, I was not influenced by any Russians. My noble friend touches on something which I beg your Lordships—and have done before—to hold in their mind. The decision to leave Europe was taken by millions upon millions of our fellow countrymen—twice. The result was not hatched in some dacha in Moscow.
Whatever else this report tells us, it seems clear that the United Kingdom’s democratic processes and political system are unacceptably vulnerable to malign Russian influence. It is further evidence that we live in an age when we cannot properly differentiate between war and peace. Many countries exist in a perpetual state of unarmed conflict with other countries, when mendacious activity below the level of formal warfare is the norm.
In the context of this year’s integrated review of diplomacy, defence and security, what reassurance can the Minister offer that the country has developed, or is developing, the capability not just to mitigate the effects of malign foreign activity, but deter them? An effective deterrent strategy must of course be based on the credibility of capability and the willingness to use it.
My Lords, further to the question by the noble Lord, Lord Janvrin, does the Minister agree it is time the Government stopped passing round the job of defending our democracy from Russian disinformation campaigns like a hot potato, which has clearly been happening despite the 2017 Russia strategy, and make it clear who within government has responsibility for protecting the UK from hostile interference? Furthermore, Government should insist that the social media companies agree a protocol for decisive and quick action to remove foreign political influence and fake news from their platforms.
My Lords, the noble Baroness raises a range of important matters, and I do not deny the importance of any of them. The Government keep all these factors in mind and are watchful. As I have said before, all our agencies are constantly assessing and seeking to deter the threats posed by hostile state activity.
The Minister must understand that he does himself and the Government no favours by continuing to disrespect the House in the manner with which he answers—or fails to answer—questions. The Government and the noble Lord have repeatedly told us there is no evidence of “successful” interference in elections or referendums, but that is not the point. The evidence received by your Lordships’ Democracy and Digital Technologies Committee, and indeed the ISC report, made it clear that Russian disinformation is designed not necessarily to produce a particular result but to undermine faith in democratic institutions and democracy itself. That is wider and more insidious. Do the Government accept this is a real and present danger, and what will they do about it?
My Lords, I would like to raise a point from the report that some Members of your Lordships’ House are, perhaps, influencers in this Russian debate. I am banned from going to Russia, but I have been to various meetings with Members of both Houses, and I regret to say that some noble Lords seem to be defending the indefensible—namely, the Putin regime. Could my noble friend ensure there is a closer investigation into one or two links that people have with the Putin regime?
My Lords, all Members of the House will have noted the comments in the committee report in relation to your Lordships’ House. It is extremely important that we should all be on our guard against the activities of the Putin regime. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mance, has written to the appropriate committee of the House on the recommendations made in the report.
We are not able to hear the noble Lord, Lord Rowe- Beddoe, and we have come to the end of the Private Notice Question.
House of Lords: Allowance
Motion to Agree
That 1. The Resolution of the House of 6 May 2020 (House of Lords Allowance) shall have effect, and shall be deemed to have had effect from 8 June 2020, as follows–
a) For paragraph 5, substitute–
“5. In respect of attendance at a physical sitting or virtual proceeding of this House Members should only be entitled to an allowance if–
a) they speak during the sitting or proceeding, or
b) they are otherwise necessary to the sitting or proceeding, or
c) they are on the Speaker’s List for the item of business and present when that business is taken (but that entitlement only arises to claim once in respect of that item).”; and
b) At the end, insert–
“7. Notwithstanding the previous Resolutions of the House, travel and related expenses can only be claimed by Members attending physically to whom paragraph 5 applies.”
2. The Resolution of the House of 6 May 2020 (House of Lords Allowance) (as amended) shall cease to have effect on 1 September 2020, and the Resolution of the House of 20 July 2010 (House of Lords Allowance) shall temporarily cease to have effect in respect of attendances after 1 September 2020.
3. Members of this House, except any Member who receives a salary under the Ministerial and other Salaries Act 1975 and the Chairman and Principal Deputy Chairman of Committees, should be entitled to an allowance in respect of each day of attendance on or after 2 September 2020 as provided for below.
4. “Attendance” means virtual or physical attendance–
a) at a sitting or virtual proceeding of this House,
b) at a meeting or virtual meeting of a Committee of this House, or
c) on such other Parliamentary business as may be determined by the House of Lords Commission.
5. In respect of virtual attendance at a sitting or proceeding of this House Members should only be entitled to an allowance if–
a) they speak during the sitting or proceeding, or
b) they are otherwise necessary to the sitting or proceeding, or
c) they are on the Speaker’s List for the item of business and present when that business is taken (and in that case, the entitlement is only to claim once in respect of that item).
6. In respect of attendance under paragraph (4)(b), only Members of that Committee, or Members authorised to attend a meeting of such a Committee by the Chair, should be entitled to claim an allowance.
7. The amount of the allowance payable to a Member should be–
a) £323, or
b) £162, if paragraph 5 applies or if the only attendance of the Member is to vote using the remote voting system pursuant to the Resolution of this House of 4 June 2020.
8. Members of this House specified in paragraph 3 may be entitled to a supplementary daily allowance for Parliamentary work as–
a) a designated spokesperson for the Official Opposition or the Liberal Democrat Party, or
b) the chair of such committee of the House, or such other body, as may be determined from time to time by the House of Lords Commission.
9. The maximum entitlements applicable for the purposes of paragraph 8 are–
a) 10 additional days per month (if paragraph 8(a) applies), and
b) 5 additional days per month (if paragraph 8(b) applies),
provided that for any month the total number of days claimed for does not exceed the total number of sitting days of the House in that month.
10. The provisions of this Resolution shall be applied in accordance with guidance issued under the authority of the House of Lords Commission.
My Lords, at its meeting last Thursday, the House of Lords Commission agreed on an updated set of proposals relating to the financial support available to Members to enable them to carry out out their parliamentary duties.
The Lord Speaker, the Senior Deputy Speaker, the leaders of the three main parties and the Cross-Bench Convenor are all members of the commission, as are the chairs of the services and finance committees, two Back-Benchers and two external Members. A summary of the proposals were sent to noble Lords on Friday, and the full details are in the Motion on the Order Paper. In short, if this Motion is agreed to, the current temporary arrangements, which have been in place since May, will, from September, be replaced by a further temporary system that will reflect the expectation and, I think, desire that many more noble Lords will attend and carry out their parliamentary duties here at Westminster, rather than remotely.
In recognition that some noble Lords will be unable or would prefer not to attend in person, but wish to contribute to our proceedings, the proposals maintain the current arrangements for those participating virtually. The commission believes that these proposals also better recognise the work carried out by the Opposition’s Front Benches and our Select Committee chairs. From September, committee chairs and designated opposition Front-Benchers will have access to a limited supplementary daily allowance.
The House authorities are working very hard to ensure that all Members who want to return in September can do so in a way that is compatible with the latest public health guidance, so that Parliament is a safe, Covid-secure working environment. The House authorities will update noble Lords on these plans before we rise for the summer.
This has been an unprecedented period. Although we can be proud that the House has adapted so quickly to significant challenges the current crisis has raised, and that so many noble Lords have been able to participate in our hybrid proceedings, it has certainly not been without its difficulties. In particular, we have had to make difficult decisions in relation to allowances, none of which has been taken lightly by members of the commission. We fully appreciate the concern and impact these have had on Members across the House. On behalf of the Commission, I thank all noble Lords for their forbearance and patience. We believe that the changes which will be brought into effect by this Motion represent a positive and clear step towards the return to normal we all want to see as soon as possible, and I hope noble Lords will support them. I beg to move.
I have received notice that the following noble Lords wish to speak: the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, and the noble Lords, Lord Newby, Lord Shinkwin and Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale. I call the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon.
My Lords, every situation can teach us something. The experience of the last few months might have plunged some noble Lords into significant debt, but it is none the less valuable in the lessons that it teaches us as a self-regulating House. I think it is fair to say that the most important lesson is that we must avoid at all costs reinforcing the unfair perception that your Lordships’ House is the exclusive preserve of privilege and wealth. Diversity is our strongest defence against that charge, which is why we need to recognise that some noble Lords will inevitably have neither inherited nor acquired wealth but will have significant outgoings. That is normal and must be taken into account, and I thank the Lords Commission for doing so in its latest decision.
However, apart from the personal consequences of suddenly having very little income, it has been very unsettling to see such decision-making power wielded in secrecy and without any accountability to a parliamentary Chamber that is meant to be self-regulating. I therefore think that, to move forward, we need to get our own House in order by injecting some transparency and accountability into the system. Most importantly, we urgently need to strengthen the legitimacy of the Lords Commission in future by holding an election of its chair and deputy chair by the whole House, by holding open meetings of the Lords Commission, by ensuring advanced publication of Lords Commission papers, and by having a quarterly Lords Commission Question Time with its chair, held in the Chamber, as in the House of Commons.
I will close on this point. Specifically with regard to the position of the Clerk of the Parliaments, I know that I am not alone in being concerned that the postholder wields huge authority without any real accountability to the House. I therefore suggest that the contract for such a hugely important role should not be extended in future without it having been put to and agreed by the House first, and the details of the package, the job description and objectives having been made available in the Library a week before consideration.
I first praise the noble Lord, Lord Shinkwin, for speaking out on issues that he has felt strongly about over recent weeks. It is never easy to talk about parliamentary allowances, because your words are capable of being distorted and you become a bit of a target. If he has opinions to provide to your Lordships’ Chamber, he should do so, and he is brave to speak out. I have different points to make, but I welcome his contribution.
I also thank the noble Baroness the Leader for her introduction, for making sure that the information for today was available early and for the supplementary information that has been provided this morning. I recognise that the last few months have been difficult for all concerned. I have praised the staff of the House before. They have done an outstanding job in difficult circumstances. But I also think that the Leader has steered us through these times in a responsible and admirable way.
I have two points, partly spurred on by the use of the word “temporary” to describe this second version of the temporary scheme that we are going through. That word was used to me in the spring of 2011 when I questioned the new allowances scheme. I was told that it was a temporary move to remove the abuses that had been taking place and bring in something that would be simple to administer, but that it would be reviewed quickly and we would return to overnight reimbursement in the near future.
That, of course, has not happened. If, over the nine years since, those Members who live in London or have property in London—I suspect that the vast majority in this House have either inherited that property or had it paid for by the state as Members of the House of Commons—have attended every sitting of this House since Easter 2011, they will have gained more than £200,000 from the change in the allowance system that was brought in, when the previous overnight allowance, which I think was about £160 to £170, was mopped into the daily allowance so that everybody in the House could claim it, not just those who actually had overnight costs from being in London.
This has happened in the same decade when every party leader, in the House of Commons and here, has expressed a desire to bring more people from more parts of the country, with different experiences and backgrounds, into your Lordships’ Chamber. At a time when that is the expressed aim, there is institutional discrimination against those Members who do not live in London and the south-east. That discrimination has never been tackled by the commission, successive Leaders or any of the political parties. I think that that is shameful. I have said it here before and I will say it again today.
I raise this today because we have an opportunity. I want to be positive rather than just negative about what has happened. There is an opportunity, given that these temporary arrangements have had to be put in place, to reduce the daily allowance for all Members and to reinstate some overnight allowance for those Members who have to travel from other parts of the country and do not own property in London. There must be an opportunity over these coming months, as we use this new temporary system, to make a change—to do the right thing. I ask the House of Lords Commission to give that serious consideration. The time is right. I think that it would suit the public mood, but it would also be the right thing to do, not only for the individuals concerned but for the diversity of this House and the attendance of Members from around the whole of the United Kingdom.
My second point is bit more specific. It is not far off some of the principles behind the points made by the previous speaker. I should perhaps say first of all that my comments on this in no way affect or change my ability to reclaim the legitimate travel costs that I have incurred in attending the Chamber physically over the last few weeks, because on each of those weeks I made a contribution in the Chamber and I will receive my full travel reimbursement, as is right and proper.
However, I am not happy at all about the situation where changes to the regulations and the interpretation of the travel allowance are being backdated. If someone has attended this Chamber over the past seven weeks but on the day was not able, for whatever reason, to go on the relevant Questions list, perhaps because they were not chosen by their whip, and they incurred legitimate travel costs to be here, if they were not on a list for the day or days they were here that week, they will not get the travel reimbursed, which they paid at the time assuming that that was okay.
I have raised this with the Clerk of the Parliaments, in correspondence with the Leaders and with the Lord Speaker. I think it is wrong that the travel allowance changes should be rigidly backdated. There should be some flexibility for anyone caught up in that situation. I am lucky and fortunate not to be in that position, but at least one or two Members of your Lordships’ House might be.
This raises an issue of principle about the allowances system. Members’ ability to reclaim their travel expenses should not depend on their party Whips selecting them for the list to speak in your Lordships’ Chamber. It is wrong to have a system so rigid that if someone travels to London with a legitimate desire to contribute to a debate, but because of the numbers that have applied, is then not selected for their party’s list of Members to speak, they then must pay their own travel, having come here with the best of intentions. The rigidity of the proposal before us today, with no exceptions allowed for special circumstances, will work against Members from Northern Ireland, Scotland and perhaps the north of England.
I strongly welcome the very good change to help compensate those Members who do extra work, for example as chairs of committees. That should be bedded into the system for the future. However, these things, whether allowances for chairs of committees or claiming reimbursement for travel, should not be in the hands of the Whips. If we are going down this route, we must find a better way of deciding who can participate, where party Whips do not have that level of control over the financial reimbursement—not allowances—that would then be available to Members of your Lordships’ House. I would welcome the Leader’s comments in respect of those two points.
My Lords, the commission spent many weeks and many meetings attempting to provide a new temporary system that would be fair to everyone; those who can attend, those who cannot attend, those who speak a lot and those who do not speak as often. This proved quite difficult to achieve, but after a very long and winding road, we produced a system which is as near as we could get it to satisfying all the legitimate requirements of Members of your Lordships’ House. It still has anomalies. Some people will still legitimately feel disadvantaged by it, but any system broadly based on our current one is bound to have anomalies, and we have minimised them. Therefore, I strongly support the Motion.
While I am happy with the allowance system, or as happy as I am ever likely to be with such a system, I am concerned about the plans for the physical operation, not only of the Chamber, but also of all the ancillary services, when we return in September. We are expecting a lot more people to be here and, as things stand, the House cannot accommodate us. There are plans, which we will hear about before we rise, showing some mitigations of the current, very strict requirements in your Lordships’ House, but I am concerned that the degree of rigour with which some of the restrictions are being applied in your Lordships’ House is completely out of kilter with what is happening in the country at large. I recognise that many Peers are older and more vulnerable, but we must look very carefully at all our practices to ensure that we get back, as far as possible, to a system whereby not only the allowances allow people to attend, but also that we allow people, when they get here, to operate as parliamentarians, the nature of which requires a lot of close personal interaction. We will have to look at this in September. For today, it is very important that we can give people certainty about the allowance system from September, so that they can plan what they will do in the autumn. This Motion will give them that degree of certainty.
My Lords, when the Minister introduced this, she made it sound so easy—as though the commission met and agreed these proposals, when it was actually a long, winding and rocky road to find agreement, because we were dealing with contentious matters. On the point made by my noble friend Lord McConnell and the noble Lord, Lord Shinkwin, the days when this House was the preserve of the landed gentry have long gone. As we have seen, many Members who have participated in the work of the House, and who I am sure the Minister will join me in paying tribute to, have shown the value of the work that this House does. That should always be our priority, which we have shown ourselves to be ready for. All decisions are about compromise. I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Shinkwin, that the House has a new role. The commission brings proposals to your Lordships’ House for agreement, and the only body that can agree these proposals or otherwise is this House and the Members taking part in it. It is the ultimate preserve of this House whether it wishes to accept the proposals.
My noble friend Lord McConnell spoke of the imperfections in this temporary system and outlined one. That is one of the things we will address in the proposals going forward. This is a compromise—a way forward in a temporary system that a lot of people had to grapple with to find a way for the House to operate better, recognising the contributions not only of individual Members but of this House and its role in legislation. This week we have dealt with the Business and Planning Bill, where significant amendments that were not dealt with in the House of Commons were sent back to the House of Commons with the agreement of all parties. Last night, those Members dealing with the Agriculture Bill were in your Lordships’ House until midnight debating it, and that could happen tomorrow night as well. We also have the Second Reading of the immigration Bill coming up. We must recognise that we all need to get back to normal working as soon as possible, before we forget what that is, because working in these circumstances is a lot harder for everybody in many ways. As the noble Lord, Lord Newby, said, it is about not only the allowances but how we operate and fulfil our functions.
There were those who were very cynical and sceptical that this House could embrace technology as we have done to conduct our business. Members of the other place are envious of our remote voting system. As their queue snakes around Parliament and they pretend to socially distance, many are very concerned for their welfare and that of their colleagues. The system that we have adopted is infinitely preferable.
While I accept that there will be imperfections and that we all have concerns, the allowance system before us today recognises a number of issues, particularly the frustrations of Back-Benchers who cannot contribute virtually and wish to come into your Lordships’ House. As I have said to my Front-Benchers, and I am grateful for their support in this, the work of the House of Lords is often like a swan; it appears to be going smoothly on top, but if only one could see the furious paddling underneath, including those of us on the Teams channels, WhatsApp channels and email channels managing our business during the days and the enormous amount of work that Peers are involved in that is never seen. These proposals recognise that, and the work of our committees.
With more Peers attending, the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Newby, about the arrangements in place is important. The most important thing is to keep ourselves, each other and our families safe. I hope that we can get some more people into the Chamber and we will have a second Hybrid Chamber operating as well, but I also mean around the building. When I get in early, I talk to cleaning staff and catering staff. They also have concerns, so we must ensure that, whatever we do and however we operate, processes are in place to ensure the safety not only of Peers but of the staff of the House, and not only those in funny clothes but also those cleaning the place and ensuring that we are fed and watered. Can the Minister say something about that? Does she have any comments on the wearing of face masks in the Palace? Also, on testing, if any member of staff or noble Lord has symptoms, what will the procedures be for them being tested, and are there any proposals for preventive testing or preventive support?
On balance, these proposals are an important step forward. I see this not just as something that is happening today. In all the decisions being taken, there must be a process. Having dealt with very difficult circumstances, we are moving to a position from which we can return to normal. That must be part of the process, because it is where we all want to be.
I thank all noble Lords for their contributions today. I agree with the noble Baroness about the commission bringing proposals to the House and the House ultimately having to make decisions on them.
I hear what the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, said about travel, but I am afraid that the commission’s decision has been set out. He is rightly expressing his view, which is doubtless shared by many Members of the House, that there needs to be a review of the allowance system overall. I am sure that the members of the commission will have heard his comments, and that there are Back-Benchers who have a lot of sympathy with him.
These are challenging times. We have had to develop a system for the working of the House, as opposed to allowances, which we all know is not perfect, but we have all worked together to do our best to ensure that noble Lords can be involved and can contribute to the important work we want to do. We all accept that this is by no means perfect, which is why we are all very keen to move towards a return to normality—whatever normality finally becomes. But as the noble Baroness and the noble Lord said, we have to make sure that as we return, hopefully, in larger numbers in September, we do so in a safe, Covid-secure way, not just for us and all our colleagues but for the staff of the House.
The noble Baroness asked about masks; obviously, as government guidance may change, we will keep that in mind. For instance, in our new Grand Committee that will start in September, we have moved to “one metre with mitigation”, so masks will be worn as you enter because that ensures Covid security, whereas in the Chamber we are two metres apart. So, I suspect we may find in different parts of the House different ways of making sure that we comply with the guidelines. I encourage all noble Lords to bring face coverings with them, but there is already a supply of masks in the Hallkeeper’s Lodge, in St Stephen’s Hall, should people require them. Ah—the noble Lord has pulled one out, and I saw the noble Baroness come in with one earlier. It is the responsibility of all of us to make sure that we keep ourselves and all our colleagues safe.
The noble Baroness also asked about testing. The House authorities have consulted Public Health England on the provision of different types of testing on the Parliamentary Estate, how they could be put in place and how effective they will be in increasing the safety of Members and staff. Members can already get infection testing, as the public can, but I know that as more people come back, guidance changes and testing becomes available in other ways, the authorities are exploring how and whether it could be offered in the most convenient way to Members, but without creating further issues of too many people in one place.
These are all challenges that we will all be working on together, and I appreciate noble Lords’ comments. As the noble Baroness said, I certainly did not mean my remarks to make it sound like this has been easy—it has not—but I hope noble Lords feel that we have taken a step forward. I assure all noble Lords that their concerns have registered with all of us and we greatly appreciate everything they have done. I hope that at this point I can wish all noble Lords a very happy August Recess, and I look forward to seeing many more noble Lords back, I hope, in September.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, the Hybrid Sitting of the House will now resume. Some Members are here in the Chamber, respecting social distancing, and others are participating remotely, but all Members will be treated equally. If the capacity of the Chamber is exceeded, I will immediately adjourn the House. The usual rules and courtesies in debate apply.
Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill
My Lords, I am very pleased to be able to bring this much anticipated—I will not say “most welcome” to some of your Lordships—and most important of Bills before your Lordships’ House. It will pave the way for the ending of freedom of movement for EU citizens and the introduction of a single, fairer points-based immigration system which treats people in the same way, regardless of their nationality.
It is now over four years since the British people voted in a referendum to leave the European Union. I know that not all noble Lords were happy with that result, but it was the clearly and democratically expressed will of the people of the United Kingdom, and I do not think that anyone can doubt that concerns about immigration played a part in the referendum. This Government believe that we must deliver what the people voted for, and that position was given added weight by the emphatic result in the general election last December.
The heart of the Bill is that it ends free movement. It does that by repealing EU immigration legislation that is retained by the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, as amended by the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020. By ending free movement, EEA citizens, including both EU citizens and those from EFTA countries, and their family members will become subject to UK immigration law and will require the same permission to enter and remain in this country as people from the rest of the world. This will pave the way for the introduction of our new points-based immigration system from 1 January 2021, as we pledged to do in the general election manifesto that my party put before the people last December. The design of the new system was set out in the Government’s policy statement issued in February and further details were published on 13 July. I will say more about this new system shortly but, before I do that, I want to highlight some of the other key features of the Bill.
The first is about Irish rights. We are enormously proud of our deep and historic ties with Ireland and of the contribution that Irish citizens have made to the UK over many years, which is why this Bill will protect the rights of Irish citizens. The long-standing arrangements between our countries ensure that Irish citizens benefit from specific rights in the UK—the same rights that British citizens enjoy in Ireland. They include the right to work and study, to access healthcare and social security benefits, and to vote.
This Bill makes it clear that, once free movement ends, Irish citizens will continue to be able to come to the UK to live and work as they do now, regardless of where they have travelled from. There will remain limited exceptions to this, as is the case now; namely, where an Irish citizen is subject to deportation orders, exclusion decisions or an international travel ban.
The wider rights enjoyed by Irish citizens in the UK that flow from the common travel area arrangements remain, as reaffirmed in the memorandum of understanding signed by the UK and Ireland last year. Both Governments are committed to preserving the unique status and specific rights in each other’s countries enjoyed for over 100 years.
The Bill also includes an important power to ensure that UK legislation remains coherent once free movement ends. This power permits amendments to primary and secondary legislation which become necessary after the end of free movement. It means that we can align our treatment of EEA and non-EEA citizens, and deliver a system that treats people fairly based on the skills they have and the contribution they make, regardless of where they come from.
The Bill will also enable us to make any necessary changes to our social security system as we align access to benefits for EEA and non-EEA citizens. These policies are led by my noble friend Lady Stedman-Scott and her officials in the Department for Work and Pensions.
The Bill contains powers for the UK Government and/or a Northern Ireland department to amend the retained EU social security co-ordination rules from the end of the transition period for those not in scope of the withdrawal agreement. Scotland will need to make its own primary legislation as appropriate to amend the retained rules in its area of devolved legislative competence.
We are currently in negotiations with the EU about possible new reciprocal arrangements on social security co-ordination. We have been clear that any future agreement on social security must respect Britain’s autonomy to set its own rules. We have already announced that we will end the export of child benefit, and the Bill will enable us to deliver on that commitment.
The UK is working to establish practical, reciprocal provisions on social security co-ordination in order to remove barriers and support the mobility of workers. Any agreement with the EU should be similar in kind to the agreements that the UK has with countries outside the EU. It could include arrangements that provide healthcare cover for tourists, short-term business visitors and service providers; arrangements that allow workers to rely on contributions made in two or more countries to access their state pension, including uprating; and arrangements that prevent dual social security contribution liabilities.
As I have indicated, once free movement ends, we will introduce a single immigration system that encompasses citizens of the whole world. It will be a system based around skills, with the greatest priority given to those with the highest skills who can make the greatest contribution to the UK economy, rather than giving privilege to particular nationalities.
It will be an evidence-based system. Noble Lords will be aware that we commissioned the independent Migration Advisory Committee to advise us on the design of a future system. We have followed its recommendations very carefully and I am pleased to have this opportunity to put on the record once more the Government’s appreciation of the thoughtful and considered work that the MAC does.
It will be a system that works for the benefit of all parts of the United Kingdom. We do not believe that any part of this nation would be well served by operating different immigration systems in different regions. Such an approach is a recipe for chaos and confusion.
Of course, it will be a points-based system, in keeping with the promise that we made to the electorate. Prospective migrants will be able to score additional points if they have particular skills or based on the nature of the job they are coming to do. This will ensure that it really is an immigration system that enables us to attract the very best migrants from around the world.
We are seizing the opportunity to change the entire system for the better, with simpler, clear and transparent routes. That is why we welcomed the Law Commission’s report into simplifying the Immigration Rules, and why we have accepted many of its recommendations. Cutting through the complexity and streamlining processes will be at the heart of our new system.
As well as working closely with the MAC, we have listened to businesses and stakeholders across the UK in designing the new points-based system, and we will continue to engage and work with employers to make it a success and prepare them for the changes. Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, and since the policy statement was published in February, the Home Office has facilitated over 50 events with a wide variety of stakeholders. They include the food and drink manufacturing, retail, automotive and transport, professional business services, agriculture, creative industries, broadcasting, education, public administration, defence, and air and water transport sectors. This is in addition to extensive stakeholder events held in 2019.
Our engagement has focused on those sectors most impacted and those who have previously had little interaction with the immigration system due to reliance on EU labour. We are engaging with advisory groups, a specific group focused on small and medium-sized enterprises, the devolved nations and parliamentarians, as well as holding external events. We have adapted our programme of engagement via increased use of remote technology and are keeping it under continuous review during the current Covid-19 situation to ensure that it remains effective.
We have designed a number of policies which will support the NHS and wider health and care sector to continue to access the best and brightest talent from across the world. We recently announced the introduction of the health and care visa from this summer, which will offer fast-tracked entry to the UK for eligible health and care professionals, reduced application fees and dedicated support through the application process. Those eligible will also be exempt from paying the immigration health surcharge.
In addition to this new visa, we have introduced a number of unprecedented measures to support health workers from overseas. These include: supporting NHS workers with a free, automatic one-year visa extension for those with six months or less left to stay on their visas; exempting all NHS workers, wider health professionals and social care workers from the requirement to pay the health surcharge; and, as we have clarified, refunding payments made since 31 March. Our EU settlement scheme also continues to enable EU citizens whose home is the UK to build their lives here, including those working in our NHS. We have now seen over 3.7 million applications, with over 3.4 million of them concluded. The scheme is simple and easy to use, and there is just under one year to go until the deadline for applications.
The events of recent weeks have also illustrated just what a crucial role the care sector plays in our society. Talented and dedicated social care workers have risked their lives on the front line in providing vital care to the most vulnerable. We truly value the work they are doing, which is why the Government set out steps in our Action Plan for Adult Social Care to support the workforce and ensure that we have the staff we need and that they feel both supported and valued. The Government’s long-term plan for social care is focused on investment in the sector and those employed in it who deliver compassionate and high-quality care.
The Department for Health and Social Care recently launched a new national recruitment campaign, Every Day is Different, highlighting the vital role that the social care workforce is playing during this pandemic and the longer-term opportunity for working in care. We have also commissioned Skills for Care to rapidly scale up capacity for digital induction training, provided free of charge under DHSC’s workforce development fund. This is free of charge for employers when accessed directly from Skills for Care’s endorsed providers. DHSC is also providing councils with access to an additional £1.5 billion for adults’ and children’s social care in 2020-21.
As the MAC identified in its own report, published earlier this year, the immigration system is not the sole solution to the employment issues in the social care sector. It would be a very poor reward for all of those who have worked heroically in the care sector if we were to set up an immigration route which had the effect of keeping wages in the sector at or near minimum wage—a point that the chairman of the MAC has made. As we implement the new immigration system, we want employers to focus on investing in our domestic workforce. The Government are working closely with the sector to go further to recognise the contributions of social care workers. This includes a widespread focus on training, increasing the prestige of our domestic workforce, and introducing a proper career structure to provide opportunities for those in the sector while making it an attractive profession for prospective carers.
In conclusion, there are many across this House who care passionately about immigration issues. It would be remiss of me not to mention my right honourable friend the Home Secretary’s Statement yesterday on the Windrush Lessons Learned Review and how we are progressing towards implementing the recommendations. We will undoubtedly have a very valuable and detailed debate on the breadth of these subjects this afternoon. However, the Bill is a simple one, focused on ending free movement. It enables the Government to deliver an immigration system that is firm, fair and fit for the future, supporting economic recovery and prioritising jobs for people here in the UK, while continuing to attract the brightest and the best global talent. I beg to move.
The purpose of this Bill is narrow in scope. It is to end EU freedom of movement rules in the United Kingdom and it has just nine clauses. EEA nationals will become subject to United Kingdom immigration laws after the Brexit transition period, and thus be covered by the Government’s points-based immigration system, to be introduced next year. This Bill is nearly identical to its predecessor, which fell due to the general election last year. It took just six weeks to complete all its stages in the Commons before being passed unamended at Third Reading on 30 June. Progress in the Lords will not be so rapid as in the Commons, although it remains to be seen whether that will be due solely to the August Recess.
The Bill does not itself create a new immigration system. The change to the points-based system will be covered in unamendable Immigration Rules. However, the Bill gives Henry VIII powers to the Government which are so wide-ranging in the way they are worded that they would enable the Government to modify, by unamendable statutory instrument, both primary immigration legislation and retained direct EU legislation. The Government maintain that the Henry VIII powers in Clause 4 are only to address necessary technical legislative changes to primary legislation, arising from the ending of free movement.
The same powers in Clause 5, say the Government, are there to enable, first, consequential modifications to be made to primary legislation and other retained EU law if areas of the retained EU social security co-ordination regulations, co-ordinating access to social security for individuals moving between EEA states, have to be repealed because they are not covered in a reciprocal agreement with the EU following the end of the transition period; and, secondly, if consequential technical amendments are needed to legislation arising from any new reciprocal agreement with the EU.
The Lords Delegated Powers Committee said of the previous Bill, however, that Clause 4 presents
“a very significant delegation of power from Parliament to the Executive”,
and on Clause 5 it said that
“Parliament is being asked to scrutinise a clause so lacking in any substance whatsoever that it cannot even be described as a skeleton.”
Parliament is going to be denied any proper say and involvement in determining even the basic principles of our future immigration policy post Brexit, and the ending of free movement. Yet the Government admit in their fact sheet 3 on the Bill that:
“By ending free movement, the Bill makes a substantial change to the UK’s immigration laws.”
This is not about the merits or otherwise of Brexit; that decision has been made. It is about the Government’s attitude towards Parliament and its major law-making process in scrutinising and then deciding which Government legislative proposals should, or should not, be passed, rejected or amended.
While the Bill seeks to deny an opportunity to address issues of concern about our immigration system, that does not mean they were not raised in the Commons and will not be raised in the Lords. Issues that have had cross-party support include a time limit on immigration detention for the purpose of deportation, the granting of automatic indefinite leave to remain to eligible EEA and Swiss national children who are in care, or are care leavers, and the need for the continuation of the existing EU arrangements on unaccompanied child refugees and family reunification.
Further issues include, but are not confined to: the application of the “no recourse to public funds” rules, in the light of an apparent promise of a review made by the Prime Minister on 27 May; the progress being made on the Government’s commitment to abolish the immigration health charge for all migrants working in the NHS and social care; exemption from the immigration skills charge for NHS employers in the light of the reality that some hospitals are now paying nearly £1 million a year; clarity on the rights and status of EU nationals in the UK following the end of the transition period, including proof of settled status; and limitations on the duration of the Henry VIII powers.
The end of free movement and the move to the points-based immigration system, with its general salary threshold of £25,600 per annum for coming to work in the UK, seeks to equate low pay with low skills and low value. Consequently, this sends a very clear negative message to low-paid, but not low-skilled, EU nationals currently working in the UK. Many of these people have been among those who have kept, and are keeping, our public services going during the pandemic, not least in the care sector. This sends a clear negative message that, in today’s sometimes distorted view of the value of different jobs to society, we do not appreciate the contribution they make and the skills they bring.
In the Commons last week, a Home Office Minister said that the reason that care workers had been excluded from the qualifying list for the health and care visa was because the Government had a “vision” for the social care sector that it should no longer carry on looking abroad to recruit at or near the minimum wage, and that the Government’s priority was that, in future, care sector jobs will be
“valued, rewarded and trained for, and that immigration should not be an alternative.”—[Official Report, Commons, 13/7/20; col. 1250]
If that means significantly better rates of pay in the underpaid social care sector, I am sure it will have widespread support. However, yesterday the Government said that with the vast majority of social care workers employed in the private sector their
“ability to influence pay rates there is limited”.
Since there are already 100,000 vacancies in England’s care sector alone, and the current flow of people from abroad to fill low-paid care sector jobs is about to dry up, how have the Government been able to satisfy themselves not only that UK-based workers will immediately step in to fill that gap but that they can lower vacancy levels in the social care sector?
If higher pay rates materialise in the social care sector, as a result of the points-based immigration system, there will presumably be an increase in the cost of providing social care. Who will finance those higher costs? Will it be the elderly care home residents and residents receiving care at home? Will it be already cash-strapped local authorities, or will the providers of care provision have to absorb the costs? Or does the Government’s vision extend to them financing the additional costs of a welcome improvement in pay in the social care sector? Perhaps the Government could provide an answer to that question in their response at the end of this debate.
The Government have said that ending free movement from the EU plus the future points-based immigration system should reduce net migration. On what basis have the Government come to that conclusion, bearing in mind that net migration from outside the EU, where there is no free movement, exceeds net migration from the EU, where there is free movement?
Perhaps the Government’s conclusion is an indication that, in the absence of publicly declared targets for net migration, they expect their approach to deter sufficient numbers of people from seeking to come and work here, in which case the hostile environment approach may still exist in spirit, if not officially in name. What happens and what is said during the passage of the Bill may throw some light on that. We will have to see whether some amendments to the Bill are accepted, or whether the absence of any movement on the Bill in the Commons really means a Government which think they are 100% right and that an alternative approach on anything related to the Bill is 100% wrong.
My Lords, noble Lords will have had briefings from many organisations. I wish, in the time, I could do them justice, but I thank them. They say this is an important opportunity to raise issues; noble Lords will make it an opportunity, well beyond the narrow scope of the Bill.
I shall be blunt on behalf of the Liberal Democrat Benches. We understand where we are with Brexit, but we deplore so much of UK immigration policy, we do not support the Bill and we deeply regret the loss of free movement and our membership of what we regarded as a union which was more than political.
Ironically, in the context, the Bill denies parliamentary sovereignty. It is always a concern when excessive powers are granted to the Executive. In its report on the same Bill in a previous Parliament, our Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, to which the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, referred, made that quite clear.
The Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law, which lives its name, lists the issues of the Bill: legal uncertainty; lack of detail; the power of the Secretary of State to remove unspecified rights; the power to thwart the will of Parliament; the power to amend Acts of Parliament and secondary legislation, which there is an awful lot of; the power to set immigration fees, the size of which can restrict the exercise of rights; diminishing scrutiny; and no clarity on how changes in relation to Irish citizens will affect the rights of Northern Irish citizens under the Good Friday agreement.
Preliminary research by the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association has identified three important legal protections which are not in any way addressed in the Bill. These are: protections for victims of trafficking in the anti-trafficking directive; protections for asylum seekers in the receptions conditions directive; and protections for victims of crime in the victims’ rights directive.
Our immigration law is, in the words of the Law Commission, “overly complex and unworkable”. A new Bill should simplify it. This is not dry or geeky—it is constitutionally important, and the personal impacts are enormous. An overarching policy that is hostile, harsh, robust, compliant—however it is badged—impacts individuals and personal relationships, often in ways never expected. Ask anyone faced with the need for a spouse visa, who becomes part of a Skype family.
The Windrush review recommendations include assessing whether policies, individually and cumulatively, are effective and proportionate. The recommendations deal too with the engagement of groups and communities affected by proposed policies. I was glad to hear the Minister refer to this and that the Home Office is clearly taking this seriously. We look forward to progress reports on the work now going forward, announced yesterday, and to its outcome.
I did not expect to feel so viscerally shaken by Brexit, not by the direct effect but by a sense of shame in what is heard as “Nice to have known you”—“you”, the millions of people who, through free movement, have become integral to our society. For British citizens living in the EU, their loss of free movement between member states is a real and immediate worry.
Huge numbers of applications have been processed through the settled status scheme, and it has been very successful for those for whom it has been successful. Inevitably, some troublesome aspects are coming to the fore as we draw closer to the close of the scheme, and they will become clearer as time goes on. That is why my noble friend Lord Oates will be tabling an amendment regarding physical documentation in the scheme. If I were renting property, facing an employment check or opening a bank account, I would want that too.
There is a shortage of specialist advice for people whose applications are not straightforward or who may not be able to look out for themselves—many children are within both groups. The detail and nuances of the scheme are not well understood. I read of a civil servant—so no slouch, one assumes—who did not appreciate that his pre-settled status was not the end of it.
We should listen to the people affected: they have a real-world view. We should thank those who painstakingly and responsibly analyse impacts such as entitlement to benefits, no recourse to public funds and allied issues like naturalisation, where comprehensive sickness insurance has reared its head as grounds for refusal. My noble friend Lady Ludford will pursue this in Committee; I miss her today as she is unwell, and I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Purvis who is covering some of what she planned to say.
Social security co-ordination needs a whole laundry basket of hot towels. It was a relief to read that the DPRR Committee recommends leaving out Clause 5, but I do not suppose that that will be all we discuss. I hope that I have not contributed to my noble friend Lady Ludford’s ill health by suggesting that she deals with Clause 5.
It is not beyond the bounds of the possible that, as values diverge, asylum may be sought in the UK from countries where discrimination becomes persecution—I am thinking of Hungary and Poland—so it is entirely right that, in an EU Bill, we address whether, how and for how long we use detention in immigration removal centres. Did moving detainees when Covid-19 took hold show that there are real flight risks? Asylum seekers never have an easy time; it feels heartless to reduce them and their situation to an item in a list. Unable to work when they are keen to contribute, they are caught with so little income that even existing is a challenge.
We will have more time to debate that in Committee, as we will have more time to discuss family reunion for refugees and ensuring safe and legal routes for unaccompanied children—something that member states have mandated the EU to deal with, so there are no bilateral agreements there; all that is on the table is a very inadequate draft text from the UK.
The immigration system is much more than the points-based system, but the PBS is currently in the spotlight. It is to be preceded by the health and social care visa and a belated nod to the health charge levied on health workers who pay tax, but hands-on
“care workers won’t be able to apply for a visa dedicated to care.”
That neat summary comes courtesy of the BBC’s Dominic Casciani. Are we heading for an even bigger shortage of carers? They ensure that people can stay in their own homes, which means big savings all round and support for the biggest band of carers: the family. Low paid does not mean low skilled. With care workers, it is often a skill that is innate and a matter of culture. I hate the term “brightest and best”. Best at what?
A lot of sectors will be mentioned. A number of my noble friends have stood back today but plan to take part in Committee, when these issues will be explored. I do so want to talk about the creative industries; I will join that debate then.
Time is against me. I can combine two areas of concern—agri-food workers and seasonal workers—to mention seasonal agri-food work. I can also make the link between two Bills: this one and the Domestic Abuse Bill. The link is the lack of provision for migrant women suffering abuse.
Let one sector in the PBS stand proxy for many. Apparently, 80% of the UK’s 10,000 international architects are from the EU; the RIBA says that £7,000 a year will be added to the cost of bringing one in. That seems counterintuitive when we are told to plan for a great burst of building infrastructure.
The requirement for a level of English makes me acutely conscious of my own lack of facility in another language. It is sadly typical of our still too prevalent, overwhelmingly proud and complacent insularity.
No doubt adjustments can be made to business models. Paying a fair wage and not exploiting people must be part of that model, but can this be achieved overnight and while gearing up for a full Brexit, whatever that may comprise?
I know that many of our concerns are shared widely across the House, so we will be glad to support Members on other Benches on a number of amendments, taking forward those proposed in the Commons, as well as having plenty of our own. There are far more issues than we can even touch on today.
My Lords, the two Opposition Front-Bench speeches that we have just heard raise the question, why do we restrict immigration? After all, most immigrants are good, industrious and enterprising people, welcome here as our friends, neighbours and colleagues, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said.
Some immigration is indeed good for the economy, but you can have too much of a good thing. That is why we limit immigration. Immigration is a lubricant for the economy—not, as Tony Blair appeared to believe, its fuel. If you do not lubricate your car, it grinds to a halt; if you stopped all immigration, it would harm the economy. But beyond a certain point, adding more lubricating oil does not make your car go faster, and allowing mass immigration has not made our incomes grow faster—on the contrary.
The British economy suffers from three major weaknesses, all of which have been exacerbated by mass immigration since Tony Blair lifted the lid. First, we have a major housing shortage, yet over the last five years, net immigration has averaged 300,000 people a year. We need to build a city the size of Hull every year just to accommodate those incomers, and more when they have children.
Secondly, our chronic reluctance to train people means that fewer British workers have vocational and technical skills than any of our competitors; yet encouraging employers to recruit from abroad undermines their incentive to train and employees’ incentive to upskill. After Blair opened our borders, training time per worker halved and funding for training fell by 16%. We are told that the NHS needs migrants because Brits do not want to be doctors and nurses. Untrue—there are 10 applicants for every place in a medical school, and we turned away 35,000 applicants for nursing courses last year. The NHS finds it cheaper to import doctors and nurses from poor countries, which need them more than us, rather than train British applicants.
Thirdly, we invest less per head than most of our competitors. A ready supply of cheap labour reduces employers’ incentives to invest in improved productivity, and most skilled immigrants work in low-skilled jobs.
So, we need this Bill to reduce pressure on housing, encourage training in skills and boost investment.
My Lords, it will come as no surprise to the Minister that I and many others will focus on some of the potential unintended consequences of this Bill as we endeavour to speak on behalf of those with limited voice and means and without the level of expertise required to navigate our highly complex immigration and social security systems. At this stage, I will not set out a shopping list of the many areas where we would like clarification; we will be able to do that in painful detail in Committee, which I hope will be conducted in your Lordships’ House with rather more time, care and attention than was possible in another place.
This afternoon, I want to focus on an area that the Minister confessed on Monday is of particular interest and relevance to her. During an exchange with the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, who will speak later in this debate, she indicated how pleased she was to find a colleague in your Lordships’ House who shares her interest in her particular area of policy responsibility: digital ID and data. One might ask what relevance accurate and reliable digital ID and data have to this Bill. Your Lordships will be aware that accurate and reliable data are not a defining characteristic of the modern Home Office. Whether it is confusion over the accuracy and segmentation of our estimated immigration statistics, the exact numbers of care leavers or children awaiting adoption, or the lamentable lack of knowledge and clarity about the legal and citizenship status of the Windrush generation, there is much room for improvement.
There are three areas where accurate and reliable data are of particular importance to this Bill: immigration statistics; exact data on the different categories of EUSS applicants; and the dilemma of how to evaluate policy toward those with no recourse to public funds when there is an absence of proper data on exactly who, and how many, the condition affects. I ask the Minister to do her utmost to commit to clear actions, initiatives and policies and measurable targets to bring about a dramatic improvement in the quality, timeliness and accuracy of data, which are completely fundamental to successful policy direction and implementation. Given her professional and personal interest in this subject—a passion that she appears to share with a certain Mr Cummings—I look forward to her working with your Lordships’ House toward achieving a step change in the quality of Home Office data.
This Bill is regarded by those who believe that we made the right decision in leaving the European Union as the dawn of a new era. Whatever one’s views about that decision, this is an opportunity to ensure that we create new legislation and policies using a level of data and insight that has been sorely lacking in the past—and, alas, is also lacking today.
My Lords, the introduction of this Bill in another place is a signal opportunity for Her Majesty’s Government comprehensively to reset the legislative basis for immigration control in this country, to set out a vision for doing so, and to rationalise and streamline the more than 1,000 pages of immigration legislation under which we labour. It is surprising, therefore, that, as other speakers have pointed out, this Bill is so narrow in scope.
The Government have separately published intentions for their policy on the Immigration Rules which extend neither refuge, welcome nor the means of integration, but instead offer a system that meets the labour demands of business and is therefore entirely different from the Australian points-based system. The Bill is silent on the issue of EU citizens in the UK—another immigration crisis in the making. We now know that the estimate of the numbers of EU citizens here was too low and that the campaign to get them to apply for settled and pre-settled status has been solely in English. The Home Office has cut its funding to NGOs which would help reach those who have not applied, and what about those who think they need not apply, whose English is still poor, or who are children in care in this country?
Following the Government’s recent announcement on their points-based system, I asked the noble Baroness to respond to the concerns around visa routes for ministers of religion and other religious workers, which are particularly exercising for the Roman Catholic Church and black majority churches, where cost is a major factor. Additionally, definitions of “ministers”, “religion” and “religious workers” are leading to confusion. The Church of England would be willing to offer help around definitions, and if the Government would consider the issue of cost, that would be well received by those affected.
There is a strong moral case for the tariff on visas and other fees to be confined to administrative costs. The current system is an unwarranted and burdensome levy on migrants, which is iniquitous. Those who come here to work already pay tax and national insurance to fund our public services. Why must they pay a health surcharge as well? I trust that the waiving of this surcharge during the pandemic is a sign that the Government are having second thoughts on this regrettable manifesto commitment. A migrant applying for indefinite leave to remain in the UK must pay £2,389, whereas the average cost to the Home Office to process such an application is a mere £243.
We should welcome applications to become British citizens and not saddle applicants with debt. Scandalously, the fee for a child is over £1,000, although the High Court found last year that the Home Office had failed to assess the best interests of children in setting this fee. Will the Minister update the House on the implementation of this ruling?
There are two amendments that I would likely be ready and willing to support. Time and again in my diocese, I am told of asylum seekers who are massively disadvantaged by the current ban on paid working. Furthermore, I will support an amendment that sets clear limits on periods of detention. We ignore the relational aspect in the delivery of any public service at our peril. I hope the Government will commit to immigration reform on just principles.
My Lords, the only market the Conservative Party is not in favour of is the labour market. In opening this debate, the Minister talked about the referendum and the December election. A number of seats surrounding my city of Sheffield have gone Conservative. I think those voters would be astonished to find that while the numbers from Europe have literally fallen like a stone, the numbers from the rest of the world, as cited by the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, have rocketed. The changing culture that that will bring in due course might bring pause for thought to the Conservative Party.
I want to concentrate briefly on the contradictions between skilling our own people and this Bill. As has been said, we should of course skill people and do everything possible to ensure that we transform their life chances and the ladder of learning through life. The more people learn and the higher the skill they obtain, the less likely they are to work in those industries and services which are absolutely crucial to our survival.
There are 120,000 vacancies in adult residential care and a turnover rate of 30%. It is estimated that about a quarter of a million people of overseas origin work in adult care services. The Government will probably be saved temporarily by the aftermath of the Covid virus, because people will be desperate to take a job—any job. However, as they skill, they will find that those from overseas will not take the jobs that they are leaving but the jobs that they are seeking—that is, as managers or owners of residential care services. This can be replicated right across the sector.
We deprecate young people going to higher education, as the Secretary of State and his higher education Minister did recently, and suggest that it would be better if they took other jobs. We also imply that those with little skills should take up the jobs previously occupied by migrants who then educated themselves and contributed to the economy.
There is not time to go into the disparaging of the Labour Government by the noble Lord, Lord Lilley. I am very happy to take him on in future, inside and outside the House, on the statistics he quoted, the attitude he displayed and the real importance of understanding the contradictions and difficulties of managing migration policy at the same time as transforming the life chances of those already here.
My Lords, this Bill is heralded as the UK taking back control, not least by ending the free movement of people under retained EU law. Noble Lords will also remember the promise that EU citizens will no longer have any advantage over citizens of non-EU countries. And then Brexit dogma hits reality.
Noble Lords will remember when e-passport gates at UK airports were restricted to UK, EU and EEA citizens only: you simply scan your passport and you are free to enter the UK. Compare this with the often vast queues for other passport holders, whose reason for entry is questioned and whose passports and visas are checked manually by Border Force officers. Of course, the Government cannot continue to give preferential treatment to EU citizens, so the enormous number of EU and EEA visitors to the UK would surely have to queue with those from the rest of the world. After all, we are taking back control of our borders, are we not? Well, no, because the system would grind to a halt if that happened.
So what are we doing now? The Government’s solution is to let citizens of Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea and the United States also use e-passport gates, as well as EU citizens—then, of course, the Government cannot be accused of giving EU citizens preferential treatment. These visitors can come to the UK for six months, do a day trip outside the UK and then come back to the UK for another six months—no visa, no fee, and no way of tracking where they are, how long they stay or whether they have left again. The Government say that
“they may not live in the UK by means of repeat visits”,
but there is no way of checking, unless the Minister can enlighten us; I will listen to her response with interest. Rather than taking back control of our borders, we have thrown them open to even more people.
If you go to the United States of America as a UK citizen, Homeland Security officers at the border will assume that you intend to stay and work illegally until you convince them otherwise. Your photograph and fingerprints are taken and you have to record where you are going to stay and when you intend to leave. When a US citizen comes to the UK, they swipe their passport at the e-passport gates and waltz through the border. It may be a trivial example but, across a wide range of issues, the dogma of ending free movement will result in a detrimental impact on the UK, ranging from staffing our NHS and social care systems to ensuring that our crops are harvested.
Three-minute speeches require one to cut corners, which is always a dangerous thing to do and no more dangerous than when on is talking about immigration, an area where every phrase is liable to misinterpretation.
In the mid-1990s, before the Blair Government opened the gates to and encouraged large-scale immigration, the population of the country was 58.1 million. It is now 66.4 million, some 8 million higher. The ONS projection for the numbers for 2040 is another 6 million on top of that. It means that, in half a century, we will have added a quarter to our population. Today, as I speak, the population is going up by just under 1,100 a day, or just under 400,000 a year, with a third, roughly, from the natural increase—the excess of births over deaths—and roughly two-thirds from immigration.
Members of your Lordships’ House may regard all this with equanimity, but let me tell them that, outside, our fellow citizens do not regard it with equanimity; they are very concerned about it indeed. Recent polling says that no fewer than 74% of those polled believe the Government should introduce policies to deal with the challenges of rapid population growth. Of course, it is important, as my noble friend Lord Lilley said, not to demonise new arrivals; they bring a degree of economic and cultural dynamic without which we would be a much poorer country. But it is about scale, and it is important to recognise that, under the system of the past few years, there have been losers.
Who are the losers? They are the poorest in our society, as the wages for the bottom decile are now 12% lower in real terms than they were in 2008; they are older people, as it is increasingly difficult for people over 50 to get a job, and at a time when we are raising the retirement age from 65 to 68. Another loser is the British economy, whose Achilles heel is a poor productivity record, which is linked to the free availability of labour, meaning that no investment has been made in machinery; it is the developing world, because we, along with the rest of western society seem to see no moral fault in draining the developing world of its scarce trained resources. Lastly, it is our environment and ecology, because of the damage caused by rapid population growth.
In this Bill, we will be resetting the dial on this critical issue. In Committee, I will want to probe my noble friend on the Front Bench to reassure us, first, that those who have lost out in the years so far will not lose out in the next set of years and, secondly, that proper weight will be given to the quality of aspects of population growth, since they will have such an important and vital consequence for the country we leave our children and grandchildren.
My Lords, I will concentrate on those parts of the Bill that make provision for social security co-ordination, particularly Clause 5 and Schedules 2 and 3.
We are currently part of the EU system, which is based on four principles: the single state principle that, at any one time, EU citizens are covered by the social security system of just one country and have to pay contributions in only one country; equal treatment, whereby if they are in another member state, they have the same rights as their nationals; aggregation, meaning that periods of insurance, employment or residence in other member states count when determining eligibility for benefits; and exportability, meaning that they can receive benefits from one member state even when they live in another. There is a well-established system of administrative co-operation behind this and these provisions will still apply after the transition period for those within the scope of the withdrawal agreement. The UK has also done a deal with Ireland that broadly replicates the current provisions.
However, the position of other people moving between the UK and the EU after the transition period will depend on whether a future relationship agreement covering social security co-ordination is secured. The augurs are not positive. Last month, a Commons Library brief noted:
“The EU’s Draft Protocol on Social Security Coordination and the UK’s Draft Social Security Coordination Agreement differ significantly in terms of both the matters covered and the persons covered.”
There is some common ground on state pensions, where both sides want aggregation and for pensions to be able to be exported and uprated annually, but not on disability benefits or healthcare for pensioners living abroad. And there are no co-ordination provisions for benefits other than pensions.
Can the Minister tell us whether there is an agreement in the offing? If not, am I right that this could mean that, without an agreement, workers moving to or posted to an EU country could have to pay national insurance contributions in both countries; people moving between the UK and the EU could find that their contributions paid overseas are ignored if, say, they later fall sick and need to claim benefits; and that there will be no clear rules about which country is responsible for paying someone’s benefits and no mechanism for resolving disputes?
There is deep uncertainty about the future position, but the right response is not a Bill containing Henry VIII powers so broad that they will allow Ministers pretty much to rewrite the social security co-ordination rules at will. Social security co-ordination is an essential prerequisite for labour mobility. But it is also about fairness. These issues affect a lot of people and Parliament deserves more clarity, control and accountability than this Bill currently affords.
My Lords, there is little positive to say about this Bill and much, as my noble friend Lady Hamwee has so eloquently summarised, that is not only negative but deeply alarming. In its current state, the Bill has the potential to disrupt the family life of British citizens resident in the EU and risks creating a bureaucratic quagmire for EU citizens after the settled status deadline expires, leaving all of them without physical proof of their right to live in the UK—a point that I will come back to in Committee.
The very first clause abolishes free movement. From January next year, EU citizens will lose their free movement rights in the UK. At the same time, every British citizen will lose their right to live, work and travel freely throughout the European Union. EU citizens will lose their rights and privileges in one country; British citizens will lose their rights and privileges in 27 across the European continent. Ministers who enjoyed those rights for the majority of their lives have ensured that they are stripped from their children and grandchildren for ever. They have shrunk the horizons of our country and of our children’s futures, and it is a shame. I recognise that the Government will not reverse course, but I hope that they will at least reduce the impact by listening to the arguments to improve the Bill as it progresses through the House.
I want to focus on three particular areas for improvement. The first is in respect of British citizens resident in the European Union. Those with non-British spouses and family members need to know that, should they wish to return to live in the UK with their family, they will be able to do so. All British citizens living in the EU want to be reassured that we will uphold the treaty rights of EU citizens in the UK; the better to insist that they are upheld for our citizens in the EU. Secondly, the current Prime Minister and Home Secretary made a categorical commitment to EU citizens during the referendum that they would retain exactly the same rights as they had before exit. That promise has long since been betrayed but, at the very least, the Government could make one small concession and provide EU citizens with settled or pre-settled status with physical proof of their right to be in the UK. It is a small thing to ask, but it would make a huge difference, especially to the elderly, many of whom are particularly anxious about the current digital-only status. Finally, I urge the Government to amend the Bill to guarantee that the rights of EU citizens will not be subject to alteration by ministerial fiat, but guaranteed in primary law.
In conclusion, let me make this appeal. The Government have the opportunity to reconsider the Bill by accepting amendments that will bring it at least a little closer to the promises made in the referendum campaign and will help to alleviate the anxiety felt by millions of people facing an uncertain future. To do so, they will need the strength and humility to swallow their pride and do the right thing. I hope that they will find it.
My Lords, my concern is the negative impact of the end to freedom of movement and the subsequent points-based system on two discrete groups of people: teachers of modern foreign languages and public service translators and interpreters, especially in the NHS and the criminal justice system. I declare my interests as co-chair of the APPG on Modern Languages and vice-president of the Chartered Institute of Linguists.
An estimated 35% of MFL teachers and 85% of classroom language assistants are EU nationals. The new system would result in such drastic shortages in the supply chain of MFL teachers that the viability of languages on the curriculum would become terminal. If languages disappear in schools they will also continue to disappear in universities, cutting further the supply chain of homegrown MFL teachers and the linguists needed for diplomacy, trade, defence and security. Around a third of public service interpreters are EU nationals and many more are from other countries. The new rules would create severe shortages and many people will have justice or healthcare either delayed or denied. The national register of PSIs has shrunk by nearly a third since 2012 and, unless we improve recruitment and retention, the risk is that, to quote the register’s director, “Inadequate pseudo interpreters will be used and there will be life-threatening situations using bilingual children rather than qualified, experienced, registered and regulated interpreters who understand medical terms and are trained health and medical language experts.”
Some amendments to the new rules would prevent this crisis. Qualified teachers would meet the salary threshold, but it is an impossible barrier for interpreters, almost all of whom are freelance with average annual earnings as low as £15,000 a year. A PhD offers a smoother path into the UK, but this would rule out most vocationally trained practitioners. It would also be fairer to classify them as “highly skilled” rather than just “skilled”, as at present. Freelance status itself is an issue. There is no dedicated route for self-employed people and, as low-earning freelancers, PSIs will not be able to get a sponsor and do not fit into the so-called innovator route. There is a vague promise of a future route that could help, and I ask the Minister to make good on this promise now. Public service interpreting should also count as a specialist occupation.
Finally, it would help enormously if PSIs and all MFL teachers were on the shortage occupation list. Teachers of Mandarin are listed, but with a shortfall already of 38% in MFL teacher recruitment, they should all be on it. I hope that the Minister will look carefully at all the weaknesses I have identified in relation to these two groups of highly qualified, highly skilled workers vital to the UK’s economic and cultural well-being and our human rights. If for nothing else other than enlightened self-interest, we should offer them a better deal.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for introducing the Bill, but I regret the context in which it is presented, particularly as it was presented in the other place. Immigration from the European Union has never prevented us permitting the entry of highly skilled and talented people from elsewhere in the world. Indeed, the number of skilled and talented people coming from outside the European Union has always been considerably higher, but there is an implication that EU migrants are somehow of lesser ability. Bearing in mind the number of them working in the NHS, this is clearly wrong.
We have enjoyed considerable benefits from the 2004 enlargement. Yes, the numbers turned out to be greater than anticipated, but permitting migration from the newly admitted nations was a bold move and a gesture to those states formerly under communist rule. Moreover, the move met with only limited opposition from the then Conservative Opposition.
I also regret the Bill because it marks a very clear break with our neighbours in Europe. It signals the end of the benefit of free movement throughout the EU by UK citizens and we should in no way be triumphant about that. No, European Union immigration is not going to deliver the greatness we seek; it never stopped us having it.
It is not clear to me where the negotiations are regarding travel for UK citizens. I have been asking over time about the efforts Her Majesty’s Government are making to ensure that 180-day visas for visitors, which we are giving to visitors from the European Union, are matched by the 27. I understand that this is a matter for separate negotiation with each of them. It may be that my noble friend can tell me where we are and whether the Government are even concerned about the situation and the potential difference in treatment. Can she also tell me where the negotiations are taking place?
I turn now to Clause 5, which I have read carefully, together with the Explanatory Notes. It is probably me, but I found them quite difficult to follow. Does this clause permit the existing rights of those with EU settled status to be changed to their detriment post 2020? My noble friends have already referred to changes to child benefit. What other changes do the Government have in mind and what other provisions are capable of being changed under the Bill’s provisions? Surely people who have applied and are about to apply for settled status need to know that their entitlement will not be different from UK citizens’. My noble friend referred to the outcome of negotiations. This creates uncertainty for EU citizens, who in fairness need to know where they will stand.
My Lords, I welcome the Minister’s introduction of the Bill, particularly her reference to the common travel area between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. This is particularly welcome today because in recent weeks there has been some concern about Northern Ireland and the message from Dublin that British visitors to the Republic of Ireland are not welcome this year due to the pandemic infection level in Great Britain.
At 7.30 this morning the Dublin Government issued their “green list” of visitors, and while citizens of the EU are allowed to come, people from Great Britain are sadly not on the list. To me, that seems a contradiction of the common travel area. The common travel area has worked successfully and I fully support it. I am glad to say that, for the first time since the south of Ireland left the United Kingdom, last year more people from Britain went to live in the Republic of Ireland than Irish people came to live in the United Kingdom.
I am a governor of the second-largest boarding school in Northern Ireland. Of the total number of pupils who board there, we have some 40 to 50 from foreign countries such as China, India and now even Russia, as well as from the Republic of Ireland. I am concerned about the issue of English language schools in the United Kingdom because they are now in trouble. We have 400 such schools, attended every year by some 150,000 students. The sector is worth £1.4 billion to the United Kingdom economy and it supports 35,000 jobs. Moreover, having students from foreign countries in our schools helps our soft power when they return to their home countries.
However, the statistics are not good for this year. Student numbers were down 28% in the first quarter, down 79% in the second quarter, down a further 83% in the third quarter, and 83% of school staff are now on furlough. Of course, the schools have missed out on the peaks for Easter and summer breaks. There is uncertainty in the key markets—for example, China—and concern about the effect Brexit may have on EU students and staff coming to the schools.
At the same time, competition is increasing from such countries as the United States, Canada, Australia and the Republic of Ireland. In fact, the Republic of Ireland has this year extended its visas due to the pandemic, to make it easier for students to go to English language schools in the Republic. There is big competition out there in the wider world, and the English language schools in the United Kingdom require support. Therefore, I suggest that the temporary workers scheme be introduced with a dedicated visa category for those attending schools, similar to the one we have for seasonal agricultural workers.
My Lords, paragraph 6 of Schedule 1 allows for any EU-derived rights to cease to be recognised in domestic law if they are either inconsistent with immigration legislation or
“capable of affecting the exercise of functions in connection with immigration”.
An important body of EU-derived rights has been the human trafficking directive, one of the aims of which is
“to enable the victim to recover”.
Article 11 requires assistance and support for victims. While the Modern Slavery Act 2015 made many positive changes, it did not, regrettably, include a statutory right to assistance and support, as in the parallel Northern Ireland and Scottish legislation. When the directive ceases to have effect, the EU rights for victims in England and Wales will disappear. It would seem, therefore, that the legal rights of these victims will be negatively affected by the power in Schedule 1.
Last week, the Centre for Social Justice published a report on modern slavery. It said that the Government must enshrine survivor rights in law to guarantee and protect access to support. It, like me, urges the Government to give all trafficking victims certainty over support and immigration status by adopting the noble Lord, Lord McColl, and Sir Iain Duncan-Smith’s Modern Slavery (Victim Support) Bill, which would give confirmed victims of trafficking immigration leave for a minimum of 12 months to receive assistance and support to recover from their abuse.
In the context of the imminent termination of the immigration rights implicit in the right to free movement and the protections in the directive, which have not been translated into UK law, the need for the McColl/Duncan-Smith Bill is now greatly strengthened. I hope the Government will now prioritise giving this Private Member’s Bill time to become law, led as it is in part by two eminent Conservative parliamentarians, one a former leader of the Conservative Party.
I very much welcome the Minister’s opening remarks. She said that all parts of the United Kingdom will be treated as equals. That is very important, and I could not support it more.
My Lords, I am grateful that a day or two ago, the Minister allowed us to ask questions and discuss the Bill in a more informal way than we can today. I still regret that there is so much in the Bill that it will not be in our power to do much about: in other words, the powers given to the Government under the Henry VIII provisions or immigration rules will be such that we can hardly influence them, and we cannot amend them. Can the immigration rules come to us in two stages: the first, amendable in draft form; and then the final version?
Other noble Lords have talked about the difficulties with social care. The Government are saying that their policy is that social care workers should have higher pay, and we should train more of them so that we do not need to have immigrants to deal with social care, where there are 100,000-plus vacancies at the moment. The trouble is, there will not be time for that: we will be near the end of the year and it takes time to train people; it is wishful thinking. The danger is that we will have a larger gap in social care provision as a result of this legislation. It is a retrograde step and we shall live to regret it.
I shall refer to one or two issues on which, if amendments are tabled, I hope I shall be able to support them. I am concerned about the length of immigration detention. As far as I know, we are the only country in Europe that has no limit on immigration detention. In 2019, 24,000 people were detained in this way. Currently, some 1,500 to 2,000 are detained, although it may have gone down a bit because of early releases due to the pandemic. I hope the Minister will confirm that a large proportion of those detained are, in the end, not removed from the country and are released. The only figure I can find is that 37% of those under immigration detention were removed and the remainder were released, so why detain them at all? What is the purpose of that? It seems to me quite wrong, in a democratic country, that we should be doing that.
The right to work for migrants should be such that they can work after six months and not one year. It is very hard for people who have arrived in this country and want to contribute to our economy and pay their taxes if they are not able to do that. I am also concerned about the discussions about no recourse to public funds, which punishes people twice over. I hope to be able to move an amendment to the Bill on child refugees. I believe that public opinion, if the arguments are put, supports bringing into this country some of the most vulnerable of our fellow human beings—child refugees in Calais and on the Greek islands. I very much hope the House will support such an amendment in the interests of human rights and justice.
My Lords, it is a delight to follow the noble Lord, Lord Dubs. Immigration and asylum issues are fairly emotive. Despite the nature and effect of various pieces of immigration and asylum legislation, the circumstances surrounding them remain contentious. The present immigration and social security co-ordination Bill is a clear example of the failure of the Government’s strategy to make migration work for Britain. All the promises about controlling numbers—fewer than 100,000 a year—have not worked for Britain.
Economic migrants have helped to make Britain one of the richer countries in the world, both economically and culturally. There remains a positive economic benefit from managed immigration, filling the demand for skills and labour that are in short supply. It is for this reason that we should concentrate more on the economic and cultural benefits of this process. Constant harping on the control of numbers has skewed our approach to this subject. The cultural and operational practices adopted by the Home Office are notoriously inefficient. Nowhere is this more explicit than in its failure to provide a service that is efficient, effective, timely and fair for all. There is a very high error rate in the initial decision-making process, which results in a culture of rejection.
We have seen race and immigration issues being exploited during both general and local elections. The attempts by politicians to appease a certain section of the public and the media shamefully made a political football of the immigration issue. The last Greater London mayoral election was a case in point. We were told that millions of Turkish migrants were ready to enter this country after the referendum. One does not need Home Office vans touring the streets of London telling illegal immigrants to go home: this is not the way to run our country.
Immigration policies have played a crucial role in successive Governments over the past few years. Let me cite an example. The Labour Government in the 1950s, at the time of Windrush, set up an interdepartmental committee to consider the possibility of legislation and administrative methods to deal with the matter of immigrants. Its key recommendation was that any solution depending on an apparent or concealed colour test would be so invidious as to be impossible to adopt. However, it concluded that, nevertheless, it has to be recognised that the use of power to restrict the free entry of British subjects would, as a rule, be confined to coloured persons. This was nearly 70 years ago. It is no wonder the price we are paying for Windrush, which has now affected so many lives.
We have the same situation now. We are refusing to give proper documentation to settled migrants from the EU, despite the concern expressed on this by EU ambassadors and others.
Finally, there are many issues in the present legislation that we intend to probe; many of them have been highlighted by other speakers. Key among these is that the Bill leaves the immigration system to secondary legislation. This is unacceptable, and the Government should be prepared to expect problems in Committee.
My concern is the interests of EEA citizens who are victims of human trafficking and exactly how their situation will change on 31 December. Hitherto, some EEA victims have been able to remain on the basis of treaty rights that will no longer exist. Even if the Government allow all EEA victims of human trafficking to be automatically considered for discretionary leave to remain, the criteria are tight.
On the basis of past experience, only a tiny portion of confirmed victims of human trafficking are likely to be granted leave to remain. The EEA cohort of victims of trafficking is therefore likely to experience a significant net reduction in access to public funds. This will have significant implications for UK rates of destitution and retrafficking, given that 39% of victims were EEA nationals as of 2019.
In this context, do the Government recognise the strategic significance of my Modern Slavery (Victim Support) Bill? As the noble Lord, Lord Morrow, mentioned, it is sponsored in another place by Sir Iain Duncan Smith. It provides confirmed victims of slavery a minimum of 12 months’ support to help them rebuild their lives, avoiding destitution and retrafficking with all its associated costs and trauma. It will also greatly assist the conviction of traffickers by making it much easier for all victims to think about giving evidence in court.
The Government deserve great credit for their commitment in dealing with human trafficking and slavery, and I am particularly grateful that they adopted my first anti-trafficking and slavery Bill after your Lordships kindly passed it in this House. I therefore look forward to their adoption of my second Modern Slavery (Victim Support) Bill, as kindly mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Morrow.
My Lords, I am president of the Spinal Injuries Association and we are being contacted by an increasing number of members, who include some of the most vulnerable people in society today, desperately worried about the future shortage of skilled carers as a result of the planned immigration system. A very real staffing crisis is looming, with serious implications for the health and safety of a significant number of these vulnerable people.
Carers are not used just in hospitals and care homes. Many disabled people live in their own homes and have live-in carers or carers who visit them every day. These carers include many overseas nationals, and they are absolutely essential in managing disabled people’s health needs and enabling them to lead active, productive and fulfilled lives. They are key workers. Carers are a vital and integral part of the healthcare system.
Low paid does not mean low skilled. The vast majority of social care roles do not meet the planned immigration system’s salary threshold of £25,600. Restricting the numbers of overseas nationals who can work in this sector will put lives at risk, especially as we have an ageing population. We need people with a work ethos who want to help and look after people and enjoy and take satisfaction in doing this.
There is a danger that people who cannot get work of their choice are pushed into doing care work, with such horrifying results as happened at Whorlton Hall near Barnard Castle, Thors Park in Essex and Winterbourne View near Bristol, where patients were abused and bullied. This cruelty was exposed by “Panorama”. We must surely try to prevent this sort of thing happening again. I hope the Government will listen before it is too late.
My Lords, I look forward to the debates on the Bill in Committee and at other stages and draw attention to my registered interests, not least the work I do with charities representing child refugees. I endorse the comments made by a number of noble Lords already in the debate about the need for us to show more humanity in our approach to that. Hopefully your Lordships’ House will indeed do that.
I pick up on one of the remarks made by the Minister in introducing the debate. She said that any regional approach to immigration in the UK would cause chaos and therefore should be avoided. I reflect back on 2004 when, as First Minister of Scotland, I had identified the problem of Scotland’s depopulation. One of the ways we could tackle that problem was to encourage in particular those who had come to study in Scotland to stay, but also to attract new people to Scotland to energise both our population numbers and our economy with the entrepreneurship they would bring.
I agreed a scheme with the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, when he was Home Secretary—an incredibly thoughtful and intelligent Home Secretary, who I think would win that debate he promised us at the end of his earlier contribution. He agreed a scheme that involved a fresh talent visa in Scotland. It was particular to Scotland and allowed those who had studied in Scotland to stay longer to secure work and perhaps establish a family and home in our country. The scheme was never abused. Report after report showed that it was possible to have a scheme in one part of the United Kingdom that worked for the local circumstances there. The partnership we developed at that time between the Scottish Government and the UK Government—the Home Office—was an exemplar in devolved-central government co-operation in the UK.
While debates about regional approaches to immigration are sometimes coloured by more extreme demands for devolving responsibility for immigration to one of the devolved nations—which I have never been in favour of—it is possible to have regional approaches. There are parts of the United Kingdom where a one-size-fits-all approach no longer works. This is not just in Scotland but can be in other parts of the UK too. I hope that when we come to debates on this in Committee or on Report, the Minister will be willing to listen to the opportunities that would exist if we opened the door to regional approaches, which would benefit the whole UK and not just the nations or regions affected.
My Lords, the Government say that this Bill aligns the treatment of people from the EEA seeking asylum or to migrate to the UK with that of the rest of the world. From the Government who were responsible for the Windrush scandal, this is indisputably a levelling down and needs extensive scrutiny in this House. Some may question whether any EU 27 citizens would claim asylum. Clearly they have not spoken to people from Poland, where, under the latest iteration of Section 28, municipalities in one-third of the country have declared themselves LGBT-free zones, or to people from Hungary, where President Orbán used the Covid-19 emergency to obliterate the legal recognition of trans people. I hope our Home Office will not treat citizens as inhumanely as it does LGBT asylum seekers from the rest of the world.
Cancer Research UK has pointed out the fear that this Bill threatens the UK’s position as a centre for world-class research. We need an immigration system that enables our institutions to be go-to destinations for global research and innovation talent. That means having a skills pipeline of young junior research scientists, who do not reach the income levels set out in this Bill. Will the Government carry out an urgent review of the UK’s visa costs and their expected impact on the recruitment of international research and innovation staff? If our visa system remains one of the most expensive in the world, we will simply create a hostile environment for research.
We still await the Government’s detailed proposals for the future of social care, but this Bill will definitely disrupt the supply of care staff from abroad. What modelling have the Government done to work out the impact of this Bill on the health and social care sector?
The Bill is heralded by Ministers as laying the foundation for a new immigration system, but it is silent on the nature of that foundation, let alone the substance of any system that may be built upon it. Let us use it as an opportunity to remove one stain on our national reputation: unlimited detention. Let us use it to do what the Home Affairs Select Committee in the other place said on 21 March 2019, when it made wide-ranging criticisms of our current detention policy and practice and concluded that:
“Lengthy … detention is unnecessary, inhumane and causes harm.”
It recommended an end to indefinite immigration detention and the implementation of a maximum 28-day limit.
This Bill has the potential to do great harm to the health and well-being of our nation. I hope it receives detailed scrutiny and amendment during its passage through this House.
My Lords, I am pleased to be able to take part in the Second Reading of this important Bill, as hundreds of thousands of final decisions are made annually under the Immigration Rules which are life-changing for the applicants.
In the past, many have said that the rules have been too complex, so I am pleased about the work to complete redrafting, making the rules simpler and more accessible to applicants, and the twice-yearly updates creating more certainty and transparency.
The Bill commits the Government to deliver a fairer, skills-led immigration system based not on where people come from but on their skills, not only enabling businesses to flourish but giving people the opportunity to begin one, to help drive and deliver a high-performing UK economy. It does this while giving us full control over our borders, together with a future points-based immigration system for when transition ends. As this new system is introduced, decisions can be made, importantly, far quicker and more accurately.
In supporting our economy, business and trade, the Bill ensures that workers and employers pay contributions in only one country at a time. Those who are resident in the UK by the end of the transition period are protected by the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act and will be able to apply to the EU settlement scheme to secure their immigration status in UK law until 30 June 2021. I am also pleased with the confirmation of the rights of Irish citizens.
Let us not forget that migrants play a huge role in our economy—you have only to look at the contribution they make to our health service, brought to prominence particularly during the Covid crisis. It is important to note both that those currently working in the NHS will be subject to an automatic extension for a year and the settlement scheme for EU citizens, which opened in March 2019 and received 3.7 million applications.
This Bill will allow the Government to identify understaffed sectors and make provision for those who want to make a new life here and contribute to our economy. The costs to the public sector of ending free movement will relate to the administration of the evidence-based system. They will not be minor costs, but the Government are responding to the people across the country who have called for this change.
As the Secretary of State said, this is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reform our immigration system so that all EU and non-EU citizens will be treated equally—a system to develop our national interest and the economy which treats immigrants from all countries on the same basis. It is fair and not anti-immigration. It is based on people’s skills rather than on their nationality. It is a system which mirrors those of other countries and will give us a lever to open up to the world, which I welcome.
My Lords, I fully endorse the contributions of the noble Lords, Lord Lilley and Lord Hodgson. I declare a non-financial interest as founding co-chairman and now president of Migration Watch. In those capacities I have followed immigration for nearly 20 years; indeed, I am now on my 10th Home Secretary and 15th Minister for Immigration.
Migration Watch is the only body that has consistently called for a reduction in the scale of immigration, a view which, according to nine recent opinion polls, is shared by a majority of the UK population. That amounts to approximately 30 million adults. I add that Migration Watch has a remarkable record in projecting immigration levels. For example, in 2002, we estimated that non-EU net migration would run at 2 million over the following decade. We were met with disbelief, but the ONS later estimated that it had indeed amounted to 2.1 million.
This points-based system will cause net migration to spin out of control. The only question is how rapidly this will occur. Secondary legislation under the Bill will lower salary and educational requirements. At the same time, work routes will be opened up to the whole world and will generate a pool of potential—I stress “potential”—candidates running into literally hundreds of millions. Some employers will want cheaper, non-unionised workers; others will follow suit to stay competitive. Furthermore, as these routes will lead to settlement, many candidates around the world will have relatives already here to guide and encourage them—all this as unemployment in the UK heads into several millions.
In a nutshell, the Government are heading for a car crash. There is only one way to avoid this: to start with a cap on work permits and then adjust it as necessary. The public will simply not understand why, having promised to take back control over immigration, the Government should then hand control over to employers, most of whom have very little interest in controlling it.
My Lords, under cover of the pandemic, Ministers are doggedly pursuing their Brexit immigration agenda when we are in the grip of a pandemic-induced economic tsunami. A hard Brexit, sought by many Conservatives, will sever links with our most important trading partners and neighbours, and unilaterally end free movement on 31 December, with our economy still on its knees and facing a major skills crisis.
This will be the second time in the last 10 years that a Conservative Government have retrospectively changed the rights of migrants who have legally entered this country to live and work here. The Bill aims to prioritise “skilled” labour with a points-based system based largely on salary. However, as shown by a recent Ipsos MORI poll, the public recognise, with my noble friend Lord Rosser, the important role played in the pandemic by the 180,000 European Union-national health and care workers, most of whom would be identified by the Home Secretary as “low-skilled” and would not have qualified for visas under the Bill.
Unless deals on citizens’ rights are reached with the European Union, these workers, many of them heroes in the Covid crisis, will be exposed to the harsh reality of the Home Office’s failed and inhumane hostile environment policy. It is also likely that there will be a second Windrush for the children of migrants, as the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, said in this House on 2 July. The Government’s promises on EU nationals’ rights mean nothing if they are not backed by primary legislation. They should be granted automatic settled status. The Bill does neither.
To lead a recovery from Covid, the Government are promoting investment in construction and infrastructure, highly dependent on skilled labour from the EU, yet they have no effective strategy for domestic skills-based programmes, which take years to deliver results. By ending free movement, the UK will become less accessible to highly skilled EEA migrants, on whom we have depended for years. The Huawei debacle has illustrated that the “global Britain” assumed by leave in the referendum campaign no longer exists. Our legal, economic and trading relationship with the EU—the world’s biggest, richest market, right on our doorstep—which is in no way settled, should remain our most important for years to come. Our immigration system should reflect that, not the other way around.
Another huge consequence of the Bill is that, as a direct consequence of the lack of reciprocal agreements on citizens’ rights, 66 million UK nationals will lose the benefits of their EU citizenship, their rights to travel freely and to live, work and study elsewhere in our European home. Frankly, this is all a shambolic disgrace.
My Lords, I believe our nation welcomes the broad thrust of this Bill, as I do, but in the short time available, I will pick out just three points. First, I suspect that all noble Lords are well aware of the challenge with care workers. There is no doubt that there needs to be some transition, some amendment to how we deal with care workers. We have 8% of roles in adult social care vacant at the moment: 122,000. In addition, 8% of the social care workforce have an EU identity—et cetera.
It seems to me that Canada, Australia and New Zealand, to mention just three countries that face a very similar problem, have found what they believe to be a fair answer to meet this challenge—which is not a challenge that can be dealt with in five minutes. I have been a Member of Parliament, as have a number of my colleagues sitting in the Chamber this afternoon. We know about care homes, old people’s homes and nursing homes, so we know you cannot adjust them furiously in a few minutes. But I say to my noble friends on the Front Benches that we have to find an answer.
The other aspect of the NHS is doctor recruitment. We have had far too few young men and women entering the medical profession. It is highly oversubscribed, but—I am sorry to say this; I might be seen to be sexist—60% of the intake today is female, and, of those, well over half only ever work part time, so that is not an answer. We need to increase the intake to our medical schools.
My noble friend Lord Lilley mentioned nursing. What was the figure he gave: 25,000 nurses applying to nursing schools turned down last year? We have to find an answer to this. If we do not, the figure of 29% of doctors working in NHS hospitals coming from overseas will never be solved. I say to my noble friend on the Front Bench: I hope that will be looked at.
Finally, a number of colleagues in the House know that I am closely involved with Sri Lanka. I know a fair bit about illegal immigration; I know about self-harm; I know about alleged torture; and it is still happening. I am sorry to say that: self-harm is still happening. That is not good for the individuals involved and it is putting money into the pockets of people that it should not be, so I should like that investigated, and I will be supplying my noble friend with some information about that.
My Lords, the Bill includes extraordinary powers for Ministers to make changes to primary legislation. It does so without any safeguards or restrictions on how they may be exercised. These powers were described as “very significant” by the House of Lords Delegated Powers and Regulatory Refom Committee, and it rightly expressed concern. I am concerned too. This legislation, even if it is narrow in scope, is seen as laying the foundations for a new immigration system. If that is the case, this is an opportunity to ensure that it is underpinned by principles and purpose that will guide the exercise of immigration powers and ensure that it is compliant with fundamental rights.
Our immigration system is becoming responsible for a vastly increased number of people and applications, but is the system up to the task? Apparently not; the Windrush scandal shows that. The Law Commission recently highlighted the complexity of the Immigration Rules. The system is in need of reform, and this is an opportunity to make it compliant with fundamental rights and, in the words of the Home Secretary, to make it firmer, simpler and fair. It is an opportunity to have a system which supports refugee family reunion and takes steps towards ending immigration detention, among other things.
With regard to family reunion, in Committee on the Bill in the other place, the Immigration Minister, Kevin Foster, stated that the Government are committed to the principle of family reunion and supporting vulnerable children. These words should be matched with action. Currently, the Dublin regulation includes transfers for the purposes of family reunion, but at the end of the Brexit transition period this route for family reunion may be lost. This is an opportunity to amend domestic legislative rules and provide a legal and safe means for vulnerable individuals to join families, and to mitigate some of the risks of leaving the Dublin system. With regard to detention, this is an opportunity to significantly improve the law by providing a statutory limit of 28 days for any person to be held in detention.
Finally, I wish to raise an issue which has been drawn to my attention by English UK, the national association of English language teachers. The current situation is that EU, EEA and Swiss citizens can use ID cards in lieu of passports to enter the UK under free movement rules. The Government plan to scrap the EU ID card entry by 2021. This threatens to deter EU and EEA students, particularly junior students under 18. This could lead to a downturn of juniors coming here; we might lose them to Ireland or Malta. About 260,000 students travelling to the UK to study are under 18. Many do not have passports. The cost and bureaucracy of obtaining them for a short period is prohibitive.
Four hundred English schools bring in 550,000 students every year and inject about £1.4 billion into the economy. The benefits to the economy of the UK and to UK soft power are evident. The future of English schools is already in danger due to Covid, and if no action is taken on ID cards, we may see closure of those schools. A small amendment, such as creating a passport-free joint travel document which could be used by a group of students travelling together with the group leader, would ease the situation and minimise delays at the border. The security risks of juniors are minimal, as they will be travelling as a group with a leader, so I hope this small amendment will be accepted in the course of the Bill’s passage.
My Lords, immigration policy has been controversial, often bitterly controversial, in this country for more than 130 years, since the waves of Jewish immigration in response to the pogroms in Russia in the 1890s. Looking at policy since then, we see that there have been periods of substantial immigration that have led to civic reactions against it and then a closing down of immigration.
The last time we went through a process similar to the one we are going through at the moment was in the 1960s when, in response to the substantial immigration from the Commonwealth, there was a big social reaction, bitter political controversy caused by it and, in the two Commonwealth immigration Acts of the 1960s, an almost complete cessation of immigration. From the late 1960s until the expansion of the European Union in the early 2000s, there was almost no net migration into this country. Looking at the challenges that we have faced and the situation the Government are responding to in the context of Brexit, it is always important to get the history right to understand what the right policy is for the future.
What went wrong after 2003 was not too much Europe but too little. What we should have done with the expansion of the European Union to central and eastern Europe—I bear my share of responsibility for this—was to have implemented the same seven-year transitional controls as virtually the whole of the rest of the European Union implemented. If we had actually been a team player in the European Union, which we have been so bad at doing for almost the entirety of our membership, I do not believe we would have had the social pressures which led to the big immigration concerns about Brexit after 2010. We were at fault in that, which is why Britain became the overwhelming focus of immigration after 2004, and it was not properly managed.
However, two things were going on at that time. One was net migration into this country from central and eastern Europe, predominantly—although there had been earlier waves from Italy and Spain, they were of smaller numbers. However, the other crucial development, which is why the whole system is unstable is, of course, that Brits were going freely to travel, live, study and settle abroad. The bit which will make this system entirely unstable is that anything we do in response to migrants coming from the rest of the European Union will be done in respect of the more than 1 million Brits who have already settled and many others who want to take advantage of similar rights in the future. When the public wake up to the fact that their own rights to travel, study, settle and work across the European continent will suffer in exactly the same ways we restrict rights to others in Europe coming here, this situation will become controversial in this country and not just internationally.
Of all the speeches made so far, the one which the noble Baroness and the Home Secretary should be really worried about is that of the noble Lord, Lord Green. He is correct. My analysis of the points-based system with the salary threshold is that the Government do not in fact have any control. In the guise of taking back control, they do not have control over the situation hereafter. We now have a massively unstable system, potentially millions of new immigrants coming from the wider world beyond the European Union, and a British population that will be increasingly disgruntled when they realise that their own emigration and travel rights across the rest of Europe will suffer. I therefore see this as a staging post in a very unstable situation with regard to immigration in the future.
My Lords, it is clear from the Minister’s introduction that she knows how damaging the Bill is. The Government deploy a circular argument. They say they are delivering on the referendum result, and that immigration was a factor in that result, as if members of the Government had not been the ones who helped persuade the British public that leaving the EU was a good idea, and that there were risks of huge increases in immigration if we did not.
We have been clapping for NHS, social care and other essential staff. The Government are belatedly realising how important they are. It is specious for the Government now to say what they are saying about pay in the social care sector when they have not addressed it in funding. What will they say when those helping to underpin, for example, our virtual system, leave? Will they say that they just did not know? There are so many others in so many other sectors, from agriculture to warehouse distribution. We depend on the City of London for the tax revenues required for the NHS and social care, let alone the so-called levelling up of the north. Yet here the City of London is undermined.
We are in the middle of a pandemic, with things likely to get worse this winter. We choose this moment to fail to secure a deal with the EU that keeps us in the customs union and the single market, or any but the most basic of arrangements, further damaging our better businesses. Then we make it worse by introducing this immigration system into an economy which, prior to coronavirus, had record levels of employment. The Bill gives business totally inadequate time to prepare. Why is so much in secondary legislation, which is so difficult to scrutinise? It shows how unprepared the Government are that they are seeking to do it this way. They are beginning to realise the unintended consequences of their system.
The Chancellor said that he was not driven by ideology. He has recognised the support required for our economy. If only his colleagues in the Home Office could be as pragmatic, and spend their time protecting the country from the effects of that referendum. The proposed new system is deeply damaging to Britain, to the British economy and to those whom the Government say they wish to help.
My Lords, I am delighted to participate in this debate and I pay tribute to the Minister and her team for the immense work they have put into preparing for this stage of the proceedings.
I declare an interest in that I am half Danish—the product of a union between a Scottish father and a Danish mother. There are deep historic ties between the UK and Denmark and I regret that they will be broken at one swoop in the Bill. I too take very seriously the words of the noble Lord, Lord Green. My noble friend the Minister referred in particular to the vote. I am sure that she is right that this is the general folklore as to why people voted in the referendum for us to leave the European Union. However, did they vote to see EU net migration fall to now well below 100,000 and to see non-EU migration rise to 250,000 in the same period? I am not entirely sure whether the public have yet grasped the consequences of the vote.
I will put one or two specific questions to my noble friend and would like to explore them further in later proceedings on the Bill. Should we not be making provision for a grace period to clarify the rights of EU and EEA citizens who live here and who may be caught out between 1 January 2021, when the new provisions come into effect, and 30 June 2021, when more detailed subsequent statutory instruments and guidance will come into effect under the terms of the withdrawal agreement? It would be helpful to have that clarified, as obviously both those citizens and their legal advisers will be concerned by this.
I echo the comments of other noble Lords who flagged up category of the low-skilled worker, which will come back and cause the Government and the country enormous problems. All of us are concerned about the healthcare workers, and I mention the 29% of doctors working in the NHS hospitals, to whom we are enormously grateful, and the 12% of non-British EU health care workers who will be caught out by these provisions. There are also the farm workers, who pick the vegetables and fruit at this time of year. If my noble friend could address my concerns in that regard, I will be very grateful. I hope the Minister will also have regard to a plea from businesses about the lack of time until the new provisions come into effect. Will better guidance be made available before the end of the transition period?
My Lords, I acknowledge the comments from the Minister and welcome the Government’s intention to make significant improvements to the pay and conditions of social care workers. The health and care visa route recently announced excludes social care worker from its list of skilled workers. In Australia, New Zealand and Canada, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, where a points system like that proposed by the UK Government operates, they have included an alternative immigration route for social care workers.
In April 2017, the New Zealand Government increased care and support workers’ pay by 21% to improve recruitment and retention in the sector. That also resulted in greater parity between social care and health workers and meant that migrants in the sector were more likely to meet the income threshold under New Zealand’s points-based immigration system. In Canada, like in the UK, social care workers are in demand across the country. There they are listed in the target occupations list, which means that migrants with experience or relevant qualifications can gain a Canadian permanent resident visa.
If the Government will not create a visa route to allow social care workers into this country, prior to the new system being introduced next January they must develop a strategy for social care that will ensure an adequate supply of labour in the sector. Nearly 8% of roles in adult social care are currently vacant, equivalent to 122,000 vacancies at any one time. We know that the NHS is a direct competitor for staff in some roles and can offer enhanced pay levels and a national career structure. For example, nurses working in the NHS earn 7% more than those working in adult social care—a gap that is set to grow under the recent NHS pay deal.
Parity of recognition for social care staff is acknowledged as important. It is more than important; it is essential. I hope the Government will recognise this and act accordingly.
My Lords, migration is a natural part of life and an experience shared between all living things on our planet. Moreover, for those of us who trace our faith back to Abraham, migration has been a continuous and inescapable feature of our human history.
In this context, I welcome any debate to discern together what guiding principles and moral framework should underpin a new system for managing migration. However, given the narrowness of the Bill, I hope we will not lack further opportunities for healthy public debate, and that the reservation of so much to secondary legislation will not hide future policy from scrutiny and discussion.
Research indicates that a hostile immigration environment does not deter migration. Rather, it makes migrants more vulnerable to abuse. I record my particular concern about the lack of provision for victims of human trafficking and modern-day slavery in the Bill. Indeed, this legislation could see crucial protections for the most vulnerable in society being lost, without appropriate replacement. I think in particular of the EU anti-trafficking directive, as the noble Lords, Lord Morrow and Lord McColl, indicated.
However, it is not just victims of modern-day slavery who are extremely vulnerable. Asylum seekers and refugees continue to be denied the right to work. It seems very strange that the Government continue to deny people waiting on a decision from the Home Office the opportunity to support themselves—and to pay taxes.
Meanwhile, the Government are keen that the United Kingdom should attract the brightest and best from overseas. Many people displaced by conflict or persecution have valuable professional skills in areas such as medicine and engineering but are stuck in refugee camps, unable to use those skills to support their families and rebuild their lives. I welcome the Government’s openness to considering a displaced talent visa to level up access to labour market mobility for those displaced from their homelands. My colleague the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham and I look forward to further discussions in Committee.
Finally, I highlight the lack of provision for children in the Bill. According to Children’s Society research, many local authorities are not aware of how many children in their care will be affected by our exit from the European Union. This would leave an already vulnerable group of children and young people without recourse to public funds liable to immigration detention or forced removal from their home and the country they have grown up in.
Migration is a constant feature of our nation’s story. Our shared task is to discern how we can create a system that benefits all.
My Lords, although I too am pleased to speak in this Second Reading, I am sorry that we have this Bill at all. Like so many of our fellow citizens, I regret it. It is a Bill that makes provision to end the excellent free movement that we had under EU law in exchange for what I believe to be a punitive points-based system.
Like my noble friend Lord Rosser and others, I will concentrate on the care sector. We have seen how much care workers do under the pressures of the virus, and how the problems of funding and security have created problems for the care sector and shown how it is often treated as a poor relative of the NHS. We need to give more consideration to the care sector’s value and to work to keep its workforce; otherwise they will continue to be an afterthought in immigration, as well as other areas. As others have said, part of the new points-based immigration system disadvantages them. They will be excluded from the new health and care visa. Even senior care workers would not qualify with the minimum salary threshold. It is unjust and unfair, particularly on top of the lack of support they have had during the Covid epidemic. I hope this matter can be dealt with and looked at more carefully in Committee and on Report.
As the noble Lord, Lord Morrow, and my noble friend Lord McConnell, did, I will touch on whether this applies to the whole of the United Kingdom. As a Scots Peer, I think that immigration must remain principally a UK-wide competence, as the noble Lord, Lord Morrow, said. I strongly disagree with the SNP’s proposal for an alternative immigration system for Scotland. That is very different from the very limited scheme that my noble friend Lord McConnell introduced, which he described earlier. Scotland’s immigration needs are not significantly different from other parts of the United Kingdom. Anyway, how could we prevent immigrants moving around the UK without border controls? The Deputy Speaker will know and I am sure that he would agree that the last thing we need are border controls at Gretna and Berwick.
The next speaker is the noble Lord, Lord Strasburger.
My Lords, this squalid little Bill would end our participation in Europe’s greatest post-war achievement: freedom for all of us to live, love and work without hindrance anywhere in 27 countries. I deeply regret its loss.
We have to wonder how we have plummeted so far since the heady days of the London Olympics. In just eight years, that pride in our country and the welcome we gave to the world have given way to division and cynicism. What has changed is that the cabal of leave campaigners, who cheated and lied their way through the referendum, went on to capture the Conservative Party and then the Government. They have not changed their shameful methods. They are still peddling the beguiling but delusional myth of British exceptionalism, claiming that everything they do is world-beating when it manifestly is not. The hard truth is that their stewardship has taken us into the relegation zone of the world Covid league. When they combine that with a hard Brexit, we will tumble out of contention altogether. Our excessive death toll from the virus was caused by the PM’s absence in February while rearranging his marital affairs, his dithering over lockdown in March and his adviser’s barely concealed fetish for herd immunity.
Yesterday’s ISC report described Russia as
“a muddy nexus between business and corruption and state power”,
but this sounds a bit familiar closer to home. Here, we have rushed planning decisions to help party donors, huge untendered PPE contracts with unsuitable companies and the ruling party being dangerously close to wealthy, Kremlin-connected Russians. Indeed, Mr Johnson has a penchant for oligarchs’ hospitality. At the risk of gifting them kompromat in 2018 he cavorted with them, without his security detail, but with a former Russian spy, at an Italian palazzo. At the same time, the citizens of Salisbury were reeling from Russia’s use of deadly nerve agent on their streets.
The Prime Minister’s chief adviser, who, remarkably, retains his post while being literally in contempt of Parliament, and whose mantra is “Never admit mistakes, never apologise, never resign”, has three years in Moscow on his CV. Is it then any wonder that these people buried the ISC report before the election, or that they are still resisting the cross-party calls for an investigation into Russian interference in the referendum? What on earth could they possibly have to hide?
My Lords, I shall strike a rather less partisan note. Like my noble friend Lord Naseby, I welcome the Bill because it is clearly a necessary part of the Government’s attempts to reduce the large-scale immigration we have had over the past 20 years to a more sustainable level. Large-scale immigration is damaging to Britain in a number of ways. First, it reduces the quality of life in these islands. The UK is a heavily populated country. The population is growing at its fastest for more than a century and two-thirds of that growth comes from immigration. The extra people have to be provided for, and that has many adverse effects. For example, an area of countryside the size of Cornwall has been lost to development since 1990. All this is well set out in a pamphlet by my noble friend Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, which I recommend the House reads carefully. It is much more interesting than most government pamphlets and much better illustrated.
Secondly, large-scale immigration damages the economy. Most obviously it deters businesses from investing in training and apprenticeships for the domestic population. Thirdly, immigration on the present scale also increases inequality because the lowest paid suffer most from immigration. Fourthly, large-scale immigration makes the problem of maintaining social cohesion far worse. Fifthly, there is a moral point. What right has Britain to scour the world for skilled people when they are often desperately needed in their own countries? Finally, British people have repeatedly shown that they do not want large-scale immigration at this level. Despite this, the Labour Government under Tony Blair went ahead with large-scale immigration. It harmed the country, it cost Labour votes on a massive scale and it increased distrust of politicians because people felt they had not been consulted—and, indeed, they had not been.
This is an enabling Bill and does not set out the Immigration Rules. Like the noble Lords, Lord Green of Deddington and Lord Adonis, I hope that when the Minister considers these comments she will look at what they said because I am afraid we have insufficient control of this situation and we have given employers too much control. None the less, I am delighted that the Government have said that they will keep the situation under review and will act quickly when necessary. I hope my noble friend will confirm that in her wind-up speech.
My Lords, I start by explaining that I am married to someone who has gone through the EU settled status scheme after having lived here for more than 25 years. His experience as a German national was relatively straight- forward, albeit expensive. The dénouement came when his citizenship ceremony took place. Other new migrants had been given crib cards showing the words of the national anthem, but they were unable to sing it when the audio system broke down in the town hall in the middle of their rendering of “God Save the Queen”. Suffice it to say that while we are good at most big things, we tend not to be able to pull off small but symbolic things very well in this country.
Turning to the Bill, I shall pick up the thread of the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, about data and statistics that will determine the future rights of some EU citizens. The Financial Times recently showed up the discrepancy between the Office for National Statistics data and the reality of the number of EU citizens in the UK who may be eligible for settled status. According to the ONS, some 3.4 million people from the EU are eligible for settlement. However, the number of EU migrants who have applied to stay after Brexit already exceeds the official estimate. At the end of May, there had been some 3.6 million applications. The FT surveyed EU embassies and discovered that the UK Government had underestimated the EU-born population of the UK by more than 500,000 people.
This is reminiscent of Mr Blair’s breezy estimates about how few people would move to the UK when people from the A7 countries were allowed to come, but it is more serious because of its consequences. When the deadline for applications comes on 30 June 2021, there are likely to be people who will lose their legal status overnight and face wrongful deportation. I understand that the Home Office has said that it will take a “flexible and pragmatic approach” and that anyone with “reasonable grounds” for missing the deadline will be given further opportunities to apply. I would like to hear from the Minister what the flexibility and reasonable grounds criteria will be. What opportunities will be available and, more importantly, will they be publicised to EU nationals and their family members? That further opportunity is bound not to be taken up if people do not know about it.
In Committee, I will press for an improvement in the granting of visa for the tech industry. When I was chairing the EU Financial Affairs Sub-Committee, we heard from numerous groups about the importance of a fast-track, simplified system for people who establish start-ups or work in the fintech sector. There is a vast amount of data on the success of those born abroad in driving growth in the fastest growing companies. Half of the UK’s fastest growing companies have at least one foreign-born co-founder, according to studies. As time is short, I shall pick up on this theme in Committee. In the meantime, I look forward to the Minister’s reply to my questions.
My Lords, in the time I have today I shall restrict my comments to two issues. The first is care workers. As noted by many noble Lords, there are around 120,000 jobs currently vacant in the adult social care sector and around 250,000 social care workers are EU or non-EU nationals. The immigration system proposed in the Bill will seriously undermine the social care workforce. It puts up barriers that will stop people from overseas coming to the UK to work in adult social care. This will lead to an even higher level of staff shortages in the care system, which is already stretched thin and experiencing a high number of staff vacancies. It is also wrong to exclude care workers from the qualifying list for the new health and care visa. While the senior care worker role is included, the salary threshold will make the vast majority of care workers ineligible to apply. Will the Minster set out clearly in her response why the Government are reluctant to provide a sector-specific visa route which allows international recruitment into social care? Such a route exists in other countries, such as Canada and New Zealand, so why is such a route not being considered for the UK, especially as our need is as great as theirs?
The second issue I want to touch on is EU children in care. I echo the comments of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bristol. Thousands of children in care and care leavers could be at risk of being left unlawfully resident in the UK next year without co-ordinated action between central government and local authorities. The Government are the corporate parent of these children and should act as any parent would. They have a responsibility to ensure that all children in their care receive the settled status to which they are entitled. Applying under the EU settlement scheme is not simple and straightforward. For children in care and care leavers, gathering the required evidence has been a challenge. Will the Minister give the House up-to-date figures on the number of children in care who have applied under the scheme to date and indicate how many of them have been denied settled status? If she does not have the figures to hand, perhaps she will write to me and place a copy of the letter in the Library. Will the Government commit to put in place the processes and policies necessary to guarantee that all EU children in care and care leavers receive the permanent immigration status to which they are entitled?
My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register. I thank all the NGOs and businesses which have been in touch with me regarding the Bill.
The Bill allows the Government to create a new immigration statement by statutory instrument. The Bill is asking for a blank cheque, but on something as important as this, proper parliamentary scrutiny is essential. The Bill also dispenses with the consent of the Scottish Parliament to social security co-ordination measures. Not only is the content of the Bill bad, it is a constitutional outrage that concentrates executive power in the UK by taking control over the consent of nations and Parliament at the expense of child refugees, migrant workers and others.
Further, the Secretary of State must make provision to ensure that unaccompanied children, spouses or vulnerable dependent adults who have a family member legally present in the United Kingdom have the same right to be reunited in the United Kingdom as they would have had under Commission Regulation EU 604/2013.
The deadline for applying to the EU settlement scheme must be extended and a comprehensive plan implemented to protect, as many others have said, all children in care and care leavers to whom this provision is applicable. Furthermore, a child has the right to citizenship in UK nationality law and they should not be charged more than £1,000 to make it a reality. The current citizenship fee for children should be scrapped. I shall also support the amendments on refugee children that will be tabled by my noble friend Lord Dubs.
My Lords, I share all the criticisms made by my noble friends but I shall focus on the potentially hugely detrimental impact on the higher education, cultural and tech sectors of the ending of EEA freedom of movement and on how government needs to take the necessary action required by those sectors so that the impact can be at least partially mitigated.
International students and academic staff contribute hugely to our universities and the UK as a whole. We have recently lost ground as a destination, and the new points-based system and Covid-19 are extremely likely to further damage recruitment. The creative and culture sector makes a major contribution to our lives and economy, but highly talented individuals in this sector are often paid salaries lower than the UK median. As regards the important tech sector, 13% of the UK’s digital tech workforce is international. The UK faces a chronic digital skills gap, and access to talent is the number one issue in the sector.
Given the issues faced by those sectors, will the Government take these steps? Will they extend the current, or make special, arrangements for EU students for the calendar year 2021? Will they confirm and ensure better promotion of the rules for the new two-year post-study work visa? Under the new minimum salary requirements, only 27% of current international academic staff will be eligible, and the figure is even lower in the creative sector. For each sector, will the Government therefore explore a further reduction in the current income threshold and provide greater flexibility for eligibility? For the creative sector, will they extend the permitted paid engagement scheme, allowing multiple visits and permit-free festival arrangements for EU citizens? Will they also seek a reciprocal touring visa with the EU to enable creators and performers to travel temporarily and take their equipment with them tax free?
The new system will place significant burdens on SMEs in particular. Will the Government give businesses and individuals time, guidance and support to adapt to the new system and provide a much more streamlined system for processing visas? Will they bring costs in line with other countries? The total costs are high. In addition to salary costs, they include the cost of a sponsor licence and a visa, the immigration skills charge and an immigration health surcharge, all of which make recruiting workers internationally much more challenging.
In just these three sectors, despite the huge detriment potentially caused by the new system, a number of crucial mitigating steps could be taken if there is the political will. I hope that the Minister can respond accordingly.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend the Minister on the way in which she introduced this debate. However, I echo the concerns expressed around the House about the Henry VIII powers in Clauses 4 and 5, which seem to deny parliamentarians the right to a say over the new Immigration Rules in the future. I fear that that is not the kind of “taking back control” that fits with our tradition of parliamentary sovereignty.
The Bill is silent on how the changes that it makes in relation to Irish citizens will affect the rights of Northern Irish citizens under the Good Friday agreement. However, I want to focus my brief remarks on the issue raised by many others across the House: the implications for the social care workforce and the elderly, disabled or frail individuals who rely on them for their basic quality of daily life.
I support the desire for employers to focus on investing in their staff, providing training and increasing the prestige of the care workforce, thus making it an attractive profession, but that will take a long time. Even in 2018, the National Audit Office highlighted the lack of any updated DHSC strategy for the adult social care workforce. Nearly 20% of that workforce is from overseas but, despite that, there are more than 120,000 vacancies and staff turnover is around one-third each year. The new points-based system will not include those workers.
I support the aim of attracting the very best migrants from around the world but, unlike in the Australian and New Zealand points systems, our limit of £25,000 a year suggests that those working in social care are not considered to be skilled or valuable enough to be worthy of British residence. However, low pay does not mean low value. What will happen if the domestic workforce cannot be trained? We cannot ask these frail, vulnerable individuals to just wait until the training programme works out. As the noble Lord, Lord Morrow, powerfully explained, this is not about care homes alone; it is about those who live in their own homes and who rely on some immigrants to help look after them.
The domestic workforce is unlikely to respond quickly or positively to work in the care sector—a sector that is underfunded and where workers are underpaid relative to the NHS. Unless we have the Government’s long-term plan for social care, for which we are still waiting a year after it was supposed to be oven-ready, we cannot seriously expect the social care workforce to be filled domestically. I urge my noble friend to listen to the words of my noble friend Lord Naseby and others and introduce a transitional scheme that will help encourage immigration for social care.
Before I start, I wish to say that I support the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord McConnell.
I shall focus my remarks on how immigration reform will affect science and innovation and the health and care sector. The Government have often said that they want the UK to be a science superpower. Apart from funding and international collaboration, which are crucial, this sector relies heavily on our ability to attract, recruit and retain global scientific talent. Thirty-one per cent of UK Nobel prize winners in science where born outside the UK, and 50% of CRUK-supported PhD students are from outside the UK, rising to 70% of post- doctoral researchers. In part, the Government have recognised this by introducing the global talent visa, but serious concerns remain about the rest of the system.
I will focus on two issues. First, I want to talk about the significant cost of the system for employers and researchers, early-stage researchers and technicians, who will be punished by the new rules. Even researchers gaining a Global Talent visa will face costs of over £2,500. This is 10 times the comparable cost in Germany, the US and Australia, and seven times that in France. The UK will be the most expensive scientific destination in the world. Much of this cost is also associated with health costs. The impact is even greater for those not included in the Global Talent visa due to heavy visa costs, which can be as much as £8,500, and that does not include the costs related to family, which will be above that. The points-based system further disadvantages those whose salary level does not reach £25,000, such as lab technicians—a workforce crucial to science and innovation.
Secondly, I want to refer briefly to the effect that the Bill will have on health and social care workers. The mutual recognition of professional qualifications has played a vital role in enabling EU doctors to work in the UK. The legislation would remove that recognition, which applies also to other countries, and would have a significant effect on recruitment, and not just of EU doctors.
My final comment relates to the lack of any migratory route for unregistered care staff—a point already mentioned by the noble Baronesses, Lady Greengross, Lady Kennedy and Lady Altmann. The sector is already in crisis, with an estimated 110,000 nursing vacancies in social care alone. As has already been said, the classification of social care workers as low skilled devalues their contribution and their skills.
I look forward to the Minister’s comments and the opportunity to explore these matters further in Committee.
The noble Lord, Lord Griffiths of Burry Port, has withdrawn from the speakers’ list. The next speaker is the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Llandudno.
When this Bill emerges, it will define our place and reputation. Will we be proud to have been here? As the verse at the bottom of the Statue of Liberty says:
“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore.”
Is that what we want to be remembered for? Or will it be: bring me those who earn between £25,000 and £30,000 per year? Or, bring me those we think of as being best for us? Is it not better to welcome those who are most in need in the world? About 200 or 300 members of staff at the House of Lords earn less than that minimum income that is required to come to the UK—those wonderful people. Need, not greed, should define us, so that people come to us because we want to welcome them. We are trying to build a world which is fit for children to live in, yet we are far, far away from that.
I suggest we look at what will happen with income in Committee, and say that we have to mend this. We have to make this an Immigration Bill with a human face. Thinking of those detained in our immigration centres, we know we are the only country in Europe that has indefinite detention. When the Chief Inspector of Prisons visited some of those detention centres in May this year, it was found that one person had been detained for three years, while another 12 had been detained for 12 months. There is something so wrong with what we are doing with our immigrants. This Bill gives us a chance, so that history will say we took a step that was humane, kindly and concerned. Let us take it.
My Lords, someone needs to say it. Those countries of Europe closest to us, our neighbours, are the ones we have most in common with. We should not be contemplating this Bill—I deeply regret it and find it totally depressing that we are considering it.
The first question I want to ask is of the Labour Party. There is a majority in the House, if Labour supports it, for this Bill to be improved. We saw in the Business and Planning Bill that Labour did not support any amendments, because it wanted it to get through without a Third Reading debate. My first challenge is to the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, when he winds up for the Labour Party. I am not asking for specifics, but are we going to see the same again, or will Labour support reasonable amendments to this Bill?
My second point is that 1.2 million British citizens live in Europe. They have genuine concerns. They want three amendments to this Bill. The first would prevent the removal of the existing right of UK citizens who moved to the EEA to return with the families they have made there. The second and third would prevent the Bill’s regulation-making powers being used to breach the UK-EU withdrawal agreement. Is the Minister prepared to meet representatives of Britain in Europe to discuss their concerns?
My next set of points is from Unison, the union that represents many of the low-paid workers who have been spoken about by noble Lords today. Many of these workers uphold our services, which would not exist without them. There are a number of areas where improvements are needed, not only in the £25,600 threshold, but also in other areas to help low-paid workers. I hope that the Minister will be significantly sympathetic to the need to draft provisions in this area.
Finally, we seem to have privatised the immigration system, with one great notable exception. We have all these difficulties: we need to sort people out and reduce migration— apart from 3 million people from Hong Kong, who, somehow, we can fit in with no problem at all.
This is not a very logical Bill, and I hope we can improve it as it goes through the House. If we can, we can at least make a depressing Bill just about adequate.
My Lords, this Bill brings me great sadness. It embeds and promotes a Brexit that has all the hallmarks of a disaster for the people of the United Kingdom, which, I will remind the House, the people of Northern Ireland did not vote for. This legislation ends the free movement of citizens of the EU, the EEA and Switzerland into the UK. At a stroke, that diminishes the UK, breaks family ties, damages our economy, creates huge obstacles for employers and degrades international research, co-operation and understanding. Frankly, it is a powerful demonstration of how common sense within the British Government has finally slipped its moorings. It makes aliens of European citizens, with whom we have shared common bonds for many years. For me, that is a tragedy, and I do not believe it is what people voted for in the referendum of 2016.
I have particular concerns about specific parts of this Bill that go beyond the obvious risk of creating another Windrush disaster. That would once again show that there are times when the UK’s callousness is matched only by its incompetence. The ending of freedom of movement will cause severe disruption to UK citizens living in the EU, an issue that has already been referred to by other noble Lords. It will also make European nationals coming here potentially subject to the full force of our harsh and often disproportionate immigration detention procedures. I would like the Minister to outline how the Government intend to address these deficiencies.
I note that the opportunity to regularise the position of Irish citizens in Northern Ireland, who do not also hold UK nationality, has not been taken in this Bill, despite the safeguards of the common travel area. This potentially leads these citizens open to deportation. The Good Friday agreement guarantees their rights under the Northern Ireland Act 1998, and it is time for the Government to fulfil their obligations here. I call on the Minister to address this particular issue and how the Government intend to remedy this gap in the common travel area provisions.
My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, said, without the economic and cultural benefits of the immigrant community to this country over the decades—15% of our population is black, Asian and minority ethnic—this country, with 1% of the world’s population, would not be the fifth or sixth largest economy in the world.
This week is the Joint Economic and Trade Committee meeting between the UK and India. As chancellor of the University of Birmingham, president of the UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA) and co-chairman of the APPG for International Students, I welcome the recent Government support for international students through the reintroduction of the two-year post-graduation work visa—I helped to spearhead this in this House in 2007, it came into place in 2008, was taken away in 2012, and has now come back—and the three-year visa for PhD students. Will the Minister say whether the Government will consider the graduate route as part of an international graduate employability strategy, to be developed in collaboration with the education sector and employers, that provides clear guidance for UK employers on how to employ students via the graduate route?
I ask the UK Government please to exclude students from the net migration statistics. Many of us have requested that for years; all our competitor nations do it. Including them is very misleading, as research has shown that more than 95% of international students return after their studies for postgraduate work. For example, when people enter, they say that they are coming to study, but when they are asked on the way out, anybody who worked afterwards says that they were working. This creates an illusion of illegally overstaying international students. The lag between arriving and leaving also means that growing numbers of international students exporting UK education shows an increase in net migration.
Can the Government include India in the list of the 25 preferred countries for the UK tier 4 visa rules being relaxed? For example, China is now included in that list. Furthermore, international students generate business and tourist visas. Can the UK Government also reduce the visa fees for a two-year multiple entry business or tourist visa for Indians to the same level as that for the Chinese? Four years ago, this was reduced for China to £85, whereas it is still more than four times that for Indians. This reduction would help to increase the number of business and tourist visitors from India in general, of course.
In April 2015, we introduced exit checks at our borders. Are the Government using those checks to work out their immigration figures or do they still rely on the International Passenger Survey figures? The noble Lord, Lord Russell, spoke about data. In August last year, Iain Bell, the Deputy National Statistician at the Office for National Statistics, said that
“the weaknesses in the data were due partly to the International Passenger Survey—a poll of travellers at ports and airports around the UK, which is used to extrapolate wider migration patterns.”
The Financial Times stated:
“The UK’s official statistics agency has announced it is downgrading its estimate of the country’s net migration to the status of ‘experimental’ data after discovering ‘limitations’ in the way the figures are calculated”
using the IPS. Can the Minister address this?
Finally, many noble Lords have mentioned that coronavirus has placed a spotlight on social care and that it is often treated poorly compared to the NHS in terms of support. It is important that the sector is also not an afterthought when it comes to immigration. Social care should be treated as equal to the NHS regarding visa exceptions.
My Lords, I want to talk about unaccompanied migrant children. These children, and teenagers, are alone. They have fled war zones and famine. Many of them have been abused, sexually abused and assaulted. They are trapped in camps in Greece and northern France, but have family members in the UK who could look after them. As a country, we need to demonstrate our commitment to these children.
Under the current EU procedures, their rights are enshrined in a network of obligations reinforced by international agreement. When we leave the European Union at the end of December, those protections will fall away. The political declaration of 17 October 2019 between the European Union and the UK set out the framework of what can be negotiated in the future agreement. On the basis of that declaration, the Commission was given a negotiation mandate, but there is no mention in it of asylum, refugees or unaccompanied children. The Commission has competency in this area so, as I understand it, there is no question of negotiating with individual member states after we leave in December.
Therefore, to continue to offer a safe route for these children to join family members in the UK, we must have clear Immigration Rules. We need to amend this immigration Bill to ensure that, in taking back control, as the Government say repeatedly, unaccompanied children are not forgotten. We are talking about children and teenagers who are alone, frightened, isolated, vulnerable and desperate. Without safe legal routes to sanctuary, they will be easy prey for trafficking and smuggling gangs.
The Government’s position is to weaken these children’s rights. Their current proposals are discretionary, not mandatory, with no objective criteria on which to base an application and no rights of appeal, leaving a child in danger and in limbo. Time is running out for these children. We have to do better. Many improvements need to be made to the Bill. In particular, protecting the rights of these children is paramount. Are we a country that values, respects and protects children, or are we not? Will we fail in our duty to help these children and young people? I hope not.
My Lords, I am one of the people who finds this Bill to end free movement a sad and shameful moment in your Lordships’ House. I was proud to sit on these Benches when I listened to the inspiring and outstanding speech that opened this debate, from my noble friend Lady Hamwee. I was encouraged by the speech by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, from the Labour Front Bench; I thought it sensible and liberal with a small “l”, if I may say so. Like the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, I hope that the Labour Party can maintain that view as the Bill progresses.
It occurred to me that, over the last 50 years, a large number of families have become pan-European families. I was quite surprised when I worked it out to discover something I simply had not noticed: over half of my own family—a household of three—and our extended family, including cousins, aunties, grandchildren and so on, possess European Union passports. There is a large number of such families in Europe and here, including British families, all of whom will find life increasingly difficult as their families branch out and become more complex as time goes on.
I have four quick questions for the Minister. The first is one that I think the noble Baroness,