House of Lords
Wednesday 16 September 2020
The House met in a hybrid proceeding.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of St Albans.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, the Hybrid Sitting of the House will now begin. 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. Oral Questions will now commence. Noble Lords asking supplementary questions should please keep them short and confined to two points. I ask that Ministers’ answers are also brief.
House of Lords: Number of Members
My Lords, the size of the House of Lords needs addressing, but given retirements and other departures, some new Members are essential to keep the expertise and outlook of the House fresh. This will ensure that the House continues to fulfil its role in scrutinising and revising legislation, while respecting the primacy of the Commons.
My Lords, when the Minister checks Hansard, he will see that that was not an Answer to the Question that I put. Is he aware of the concern right across the House that, at a time when we are voluntarily reducing our numbers, the Government seem to be going in exactly the opposite direction? Have the Johnson Government abandoned the May Government’s support for reducing our size, and do they believe that there should be any limit whatever on how much larger the House should become?
My Lords, is not the truth that the Government are doing everything possible to belittle this place by stuffing it, staffing the Tory Benches and other means? Is not the problem for the Government that they want to reduce the legitimacy of this House because they do not like our stand on humanitarian principles and the rule of law?
My Lords, my party, Plaid Cymru, has four times as many Members in the House of Commons as it has in this Chamber. If the proportions were correct, we would have a Chamber of just 200 Members. Given that that is not going to happen, is the only way for smaller parties to get a fair voice here by having a fully elected Chamber that would deliver greater representational fairness and give this Chamber the political credibility that it currently lacks?
My Lords, the voice of Wales is extraordinarily important, and it is well served in this House by some of the outstanding Members who come from that great Principality. The noble Lord makes a point of policy. The last coalition Government presented to your Lordships and the other place proposals for an elected House, but they did not at that time find favour.
My Lords, last year, your Lordships’ House demonstrated that it was spectacularly out of step with the country as a whole over Brexit. Does the Minister agree that it is more important to remedy that than to focus on the numerical size of the House?
My Lords, every Member of your Lordships’ House has the right to express a personal opinion, and long may we do so. However, it is important, as my noble friend says, that the House reflects on the risk of becoming out of step with public opinion on this great question.
My Lords, does the Minister accept that, following the huge majority for the 2012 House of Lords Reform Bill which Sir George Young, as he then was, secured at Second Reading, this House could by now be well on the way to being a 450-strong senate with a democratic mandate? Further, will he acknowledge that it was only the silly party games played by the then Labour leadership with reactionary Tory Back-Benchers that stopped that Bill in its tracks?
My Lords, I think that the noble Lord has rather upset our colleagues on the Labour Benches. Many histories of that period could be written. The fact is that legislation was presented and, as I said in an earlier answer, it did not find favour at the time.
Does my noble friend accept that an upper limit on the size of the House would impose a valuable discipline upon the Government in selecting nominees to fill a vacancy, and, combined with the other recommendations of the Burns committee, ensure a House that was not only smaller but more balanced than the existing House?
No, my Lords. The cardinal facts of this House—which is unique, and that is one of its splendours—are that it is unelected, its Members sit for life and it cannot be dissolved. In those circumstances, the question of a cap raises profound constitutional questions, which, as the previous Prime Minister said, deserve reflection.
My Lords, when numbers in your Lordships’ House go up, public respect for the House goes down. The Minister said that the previous Prime Minister did not endorse a cap on the size of the House, and that is quite correct, but she did commit to restraint in appointments. Given how seriously the House takes the issue of reducing numbers, can the Minister tell me what conversations the noble Baroness the Leader of the House—the whole House—has had with colleagues in the House, with the leaders and the Convenor, and with her right honourable friend the Prime Minister, about this issue? If he does not have that information to hand, perhaps he could write to me.
My Lords, as that question is about the Leader of the House, I think that she would have to address it herself. So far as the numbers are concerned, I dispute that there is any correlation between the size of the House and the respect in which it is held. I remember the very great respect in which the House was held before 1999.
My Lords, there is so much in what the Minister has said that it is hard to know where to start. First, his Answer to my noble friend Lord Grocott on what assessment has been made of the case for an upper limit was that no assessment has been made. On his point about the House having been larger, it was significantly larger pre-1999, with a large number of hereditary Peers, 92 of whom remain. On his comment about Prime Ministers making appointments, the fact remains that David Cameron, when Prime Minister, appointed more Peers per year than any other Prime Minister since 1958, when life peerages came in, with more for the governing party.
The Minister talks about the House needing to be refreshed, and he is absolutely right. However, if he wants to refresh the numbers in the House, why is it that, having lost over 30 Members from the Labour Benches since June 2017, nothing like that figure has replaced them to refresh our numbers, whereas there were huge numbers on the last list to refresh the Conservative Benches? If this House wants to reduce the numbers, it must be so that we can be effective and do the job that we are best at, not to play party-political games, which the leader of the Conservative Party, the Prime Minister, seems to want to do. He wants to play the numbers game and pack this House, because he thinks that the winner takes all.
My Lords, I do not agree with the strictures of the noble Baroness, who I respect tremendously. I said in my first Answer that the size of the Lords needs addressing, but I added some considerations thereafter. I do not accept that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister is “packing the House”. The question asked by my noble friend Lady Noakes shows that the House has a very independent mind.
I call the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Llandudno. Lord Roberts? I call the noble Baroness, Lady Deech.
It seems to me that legislation to cap our numbers is being blocked in a way that does us no credit. Will the Minister urge the party groupings each to find a consensual way to limit their own numbers? The House of Lords Appointments Commission needs power to vet the suitability of proposed Peers or to cap the numbers. I hope that he agrees. If ever there was a case for getting rid of royal prerogative, this is it. I suspect that the Government think that only by shovelling us into a less comfortable venue during refurbishment, or by going entirely virtual for the duration, will we find a large number of retirements. That is not the way to do it. How does he propose that we do it?
My Lords, I cannot follow the noble Baroness on many of the things that she has said, other than I hope that one day we might get back to not being a virtual House—that I do agree with. I repeat that there are difficulties in relation to this House: it is unelected, Members sit for life and the House cannot be dissolved. That raises issues for reflection on a cap, as the previous Prime Minister implied.
My Lords, as an excepted hereditary Peer, I am obviously fair game. However, does my noble friend not agree that one way to reduce the size of this House is to ask the Liberal Democrat Benches to reduce their number to one which is proportionate to their share of the national vote?
My Lords, all supplementary questions have been asked and we now move to the next Question.
My Lords, our proposal for a reformed planning system is centred on encouraging more beautiful development in places, improving the quality of housing and green spaces, and increasing community engagement in ensuring development enhances the environment, health and character of local areas. We are also implementing fundamental reforms to the building safety system so that residents are, and feel, safe in their homes.
My Lords, I declare my relevant interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association, chair of Heart of Medway Housing Association and non-executive director of MHS Homes Ltd. Planning decisions are here for the long term, so how will the Minister and his department ensure that developers’ interests are also clearly focused on building stable communities—on that community partnership he talks about—and building for a future that really will stand the test of time?
My Lords, there is a strong case for reform of a system that was first put into place some seven decades ago with the Town and Country Planning Act 1947. The focus is on ensuring a much more map-based system towards local plans and engaging with communities to work out whether those developments should take place. In that sense, the development community will follow.
My Lords, the latest English housing survey reveals that only 9% of our housing stock has key disability accessibility features. Disability in old age is frequent, and with the ONS estimating that one in four people will be aged 65 or over by 2050 it is vital that we cater for what we are going to need. Although the recently announced government consultation into this issue is welcome, can the Minister confirm that prior to any changes in planning law, the recommendations of this consultation will be fully implemented to ensure that the vulnerable are not left behind?
My Lords, will the Minister ensure that in any changes to the planning system there will be an emphasis on recreational opportunities to deliver improvements in the quality of life, health and well-being of the population? The protection and provision of sports pitches and the promotion of dual and multiuse facilities where feasible is critical to achieving public health outcomes relating to diet, obesity and physical activity.
My Lords, my noble friend is, of course, a great champion for the importance of sport and recreation. I can give him those assurances. The National Planning Policy Framework encourages local planning policy decisions to ensure that developments create places that promote health and well-being, with a high standard of amenity for existing and future users.
My Lords, the Government are proposing that the usual planning requirement on housebuilders to provide some affordable housing will be removed from all new developments of up to 40 or even 50 homes for the next two years or so. Does the Minister accept that this change would lead to the loss of some 20% per annum of affordable accommodation from these planning agreements, as Savills has calculated? Does he agree that the loss could be far worse if housebuilders divide their larger schemes into two or more developments of fewer than 40 homes each? In rural areas, where most developments are, of course, smaller, will this not virtually wipe out desperately needed affordable new homes from this source for local people?
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Best, is an absolute expert in social housing. I recognise that there is a proposed change and I encourage him to communicate with the consultation, which is ongoing until the end of October. We have committed to delivering a range of different types of affordable housing and have announced a £12 billion affordable homes programme to ensure the continued development of affordable housing.
My Lords, I declare an interest as the chair of the National Housing Federation. I am anxious that the proposed changes to the planning system will undermine the already limited provision of affordable homes for rent, particularly, as the noble Lord, Lord Best, said, in rural areas. The White Paper’s revised method for calculating housing need appears to divert funding for new homes to prosperous areas. Will the Minister explain how this contributes to the Government’s levelling-up agenda? Will he work with the affordable housing sector to ensure that any reforms deliver for the communities that need these houses most?
My Lords, there is absolutely no intention to divert funding to prosperous areas from more deprived communities. I am meeting with the National Housing Federation later this week and I will take this up and make relevant representations to the department, but that is certainly not the policy intention of the proposed reforms.
My Lords, I declare my interest: I too am a vice-president of the Local Government Association. The Minister referred to building beautiful and quality. The reality is that every single day, planning officers encourage, argue with, and even go to battle with developers to produce high-quality schemes according to their local policies. Will the Minister explain how things will be different with the nationally proposed, one-size-fits-all design codes? Does he not agree that the answer might be not government-devised design codes, but giving local councils more power to enforce their own?
My Lords, the approach is obviously to move to a more zonal system, although there needs to be a strong design code. The design codes and pattern books draw on the historical use of the Victorians to build beautiful homes, the likes of which we see in Bath and other parts of the country. The aim is to create a range of designs that will enable speedier planning. That is the benefit, rather than having an ad hoc approach to design.
My Lords, while there are many good things in this plan, it is essential that we retain the planning committee rights of local councils, which are so much more in touch with their communities than more remote groups. Local councils can see whether, for example, it is all right to add two extra floors to a house, but if that can just be done without any permission being sought as is suggested, that could be deadly for local people who suddenly find that that happens, and the next one does it and the next one. It really is important to leave the powers with local councils, which really care about their residents, and the residents feel closer to them than they do to a Parliament that often seems rather remote from them. Can I be assured that local councils will not be ousted in this matter?
My Lords, I can assure my noble friend that local authorities will be essential in the process. They will continue to prepare the local plans and councils will have better, stronger tools to ensure good design and make the most of brownfield land.
My Lords, will the Government welcome the Architects’ Journal’s campaign on retrofit first? Far too often, developers favour demolition and rebuild when retrofit would have been more appropriate. This often has detrimental environmental effects such as emissions, detrimental social effects and sometimes dangerous safety outcomes. Will the new planning system favour retrofit as the first option wherever possible and ensure that in any replacement build or conversions, safety standards will really be effectively enforced?
Baroness Bakewell. No? My Lords, all supplementary questions have been asked. We now move to the next Question.
My Lords, the Environment Agency’s State of the Environment: Water Quality report in 2018 is the most recent assessment of water pollution. We assess pollution levels to understand their impact on water ecology and human health and to mitigate them. The main causes of pollution are agriculture, sewage discharges and chemicals from industry and other sectors, some of which still persist from past activities.
I thank the Minister for his Answer, but would he agree that the present situation is a total disgrace? More than 200,000 tonnes of raw sewage go into our rivers every year. Even in 2018 only 14% of our rivers passed as fit for purpose and they have probably got worse since then, and only three cases were taken to court in 2018, despite all this. Does he agree that there is a need for a much stronger regulatory regime? Does he also agree that the situation is so serious that we need some kind of parliamentary inquiry into what is happening to the nation’s well-being and health?
My Lords, I certainly agree that much more needs to be done. I can tell noble Lords that a new task force has recently been set up between Defra, the Environment Agency, Ofwat and water companies, which will meet very regularly and set out proposals to reduce the frequency and volume of sewage discharge, while the Environment Bill that is coming soon to the House will place a statutory requirement on water companies to produce drainage and wastewater management plans. Investment by water companies, incidentally, has meant that pollutant loads to rivers from water industry discharges have declined by between 40% and 70% since 1995, and there are commitments of £4.6 billion of additional investment over the next five years.
My Lords, while we respond to the Covid crisis, we must not neglect the public health risk posed by AMR. Some 12,000 people die every day from a resistant infection, and this is more important than ever during a pandemic. So the proper treatment of wastewater is essential to prevent the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and genes into the environment, but research has recently found that the amount of antibiotics entering the River Thames would need to be cut by 80% to avoid the spread of superbugs. The AMR action plan commits us to finding innovative solutions for removing these drugs and bugs from our watercourses. Will the Minister please make addressing this a personal priority?
AMR is one of the greatest health threats that we face, and there is an increasing focus globally on the environment as a potential reservoir and conduit for it. We are conducting research into the extent of human and animal exposure to AMR from the environment and the risks that it poses. We are funding research at the University of Newcastle, for instance, and working with academics at other universities, including Exeter. We are looking at the impacts of the overuse of antibiotics on industrial farms as well—a problem, I should say, that the industry itself has made a real effort to address. We have a five-year UK national action plan and we will take whatever additional action is necessary.
My Lords, I contribute from the Welsh Marches in Powys, which contain the headwaters of the Wye and the Severn. Our rivers are seriously at risk from an absolutely vast increase of intensive poultry units, in Powys in particular but also in Herefordshire in Shropshire. These leech phosphates and nitrogen into our rivers. May I respectfully suggest that the Government urgently look at this dangerous cross-border issue?
The noble Lord is right: poor practice by farmers leads to run-off fertiliser, slurry, pesticides and various other chemicals, which are extremely damaging to river ecosystems. But even well-managed farms can have impacts on the environment. The catchment-sensitive farming and countryside stewardship schemes inform and incentivise farmers to manage their land in a better way—for example, creating buffer strips between fields and water courses, planting crops that preserve soil health and improving slurry storage, while the new Environmental Land Management Scheme set out in the Agriculture Bill will be a critically important part of a transition to more environmentally sensitive agriculture.
My Lords, the 200,000 occasions of raw sewage being discharged into rivers in 2019, mentioned by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, in his follow-up question, totalled 1.5 million hours of discharge, according to the Guardian. Does the Minister accept that it is quite clear that the Government or their agencies have no interest in enforcement? Do the Government accept the legal position, originally stated by the European Court of Justice, that untreated sewage can be released into water bodies only under exceptional circumstances? Clearly this is not being complied with. What urgent action are the Government going to take to deal with this—or are we leaving the EU just to become the dirty man of Europe?
I certainly agree with the noble Lord that raw sewage should only ever be released into water systems as a last resort and in exceptional circumstances. As I mentioned in a previous answer, this issue has been taken up with great energy by my colleague in Defra, Minister Pow, who established and chairs the task force and is committed to doing what is needed from the regulatory, legislative and funding points of view to tackle this very serious problem.
My Lords, there has been a steady increase in outdoor swimming clubs—“wild swimming”, as it has become known. Swimmers are unaware that rivers across the country contain toxic materials such as lead and mercury, as well as insecticides. The Government have committed themselves to ensuring that all rivers are of a good ecological standard by 2027. Will that target be reached? If not, when might it be?
The Environment Agency takes water quality samples at all designated bathing waters during the bathing season. If the water fails in any way to meet the minimum standards, the agency then investigates. If a water company is found to be the cause, the agency then requires the company to take action. In 2019, 98.3% of designated bathing waters met the minimum standards, with 71% classified as excellent. Clearly we have a lot more to do, as all surveys have shown, but the Government have shown a commitment to tackling this issue, both from a legislative point of view and in terms of funding.
With Brexit achieved, reports over the summer suggested that the UK Government could now amend the requirements of the EU-derived water framework directive to make it easier to classify rivers as “good”. Can the Minister confirm whether this is the department’s intention? If so, would not the department’s time be better spent on addressing the root causes of river pollution rather than on lowering standards?
Those reports were based on comments by Sir James Bevan, but they were inaccurate; in fact, they were entirely wrong. Sir James was talking about the importance of environmental regulation and how it can be used to achieve the best outcomes for our environment. He identified ways in which, for example, the water framework directive is not always the best measure of the health of our rivers, but he was very clear that the test of any changes whatever should be better environmental outcomes.
My Lords, sewage remains one of the main pollutants in English waterways. With many pipes not monitored, and under a self-reporting system, it is up to individual water companies to tell the regulator. What level of duty are the Government proposing to require water companies to release figures on exactly how much raw sewage is being released, along with its duration and frequency?
The Environment Bill that is soon to be introduced will, as I said, place a statutory requirement on water companies to produce drainage and wastewater management plans. In addition to that, water companies have agreed that between 2020 and 2025 they will be investing £4.6 billion to protect the environment, of which around £4 billion relates to wastewater.
My Lords, while I believe in tackling root causes, the Minister mentioned buffer zones. They are extremely practical because they reduce pollution going into watercourses and also create biodiversity corridors. At the moment the advice is for 20 metres. Is it perhaps time to increase that to 30 or even 40 metres, to make them even more effective?
The noble Baroness makes an extremely important point. The department is actively looking at what more we can do using the new Nature4Climate Fund and the transition from CAP to ELM to incentivise a much higher standard of management either side of waterways throughout the country. I hope that on the back of that we will be able to produce a compelling programme.
My Lords, according to studies by Greenpeace and Manchester University, microplastic contamination, which brings an array of biodiversity problems to our waterways, is
“pervasive on all river channel beds.”
The UK banning microbeads is a step in the right direction, but only a drop in the ocean. What measures are the Government considering to prevent this and to clear the existing contamination of plastics, preferably before they break down into microplastics—or, worse, nanoplastics—en route to the sea?
Chemicals come from almost all human activities. Much chemical pollution comes from domestic properties—for example, detergents, which go into the sewers—and that is going to continue as long as those chemicals are permissible to use. Particularly damaging chemicals such as mercury are priorities for international action and their use is now regulated or banned. Defra is looking very closely at microplastic pollution in the environment, specifically the water environment, and its work will inform the development of policies to mitigate it and to build on the recent microbead ban, which we introduced last year.
To ask Her Majesty’s Government, following the report by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, A lost decade for nature, published on 14 September, what action they are taking (1) to reverse biodiversity loss in the United Kingdom, and (2) to meet the Aichi Biodiversity Targets.
My Lords, in England the 25-year environment plan marks a step change in ambition for wildlife and the natural environment. The Government have announced significant funding and legislation to meet this ambition. The Aichi targets are international in scope. The Government have increased international biodiversity spending and are playing a leading role in developing an ambitious new global diversity framework. Nature will be at the heart of the UK COP 26 presidency, paving the way for transformative action.
I hear what the Minister says, but last October he said that the Government were looking at legislative options to ban the burning of upland peat bogs and yet it has been reported that these plans have been shelved. Peat bogs are incredibly important ecological sites, supporting many rare and endangered species, helping to prevent flooding and store carbon. Are the Government going to ban peat burning or continue their failure over the last decade to meet agreed international biodiversity targets?
As the noble Baroness will know, we are currently engaging with stakeholders on the content of the England peat strategy and we expect it to be published later this year. The Government have always been clear—as I have—on the need to phase out the burning of protected blanket bog to conserve those vulnerable habitats. We are looking at how legislation can achieve this and are considering next steps.
My Lords, the United Kingdom’s sixth national report on the convention on biological diversity, published by the JNCC in 2019, concluded that there is still significant work to be done. To cite a few examples: there is an overall picture of ongoing species decline and a significant proportion of the best wildlife habitat inside and outside protected sites remains unfavourable. There has also been a short-term fall in the Government’s funding of biodiversity in the UK. Will the Minister explain exactly what has been done since the release of the JNCC report to rectify these failings?
The noble Lord is right in that, from 1970 to 2016 the relative abundance of priority species in the UK saw a dramatic decline of around 60%. Many but not all species groups show long-term decline, so we clearly need major improvements. We have expanded our protected areas at sea dramatically in recent months and years. We have provided new funding for woodland expansion. We have put aside a £640 million nature for climate fund. We have committed to 30,000 hectares of tree planting or regeneration each year. Peatland restoration and nature recovery have also been resourced to bring us closer to achieving the 25-year plan goals. We have greatly increased our funding for international biodiversity; perhaps more than any other country.
My Lords, the RSPB report emphasises that biodiversity is strongly linked to climate change. To meet our targets, we must take action on all fronts, including farming. In order to produce low-carbon British food, a company wants to build greenhouses in Wrexham using waste heat and emissions from the sewage works next to the site. Will the Minister support this enterprise in the interests of climate action and biodiversity protection?
The Government stand ready to support whatever action is necessary to boost biodiversity in this country and to reverse the depressing trends that have already been described. The RSPB is absolutely right to say that we cannot solve climate change without restoring and protecting nature on an unprecedented scale. Forests, for instance, hold 80% of the world’s biodiversity; their destruction is the second biggest source of carbon emissions. As president of COP, we intend to draw as strong a link as possible between what we are doing at COP and what the Chinese will be doing as host of the CBD just a few months before the biodiversity COP. We are working very closely with China to ensure that that happens.
My Lords, may I start by congratulating and thanking the RSPB not only on this report but on the regular briefings and support it gives us? Since most of the UK’s biodiversity is to be found in the overseas territories, will the Minister tell us to what extent the Government’s plans to which he has referred cover and include the overseas territories? Will he welcome a short debate on this topic? I have a motion tabled and am merely seeking a slot.
I always welcome debate, particularly around the issue of our magnificent overseas territories. My noble friend is right: the overseas territories contain about 90% of the UK’s endemic species and we are very keen to increase our protection of them. For instance, we have increased to £10 million a year the Darwin Plus funding scheme. We are also on track, as my noble friend will know, with our Blue Belt programme to protect an area roughly the size of India. We hope to be able to grow it still further, perhaps even in the remaining months of this year. Protecting the biodiversity on land and in the waters around our overseas territories is and will remain a priority.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his answers. In the wake of this devastating report and the UN report, the design of cities also comes under the spotlight. We live in cities more and more, and yet they do not need to be environmental wastelands. What will come forward in the Environment Bill to create green infrastructures and make space for nature inside our cities, so they can play their part in helping us recover our lost biodiversity?
The noble Baroness is right. In addition to greatly increasing our investments overseas in cities to enable people to deal with the warming effects of climate change and to reduce the temperature of cities, in this country we are increasing our funding for tree planting in our cities. We are yet to provide all the details for that. We will allow the policies to be informed by the England Tree Strategy, which we are processing at the moment and on the back of which we will develop what we hope will be a compelling and ambitious programme. I recognise that that is just one part of what needs to happen in our cities to enable people to have better access to and enjoyment of nature, but it is an important part.
The RSPB’s report, supported by the publication of Global Biodiversity Outlook 5, suggests a significant disparity between the UK Government’s view of their progress towards the Aichi targets and reality on the ground. What steps will the Minister’s department take to review how such progress is measured, and how will the Government ensure that they achieve greater compliance with the targets to be set for 2030?
We do not dispute that protected areas, which include protected sites and landscapes and other measures, need to be better managed. The Government have been very clear on this issue. I think the RSPB accepts that the quantity target has been exceeded but clearly, more needs to be done to improve the quality of our protected areas. As I have outlined, actions are in place to do so.
My Lords, we have failed. Not only have we not met 17 of the 20 Aichi targets in Britain; we have gone backwards on some of them. Clearly, we cannot be trusted to save our own wildlife unless we make ourselves take the action needed. Is not now the time to get serious and set legally binding targets for our own sakes, as well as the sake of our wildlife and, ultimately, our planet?
It is absolutely correct to say that we have failed to meet those Aichi targets. The Government have not sought to shirk from that or to mask the research that has been produced. However, I argue that the Environment Bill, Agriculture Bill and Fisheries Bill—combined with new sources of funding such as the Nature4Climate fund, our plans for nature recovery networks and much more besides—will put us on track to meet the obligations that we signed up to internationally. In addition, we have not only doubled our international climate finance to £11.6 billion, we have committed to spending a big chunk of that uplift on nature-based solutions. We are taking that core message to the world in the run-up to the COP.
Further to the Written Answer that the Minister gave me on 25 June, which said that
“it is not possible to confirm on available data whether there has been an increase in”
raptor persecution during the Covid crisis, have the Government now caught up with the statistics? If not, I can direct him to the Raptor Persecution UK website, which reports today the total tally of
“44 hen harriers ‘missing’ or confirmed killed since 2018”.
It notes that this is
“ten times more likely to occur over … land managed for grouse shooting”.
Given this, why did the Government create a special exemption from Covid-19 health restrictions last weekend for driven grouse shooting and other shooting? Should they not instead ban driven grouse shooting and the release of pheasants for shooting, as an emergency measure to tackle the crisis that this report identifies?
We are aware of reports that there has been an increase in wildlife crime, particularly that associated with raptor persecution, during lockdown. Raptor persecution is one of the UK’s six wildlife crime priorities and we understand that there are a number of criminal investigations ongoing. However, I am afraid that it is not yet possible to confirm, on available data, whether there has been an increase. I would welcome access to the report that the noble Baroness mentions. On the Government’s decision last week, she will note that it exactly mirrors decisions taken by the Labour Government in Wales and the SNP in Scotland, and is not—as has been reported—a special dispensation for any particular form of activity.
Business of the House
Timing of Debates
My Lords, I do not want to detain the House for more than a few seconds, really. While I am grateful that there is to be a debate on the negotiations with our European friends and former partners, I regret the fact that it is not on the Floor of the House. There is a strong tradition in your Lordships’ House that important constitutional issues are debated on the Floor of the House. I cannot think of any more important issue, particularly in the light of very recent announcements. Therefore, while I thank my noble friend for the opportunity to have the debate. could we not have a guarantee that, within a short space of time, there will be a full day’s debate on the Floor of your Lordships’ House?
The debate will take place in Grand Committee because we need to debate SIs on the Floor of the House that day. Obviously, all noble Lords will be aware—because many are participating—that we have an extremely heavy legislative agenda, which we are working through together. However, we recognise that many noble Lords have requested a debate on this topic so we have come to this arrangement in order to facilitate it.
Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill
Order of Commitment
That, if the bill’s Committee stage is not concluded by the rise of the House on Wednesday 16 September, the bill be reported from the Committee of the Whole House in respect of proceedings up to that date; and that, for the remainder of the bill, the order of commitment of 22 July 2020 be discharged and the bill be committed to a Grand Committee.
My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lady Williams, I beg to move the Motion standing in her name on the Order Paper.
Pension Protection Fund (Moratorium and Arrangements and Reconstructions for Companies in Financial Difficulty) Regulations 2020
Motion to Approve
My Lords, in moving this Motion I should clarify remarks I made during the debate on these regulations, which took place in Grand Committee on Monday, concerning their application to certain charitable incorporated organisations. Following the making and laying of these regulations, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport made the Charitable Incorporated Organisations (Insolvency and Dissolution) (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations 2020, which disapplied Section A51 of the Insolvency Act 1986 in relation to charitable incorporated organisations. Section A51 was cited in the making of the SI before the House, which means that as a result of the DCMS regulations the provisions in this SI have not applied to charitable incorporated organisations since 13 August 2020. This does not affect the validity of the powers used to make these regulations; the powers applied to charitable incorporated organisations at the time this SI was made. Likewise, its application to charitable incorporated organisations until 13 August is not affected.
The legal effect of the DCMS SI is one of implied repeal of the provisions from that date onwards. So far as they apply to charitable incorporated organisations, a legal position, we think, is clear. The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has since indicated in a memorandum to the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments its intention to bring forward legislation, at the next available opportunity, to correct the position to that reflected in the regulations before the House today.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister, but I cannot have been the only one in your Lordships’ House struggling to follow the information she gave to us. I was not 100% clear because she said that the “legal position, we think, is clear”. I do not know whether that means “We are not sure whether it is clear; we only think it is clear”, or whether those who debated this in Committee have been made aware of the information she has brought before your Lordships’ House today.
I have not fully understood the implications of everything she said—I do not know whether other noble Lords have. It may be that it has no material impact, but maybe it does. Before we agree this Motion today, I wonder whether she ought to consult those who were in that Committee so that everyone who debated the regulations is clear that there is no material difference, given the rather lengthy and complex explanation she has given today.
I am happy to respond to the noble Baroness’s points; this is, indeed, a complex matter. I am confident that the legislation we intend to bring forward at the earliest opportunity will clarify matters, but I will consult with the Members of the Grand Committee to make sure that everybody is clear about the impact of this change.
The Question is that the Motion in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman-Scott, be agreed to. As many—
My Lords, I think that the Minister has just said that, before agreeing it, she will take it back to Members to see if they are happy with it because there is some complication. That was the implication of what she said: she was not going to put it forward for a vote today until she had consulted people.
She is checking with the Clerk so I will keep talking for a second while she gets advice. However, I am still not clear. I thought she said she was agreeing to take it back and consult with Members who were on that Committee.
The Question is that the Motion in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman-Scott, be agreed to. As many as are of that opinion will say “Content”; to the contrary “Not content”.
The Contents have it.
My Lords, I will not necessarily push this to a vote at the moment, but I say to the Minister that the reason why she says it cannot be withdrawn is that it comes into force today. If she has not consulted Members of the Committee on something so complex before bringing a Motion to your Lordships’ House today, there is a serious issue here. Are these “made affirmative” regulations, which come into force whether we debate and agree them or not? I am not clear. I have to be honest that I am completely at a loss as to what is happening at the moment, but it seems that there is some question mark over the validity of this and whether it is correct. I may be wrong and everything may be in order. However, it was complex and I did not fully understand what she was putting forward today.
I advise that they are “made affirmative” and to be dealt with today. I can only reaffirm what I have said: it is a complex matter but I am confident that the legislation we intend to bring forward at the earliest opportunity will clarify matters.
If that is of sufficient clarity, I will ask the Question.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, a technical difficulty has caused a little delay. Noble Lords will be pleased to know that the difficulty now appears to have been resolved. The Hybrid Sitting of the House will now resume.
Commons Urgent Question
The following Answer to an Urgent Question was given on Tuesday 15 September in the House of Commons.
“Coronavirus exists only to spread, and yesterday the World Health Organization once again announced a record number of cases globally. France and Spain have both reported daily figures of over 10,000 positive cases and increasing hospitalisations. Here in the UK, we saw around 2,600 new cases yesterday, and last week medical advisers advised that R is above 1. The epidemic is growing.
There are signs that the number of cases in care homes and the number of hospitalisations is starting to rise again, so last week we acted quickly, putting in place new measures—the rule of six, which came into force yesterday. We do not do this lightly, but the cost of doing nothing is much greater.
Testing also has a vital part to play. Everyone in this House knows that we are doing more testing per head of population than almost any other major nation, and I can tell the House that we have now carried out over 20 million tests for coronavirus in this country. As we expand capacity further, we are working round the clock to make sure that everyone who needs a test can get a test. The vast majority of people who use our testing service get a test that is close to home, and the average distance travelled to a test site is now just 5.8 miles—down from 6.4 miles last week; but the whole House knows that there are operational challenges, and we are working hard to fix them.
We have seen a sharp rise in people coming forward for a test, including those who are not eligible. Throughout this pandemic, we have prioritised testing according to need. Over the summer when demand was low, we were able to meet all requirements for testing, whether priorities or not, but as demand has risen we are having to prioritise once again. I do not shirk from decisions about prioritisation. They are not always comfortable, but they are important. The top priority is, and always has been, acute clinical care. The next priority is social care, where we are now sending over 100,000 tests a day, because we have all seen the risks this virus poses in care homes. We will set out in full an updated prioritisation, and I do not rule out further steps to ensure our tests are used according to those priorities. It is a choice that we must make.
Finally, to defeat this virus in the long term needs effective vaccines and treatments. I am delighted to say that over the weekend the trial of the Oxford vaccine restarted, and I can tell the House that we will now be trialling a promising new antibody treatment on coronavirus patients in the UK. The challenges are serious. We must work to overcome them, optimistic in the face even of these huge challenges, and to keep this deadly virus under control.”
My Lords, the Prime Minister claimed again today that the UK does more Covid tests than anywhere else in Europe. This is not true. Denmark does almost twice as many per 1,000 people, and the UK figure includes antibody tests, which others do not do, and is based on when tests are sent out and not on results. So it is more hyperbole.
I hope today we can look at facts. There is now a backlog of 185,000 swabs and tests are being dispatched abroad. Can the Minister advise the House how many tests have been sent abroad, to which countries, the processing time and the void rates? If the Minister does not have that information at his fingertips today, can he please to write to me and put the answer in the Library?
Secondly, Coronavirus infection rates among middle-aged people have reached the same level now as rates among those in their 20s two weeks ago, and Professor Neil Ferguson has warned us that infections are back where they were in late February. So what discussions have the Government had with the Joint Biosecurity Centre and the CMO about raising the alert level from three to four?
I am grateful for the noble Baroness’s questions. In terms of European rates, Britain is way ahead of many of its fellow countries in Europe. On Friday last week, we did 240,312 tests. It is a massive number and, I believe, the highest we have done on any day. This is a huge achievement and I pay testimony to those in the NHS and in test and trace who have contributed to that figure.
In terms of tests being sent abroad, our testing environment and economy are part of an international system. Reagents, swabs, consumables and machines are regularly exchanged between countries and I pay tribute to the enterprise and energy of the NHS and the test and trace scheme for using whatever schemes they can find in order to process the tests accurately, efficiently and promptly. I will be glad to send the noble Baroness details of the rates which she asked for.
In terms of the increase in prevalence among the middle-aged—yes, we are deeply concerned about this. As I have said at the Dispatch Box before, as night follows day, rates progress from the young to the middle-aged and, I fear, to the elderly. We are keeping a close eye on this progress.
My Lords, we know that the Minister is an avid listener of Radio 4’s “More or Less.” In today’s episode, Professor Alastair Grant of the University of East Anglia pointed out that 70% of coronavirus test results were completed within 48 hours at the start of August. Looking at official figures and analyses, he pointed out that by Monday, it was just 11.8%. The Minister may dispute the exact figures, but the trend clearly is down, which is worrying when we need an effective trace and isolate system to trace and isolate people as fast as possible. Can he tell the House and the country by what date all results of coronavirus testing will be turned around within a maximum of 24 hours?
My Lords, I am indeed an avid listener of “More or Less,” although I have not heard the episode to which the noble Lord referred. Can I just explain that not all tests need to be done within 24 hours? There are tests that are done for surveillance, to support clinical trials and to help our investigation into vaccines and therapeutics. Those kinds of tests have a much longer turnaround time, and that is entirely appropriate and will be built into the numbers to which “More or Less” referred. Some 89.6% of in-person test results were received the next day after tests were taken; those are the ones that need fast turnaround times and the ones that will be delivered promptly.
I want to talk about care homes and hospital in-patients, many of whom have been marooned for literally months. One of the problems is the testing regime. Could I ask the Minister, first, to give priority to relatives of people in care, so that they can be tested and go in and see their loved ones? Secondly, there is clearly a problem with a lot of the staff, because they are moved around a lot. Can the Minister undertake that his department will consult UNISON, the main trade union for those staff, and see what it can do to open things up so that people in care homes and hospitals are able to be visited again?
My Lords, I note my noble friend’s comments. However, I flatly deny that the social care system and social care homes have been in any way marooned. We have made a profound commitment, particularly in the testing environment, to supporting social care. One hundred thousand tests a day out of our capacity of between 200,000 and 250,000 are ring-fenced for social care and delivered to social care every day. Many of the challenges that we have for walk-in and drive-through testing centres are exactly because we are so committed to the ring-fenced testing for social care. That is a commitment that we are proud of and remain committed to.
I want to clarify with my noble friend that it is not an appropriate use of government test and trace capacity for relatives to use test and trace as a convenient method to find out whether they have the disease before they go to see relatives. That is not an appropriate use and not in the guidance.
As for UNISON, we are very much engaged with the union and are supporting staff in every way we can. However, I very much take on board my noble friend’s notes, and we will maintain that correspondence.
My Lords, can the Minister clarify one or two issues? Does the rule of six mean that it will no longer be possible to have any public marking of Remembrance Sunday outdoors this year? Will he also clarify whether this effectively means that all public protests and demonstrations are now illegal?
I thank the right reverend Prelate for his question. I thank greatly those local authorities and charities that are putting in place Remembrance Day service arrangements that will abide by the new rule of six. Some of those guidelines are being written now, and I will be glad to share the guidelines with the right reverend Prelate when they are published. One thing I note is that virtual attendance at these services and the use of virtual remembrance books will be an aspect of Remembrance Day this year.
My Lords, Professor William Hanage of the TH Chan School of Public Health at Harvard University has said of the lack of mass testing that:
“By the time you become aware of the problem it is likely to already be much larger. You are not going to detect outbreaks if you don’t look for them.”
He also said that you need
“very good diagnostic tests as well as tests that may be less sensitive but can be used more frequently.”
I am totally with the Government in their aim for mass testing, but would the Minister agree with Professor Alan McNally of the University of Birmingham that the £500 million already announced
“could have funded around 33 million standard swab PCR tests that could have been run in well-equipped university labs”?
Why is that not happening? On rapid saliva tests, the Abbott Laboratories’ BinaxNOW $5, 20-minute test has been FDA approved, with 10 million tests produced this month and 50 million to be produced next month. Why are we not getting on with it? We need to do this really urgently. Does the Minister agree?
I completely support the noble Lord’s commitment to mass testing. We are looking at ways in which to use less sensitive machines to provide the kind of prophylactic testing to which he alludes. I thank very much indeed all universities for their contribution to our testing programme.
My Lords, in the course of the pandemic, a significant number of contracts with private companies have been signed without tender and a number of these have been in areas such as PPE and test and trace. Most appear to have failed to deliver essential services and equipment—
I do not think I can get much closer to the microphone without eating it.
In the course of the pandemic, a significant number of contracts have been issued to private companies without tender. What is the value of the contracts that have been signed without competitive tender? Will the Minister place in the Library a list of all such contracts, their value, the companies involved and their ultimate beneficial owners?
My Lords, one of the big risks this autumn is from students going to university and, perhaps more particularly, returning from university in the run-up to Christmas. How has the guidance been prepared with universities to try to mitigate that risk? I know that Cambridge University is looking even at the possibility of testing all its students on a weekly basis.
My Lords, I thank colleagues at the DfE for their hard work in providing guidelines to universities and to vice-chancellors for implementing thoughtful arrangements for the return of students. It is very much the ambition of this Government that universities are brought back to life and that education and the impact of their work continues. None the less, it is not just the campus environment that concerns us—it is also the off-campus activities of students. For that, we look to universities to provide pastoral guidance to students to ensure that they are socially distanced and behave responsibly. We are keeping an eye on those behaviours and, should outbreaks or prevalence rise among students, we will have to review those guidelines.
My Lords, the time allowed for this Question has now elapsed.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, hybrid proceedings will now resume. Some Members are here in the Chamber, respecting social distancing, others are participating remotely, but all Members will be treated equally. If the capacity of the Chamber is exceeded, I will immediately adjourn the House.
I will call Members to speak in the order listed in the annexe to today’s list. Members are not permitted to intervene spontaneously; the Chair calls each speaker. Interventions during speeches or before the noble Lord sits down are not permitted. During the debate on each group I invite Members, including Members in the Chamber, to email the clerk if they wish to speak after the Minister. I will call Members to speak in order of request and will call the Minister to reply each time.
The groupings are binding and it will not be possible to degroup an amendment for separate debate. A Member intending to press an amendment already debated to a Division should have given notice in the debate. Leave should be given to withdraw amendments. When putting the question, I will collect voices in the Chamber only. If a Member taking part remotely intends to trigger a Division, they should make this clear when speaking on the group.
Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill
Committee (4th Day)
Relevant document: 11th Report from the Constitution Committee
56: After Clause 4, insert the following new Clause—
“Children in care and children entitled to care leaving support: entitlement to remain
(1) Any child who has the right of free movement removed by the provisions contained in Part 1 of this Act, and who is in the care of a local authority or entitled to care leaving support, is deemed to have and be granted indefinite leave to remain within the United Kingdom under the EU Settlement Scheme (“the Scheme”). (2) The Secretary of State must, for the purposes of subsection (1), issue guidance to local authorities in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland setting out their duty to identify the children of EEA and Swiss nationals in their care or entitled to care leaving support.(3) Before issuing guidance under this section the Secretary of State must consult—(a) the relevant Scottish Minister;(b) the relevant Welsh Minister; and(c) the relevant Northern Ireland Minister.(4) The Secretary of State must make arrangements to ensure that personal data relating to nationality processed by local authorities for purposes of identification under subsection (1) is used solely for this purpose and no other immigration control purpose.(5) Any child subject to subsection (1) who is identified and granted indefinite leave to remain status after the deadline for applications under the Scheme will be deemed to have had such status and all rights associated with that status from the time of the Scheme deadline.(6) This section comes into force on the day on which this Act is passed and remains in effect for 5 years from the day of the deadline of the Scheme.(7) For the purposes of this section, children “in the care of a local authority” are defined as children receiving care under any of the following provisions—(a) section 20 of the Children Act 1989 (provision of accommodation for children: general);(b) section 31 of the Children Act 1989 (care and supervision);(c) section 75 of the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014 (general duty of local authority to secure sufficient accommodation for looked after children);(d) section 25 of the Children (Scotland) Act 1995 (provision of accommodation for children);(e) Article 25 of the Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995 (interpretation); and(f) Article 50 of the Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995 (care orders and supervision orders).(8) For the purposes of this section, children “entitled to care leaving support” means a child receiving support under any of the following provisions—(a) paragraph 19B of Schedule 2 to the Children Act 1989 (preparation for ceasing to be looked after);(b) section 23A(2) of the Children Act 1989 (the responsible authority and relevant children);(c) section 23C(1) of the Children Act 1989 (continuing functions in respect of former relevant children);(d) section 104 of the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014 (young people entitled to support under sections 105 to 115);(e) sections 29 and 30 of the Children (Scotland) Act 1995 (advice and assistance for young persons formerly looked after by local authorities); and(f) Article 35(2) of the Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995 (persons qualifying for advice and assistance).”Member’s explanatory statement
This new Clause aims to ensure that the children of EEA and Swiss nationals who are in care, and those who are entitled to care leaving support, are granted automatic Indefinite Leave to Remain under the EU Settlement Scheme to ensure they do not become undocumented.
My Lords, Amendment 56 has cross-party support in this Committee and in the House of Commons, where it was debated some time ago. Its purpose is to fast-track children in care and care leavers through the EU settlement scheme and grant them settled status. I am grateful to the Children’s Society and other NGOs for their help in preparing for this debate. It is my contention that very little decisive action has been taken to ensure that none of these children becomes undocumented as the scheme draws to a close in June next year. By the Government’s own estimates, 5,000 looked-after children and 4,000 care leavers need to regularise their immigration status because the UK is leaving the EU. The children in this group face three distinct problems: their identification, the problems they may have in applying, and whether they have settled or pre-settled status. I will deal with each of these in turn.
An analysis by the Children’s Society found that, in January this year, 153 out of 211 local authorities across the UK had identified just 3,612 EU, EEA or Swiss looked-after children and care leavers. Even with a margin of error factored into these statistics, that is well off the mark of the estimated total of 9,000. The Government have stated that it is the duty of local authorities to gather information and apply to the scheme on behalf of children in care and to assist care leavers in applying. I am well aware of the enormous pressure on local authorities, particularly on social workers, and I shall argue later that this amendment, if accepted, will actually lessen the burden on social workers rather than increase them.
Evidence given through research by Coram shows mixed practice among local authorities, with fears that some are not totally aware of their duties as set out in the guidance and are making no attempt to identify children in their care who need to regularise their status. Even before we come to the question of rates of applications for status received, there is the issue of oversight. What more are the Government going to do to ensure that children are being identified as needing to regularise their status before the EU settlement scheme draws to a close in 10 months’ time?
Turning to the problems of applying, of the 3,612 children in care and care leavers identified by local authorities in the Children’s Society’s analysis, only 11% have received either pre-settled or settled status. Evidence from the Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit shows that this group is having difficulties acquiring nationality documents and evidencing their length of residence in the UK in order to apply for settled status. Social workers, who are hard pressed enough, are often having to spend their time chasing various European embassies to acquire the appropriate paperwork. Everyone should agree that this is not the best use of their time, particularly in the present circumstances.
If the amendment is accepted, social workers could apply straight to the Home Office, without having to pursue the case through various European embassies. That would speed up the process and lessen the total burden on social workers. The children I am talking about have led complex lives. They often require expert legal and immigration advice to understand their options, including their eligibility for British citizenship. The Government should be streamlining this process for children in their care, not making it more difficult. Would the Minister consider lowering the evidential burden to ensure that these children receive settled status?
The third hurdle faced by some of these children is that, if they receive pre-settled, rather than settled, status, they will be in a vulnerable position. Children in care should not be given a temporary immigration status that expires. In five years’ time, when a young person with pre-settled status needs to reapply for settled status, it may well be that their social worker has changed, that they are no longer in care, or that grant-funded projects to support application have ended. The child surely has a right to apply for status under the EU settlement scheme either independently or in line with their parents’ status. For obvious reasons, it may be difficult for children in care to claim status linked to their parents’ situation. This right should be extended for children in care, so that they can apply in line with their corporate parents—the local authority—and receive permanent immigration status. What safe- guards are the Government putting in place to ensure that children in care and care leavers do not face a cliff edge when their pre-settled status expires and they reapply for settled status?
I am aware that the Home Office has sought to alleviate fears by stating that these children will be able to apply past the EUSS deadline of June 2021. What this means in reality is that children not identified and assisted through the EU settlement scheme would still be undocumented and in a difficult position. As is true of all undocumented children in the UK, this group will run into issues in adulthood when trying to rent a property, applying for a university grant or they are required to pay for NHS treatment while their immigration status is being regularised. Care leavers will still have to deal with a mountain of difficulties by themselves in order to secure the status they are owed. It can never, ever be in a child’s best interests to be undocumented. The Government have been warned that failure to act will result in this for children in the care of authorities across the UK.
To conclude, it is important to see that the amendment would place a duty on local authorities to identify children in their care who need to regularise their status. Within the guidelines issued to local authorities and Home Office workers, it would lower the evidential burden needed for children to apply and propose a fast track through the EU settlement scheme. It would end the concept of pre-settled status and ensure that all children had settled status only. I beg to move.
My Lords, I support Amendment 56 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs. As he just explained, the proposed new clause would ensure that the children of EEA citizens and Swiss nationals who are already in care, along with those entitled to care, are able to stay in the United Kingdom under the EU settlement scheme. Where otherwise would these children go? Therefore, in guaranteeing their protection, this amendment is both logical and necessary. I am sure that the Minister will agree.
Like the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, my name is on this amendment and, like him, I can be very brief in speaking to it, because the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, gave a masterly explanation of it.
We are dealing here with a small problem. The amendment would ensure that children in care do not fall into a crack, with their status undetermined and undocumented, now or in the future. The numbers involved are not huge; as the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, explained, they are probably in the thousands. Nobody would accuse the Government of deliberately creating this crack into which these young people might fall. It is accidental that this has emerged. I would not want to suggest that the Government have been remiss in letting it arise, provided, of course, that they feel able to do the decent thing and accept the overwhelming case that the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, made and either accept his amendment or produce a similar one that does the trick. It is the decent thing to do and I am convinced that the Government will want to do that to prevent the children falling into the crack that has accidentally been created.
I have one other point, and it is one I fear I may be becoming tedious on—perhaps I am always tedious. It is about Lesbos and the Moria camp. Yesterday in Berlin, the German ruling CDU, CSU, SPD coalition announced its agreement that Germany would take 2,750 homeless refugees from Lesbos, including 150 unaccompanied children and, in addition, children with serious illnesses and their immediate families. I asked what we will do about the disaster on Lesbos twice in Committee and the Minister did not feel able to pick up my remarks on either occasion, so this time I shall ask her four simple, straightforward questions. I hope she will be able to answer them.
First, does she agree that there would be reputational benefit for this country, at a time when we need friends, in doing what the Germans are doing? Secondly, does she agree that there is a strong humanitarian case for our doing so? Thirdly, does she agree that it is an emergency case, given that more than 14,000 people, including more than 400 unaccompanied children, are sleeping rough around the ruins of the burnt-out camp? Fourthly, will she please tell us, at the end of the discussion on this amendment, what the Government are going to do about it?
My Lords, I support Amendment 56. I associate myself with the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, in connection with the situation in Lesbos, and I hope the Minister will be able answer his questions. I commend the proposers of the amendment, in particular the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, in his consistent championing of vulnerable child refugees and vulnerable children in general.
We all know that children in care are especially disadvantaged, almost by definition, and there are too many tragic and at times disgraceful stories of the suffering of such children. The commitment to expand foster care is testimony to the fact that being looked after by the state is a last resort. The state is not usually the best parent a child can have, but for some it is the only one. That puts extra responsibility on us when rules change dramatically, as they are because of Brexit, to go the extra mile to ensure that these children are not further disadvantaged as they embark on adult life. It is and should be the responsibility of the state as parent to ensure that children without parents and in the care of the state get the support they need to secure their status. This amendment sets out to secure this.
The Children’s Society’s excellent briefing, to which the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, referred, highlights that more than 3 million people have completed applications, including more than 400,000 children. However, the society points out that the children’s rate is low compared with that for adults. I will not repeat its statistics, but they clearly point to the likelihood that thousands of children could be left undocumented and potentially stateless without the proactive measures proposed in the amendment. Although I say, “thousands of children”, and in the grand scheme of things the numbers are not that large, these are real people with real needs.
This could further blight the lives of young people who will be struggling to build their lives in a post-Covid, post-Brexit environment. The last thing they will need is to be confronted, at a critical point in their lives when seeking employment or other roles, with a challenge to their status because they did not know and were not properly informed of the need to secure settled status or helped to go about it. Because, on the face of it, this is not an urgent matter, overstretched local authorities might postpone support as a priority, but surely it is better to address it while the issue is fresh rather than wait until time has elapsed, people have forgotten, the circumstances have been overlooked and the possibility of people finding themselves on the wrong side of their status is therefore enhanced at a later stage. None of us wants to see tragic headlines about children facing either deportation or lack of identity and status.
I urge the Government to accept the amendment and show that they are on the side of young people. I accept that it is not their intention to create these problems, but, given the opportunity of this amendment, I hope they will recognise that these young people do not need additional barriers to their progress in life and that this amendment is to be commended.
My Lords, I strongly support the amendment. The Government should be doing all they can to ensure that the estimated nearly 10,000 looked-after children and care leavers are registered. It would seem that the Children’s Society has done more to identify these children than the Government have. It is not sufficient to say that they will allow late applications, welcome as that is, because that means these children will, as has already been said, be undocumented and could then run into all sorts of problems under the hostile/compliant environments. Will the Minister undertake to issue a formal policy statement and guidance that confirms formally what has been said about late claims? Stakeholder groups such as the Children’s Society and the3million are concerned that it is not there in a formal way.
It is not enough to say that it is the responsibility of local authorities and leave it at that, with only non-statutory guidance. According to the Children’s Society and the3million, many local authorities seem unaware of this, as my noble friend Lord Dubs said. To reinforce his questions, will the Minister say exactly what the Government are doing to ensure that local authorities are aware of their responsibilities; to support local authorities to fulfil those responsibilities, because we know the pressure they are under; and to ensure that local authorities are doing all they can to identify and support children for whom they have a responsibility? The evidence suggests that many of these hard-pressed local authorities are not doing what is required.
The noble Lord, Lord Kerr, said that to accept this amendment would be to do the decent thing. Indeed, it would, and I do not think it is tedious at all for him to remind noble Lords about what is happening in Lesbos. It is decent that he has done that, and I hope the Minister will answer his questions in a decent way.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow all the noble Lords who have spoken on this amendment thus far. I particularly commend the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, as others have, for his tireless work in this area.
Most of the questions have been asked and most of the issues have been canvassed, so I will be brief. I think everybody accepts that these are acutely vulnerable children. They do not have a parent who is able to look out for them; the state is their guardian, and that creates huge humanitarian responsibilities for the state that we expect our Government to live up to.
I also echo the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Kerr: where is the Statement and the action from the Government on the situation in Lesbos? We have seen significant action from European Governments, particularly the German and French Governments, so I join others in saying that I very much hope that we will hear an answer from the Minister on what the Government are going to do to help those intensely vulnerable people.
My Lords, I have added my name to this amendment. The Government have given us an example of the reasonable grounds there may be for submitting a late application to the EU settled status scheme, but in this case the applicant is a child whose parent or guardian failed to apply on their behalf.
This amendment is about children of a corporate parent: the state. As we have heard, the Home Office estimates that there are 5,000 looked-after children and 4,000 care leavers who would need to apply. Not only are these children considered vulnerable—a word we are applying quite widely to very different situations—but in this context they have rights which it is not possible, or certainly not easy in practical terms, for them to exercise. Their parent, the state, is in a rather different position from a flesh-and-blood mother or father.
This is a very nifty amendment. It means that social workers would not have to chase after paperwork; they are very overloaded, as we have heard. It does not leave children in the precarious position of having to apply late, or of being undocumented, when they would be exposed to ineligibility for NHS treatment that is not charged for, and there would be no cliff edge at the end of pre-settled status. I think I am right in saying that the five-year period in subsection (6) of the proposed new clause would mean that it would apply to babies who are currently, or by next June, under five years old.
As the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, said, this is not too hard to sort out—at least, it does not seem so to me. I hope the Minister will agree. Like others, I think that the noble Lord’s questions are relevant to today, if not relevant precisely to this amendment. They are very important. I look forward to supporting this amendment.
My Lords, I fully support Amendment 56, moved by my noble friend Lord Dubs, which would add a new clause to the Bill. This clause would provide for children who are EEA and Swiss nationals and in care, along with those entitled to care-leaving support, to be granted automatic indefinite leave to remain under the EU settlement scheme.
This amendment has wide cross-party support. The idea behind it had support in the other House, and it has that today. Every speaker so far, from different sides of the House, has spoken in support of the amendment. I am sure the Minister has taken that on board and will want to give us a positive response.
As my noble friend Lord Dubs said, there are vast numbers of these children and the amendment would ensure that none of them become undocumented. Identification is a serious problem, as my noble friend outlined. The different practices adopted by different local authorities is a real problem in itself.
The amendment would speed up the process and enable social workers, who do a fantastic job—we all know that they are under extreme pressure—to apply directly to the Home Office without having to deal with consulates and embassies and all the bureaucracy you have in dealing with another country when trying to get the right documents identified. You would avoid all that work, paperwork and bureaucracy, and go straight to the Home Office.
My noble friend Lord Dubs also asked the Minister about the safeguards in place for children who have pre-settled status, and that question deserves a careful response. As the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, said, this is a sensible amendment that really deserves a positive response from the Government.
I agree with all the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, on this amendment. It is the decent thing to do for these children. We are talking about a relatively small number of children, but it would ensure that nobody falls into the trap of becoming undocumented. As the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Bennachie, said, children in care face all sorts of additional challenges; they are not with their parents and the local authority in effect is looking after them. All this amendment seeks to do is to ensure that they do not have further issues to deal with; a young person leaving care, or in many years’ time, may have the problem of being undocumented and unable to establish their identity properly. This is a very small measure which the Government should give way on.
Like my noble friend Lady Lister of Burtersett, I commend the work of the Children’s Society to identify and raise the plights of these children. The society has campaigned to ensure that they have protection and that their problems are not added to by becoming undocumented. As I say, it is the decent thing to do. Equally, I am sure that we will get a response from the Minister on the amendment, and on the issue in Lesbos.
I should also draw the attention of the House to the fact that I am a vice-president of the Local Government Association. Local authorities do a fantastic job. Certain authorities, particularly Kent, are under particular pressure regarding children’s issues, but they generally do a fantastic job. This is one small measure which the Government could accept to help authorities and make it a bit easier for them in the work that they do. I hope that the Minister can give a positive response to us today, and maybe we can come back to this on Report.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, for moving his Amendment 56, which calls for children in care and care leavers who have their right of free movement removed by the Bill to be granted indefinite leave to remain.
May I say at the outset that I absolutely agree with the noble Lords, Lord Dubs and Lord Kennedy, and others that no child should be undocumented, and with the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, that we should not create any cracks? So that I do not disappoint the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, yet again, I will immediately address the issues that he raised.
First, he asked if we should do as the Germans do. I think we should do as we do. As far as reputational risk is concerned, I do not think we should help these children because it has an influence on our reputation; I think we should help children because it is the right thing to do, and in fact this country has a very long history of helping children who need our support.
The noble Lord asked me if I agree that it is an emergency. Absolutely, I agree that it is an emergency. Of course, I also agree that it is a humanitarian issue. One could not fail to be moved by the plight that these children and their families sometimes go through.
The noble Lord then asked me the million-dollar question: what the Government are doing about it. On 22 April, the UK and Greece signed a joint historic migration plan that reaffirms our commitment to closer co-operation with Greece on a range of migration issues. On the direct help for some of those people on the Greek islands, we have given £500,000 for urgent humanitarian help for the most vulnerable.
The noble Lord also asked me about Dublin family reunion cases for unaccompanied children affected by the fire. We remain fully committed to ensuring that eligible individuals seeking asylum in Europe, including unaccompanied children with family members in the UK, can continue to be transferred under the Dublin regulation until the end of the transition period. It might be helpful for the House to know that throughout the pandemic, the UK has continued to remain open to receiving Dublin transfers. I mentioned on Monday that three group flights from Greece have taken place in recent months—on 11 May, 28 July and 6 August. We continue to make arrangements with Greek officials to facilitate transfers of people we have accepted under the regulation, although I must make it clear that all arrangements to complete a transfer are the responsibility of the sending state.
The noble Lord asked whether the UK will accept resettlement of migrants in Greece to the UK. As he probably knows, we do not participate in the relocation within Europe scheme but we have refugee resettlement schemes that, crucially, provide safe and legal routes direct from refugee host countries for more than 25,000 vulnerable refugees in the greatest need of protection. We work closely with the UNHCR, which is the internationally recognised and mandated agency for dealing with refugees.
Having dealt with the questions of the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, which I could not go another Committee day without answering, I think I should also clarify our slight difference of views on Monday. Having looked at Hansard, I have realised what the issue was: I was talking about unaccompanied asylum-seeking children; he was talking about asylum seekers more generally. I hope that that is a clarification.
I want to acknowledge that this amendment is very well intentioned because it concerns the important issue of how, as we end free movement, we ensure that we protect the rights of a key vulnerable group—children in care and care leavers. The amendment does not achieve this but places that vulnerable group at greater risk of ending up without secure evidence, which is so important, of UK immigration status. We know from Windrush that a declaratory system, under which immigration is conferred automatically without providing secure evidence, does not work. The new clause would risk repeating that experience for this vulnerable group of children and young people, something the Government cannot support. What they want to do is focus their efforts—which noble Lords have talked about this afternoon—and resources on working closely with local authorities and other partners to ensure that these children and young people, like any other vulnerable group, get UK immigration status under the EU settlement scheme and the secure evidence they will need to prove their rights and entitlements for decades to come.
Since the full launch in March last year, we have had agreements and plans in place with local authorities to ensure this. Local authorities and, in Northern Ireland, health and social care trusts, are responsible for making an application under the scheme on behalf of an eligible looked-after child for whom they have parental responsibility by way of a court order. Surely, that order provides a date. Their responsibilities in other cases to signpost the scheme and support applications have also been agreed. These concern children for whom there is no court order but where the local authority has a clear interest in supporting the best interests of the child—for example, children accommodated by the local authority, children in need and care leavers.
I understand totally the concerns expressed by noble Lords about looked-after children and care leavers, and we must absolutely ensure that their corporate parents secure the best possible outcomes for them. We have therefore provided a range of support services such as the Home Office-run settlement resolution centre, open seven days a week, to ensure that local authorities and health and social care trusts can access help and advice when they need it. We have engaged extensively with relevant stakeholders such as the Department for Education, the Local Government Association, the Ministry of Justice, the Association of Directors of Children’s Services and equivalents in the devolved Administrations, just to understand and address the needs of looked-after children and care leavers and to ensure they are supported.
I should also say that guidance has been issued to local authorities regarding their role and responsibilities for making or supporting applications under the EU settlement scheme for looked-after children and care leavers. The Home Office is also holding teleconferences specifically for local authority staff responsible for making relevant applications in order to support them and provide a direct point of contact for them within the Home Office. As an illustration—and returning to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs—the EUSS safeguarding user group network of voluntary organisations has helped more than 200,000 at-risk and vulnerable people to apply to the scheme.
In addition, the Home Office has provided £9 million of grant funding to 57 voluntary organisations across the UK to support vulnerable citizens in applying to the scheme. I have alluded to several organisations specialising in that support for vulnerable children and young people. We have now committed a further £8 million for this work, allowing charities and local authorities to bid for grant funding to provide support to vulnerable people and ensure that nobody is left behind.
Finally, the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, asked about a formal policy statement on late claims. Early next year, we will issue guidance—not on an exhaustive list because that would be restrictive in its own right—on the areas where a late claim might be valid. She talked about children who are in local authority care. There could be women in coercive or controlling relationships—absolutely—and they could be a cohort. The guidance will be issued early next year but for now, we want people to apply to the scheme.
I hope that, with those explanations, the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, will be happy to withdraw the amendment.
We have received a number of requests to speak after the Minister: from the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, the noble Baronesses, Lady Hamwee and Lady Lister, and the noble Lords, Lord Paddick and Lord Kennedy. I will call each Member in turn and then invite the Minister to respond.
I am grateful to the Minister for responding to my questions. I guess that I am rightly rebuked for suggesting that a relevant factor in considering what we should do about the victims of Lesbos is our reputation around the world. I suppose it is a case of déformation professionnelle. I used to be a diplomat and I am therefore keen on our trying to recover some of our lost reputation. Perhaps the Government—less the noble and learned Lord, Lord Keen—are less keen today. Perhaps they do not recognise the extent of the reputational damage. Anyway, I agree that that is not strictly relevant.
The Minister agreed that there is an emergency case for helping and an overwhelming humanitarian case for helping. But—I hope the Minister will forgive my saying so—she seems to be saying that we propose to do nothing at all about it. Everything that she cited—the money in April and the flights in July and August—took place before the fire on the island of Lesbos and before these 14,500 people, who are now sleeping rough, were displaced. If she accepts that there is a new urgent humanitarian case then it would be very good if the Government could do something about it.
I note that a number of people spoke on the same lines as me about this problem, so I hope the Minister will take back to Whitehall the idea that there seems to be a feeling in this House that we ought to be doing something to help the victims of Moria.
My Lords, the noble Lord can probably tell that I have never been a diplomat. However, I take his point in absolutely good faith. It is probably both reputational and our duty to help those in need around the world.
I spoke to the noble Lord about the joint historic migration plan, which confirms our closer co-operation with Greece. I was speaking to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, before we even began this Committee stage, and I think that we all need to get together and work out solutions for upstream work and to help the desperate people in the regions who will never even get to Europe. We need to tackle some of the drivers of the terrible criminality that goes on, which has no intention of helping the most vulnerable people at all.
I was not sure whether the Minister was talking about money that had been paid to Greece to help, or money that was going to be paid. Clearly, money is needed—I am in no position to think how much that might be—but it is not just about money.
I commend to noble Lords the BBC Radio 4 programme “More or Less” this morning, which objectively dealt with where the UK comes in comparison with other nations in taking refugees and assisting asylum seekers. The tables I have in front of me show that, combining both resettled refugees and asylum seekers, we take less than a quarter of the number taken by Greece and less than 10% of the number taken by Germany. This is not a competition, except a competition to do better. I wanted to put that on the record.
I also want to respond to the points the Minister has just made. The best upstream action is to provide safe and legal routes. She mentioned that in her first response, and I commend her for that. That is where the focus needs to be.
My Lords, I do not disagree with the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee: we need to provide safe and legal routes, and through our resettlement schemes we do provide them. We are all in danger of agreeing violently, because we want to help the most vulnerable and we want places like Greece, that need our support, to get it.
The noble Baroness asked whether the money had been paid or would be paid. It has been paid. She will of course remember that, back in the day, we put quite a phenomenal amount of money into helping people in the region who will never get out and who will never make the journey over to Europe.
My Lords, the Minister referred to the resettlement scheme, but we heard the other day that that is suspended, and it is not at all clear when it will start again. I have a simple question. The noble Lord, Lord Kerr, said that as it is accepted that there is an urgent humanitarian case, it would be good if the Government did something about it. I still do not understand why we are not doing something about it. Why are we not acting like, say, Germany?
My Lords, I do not think that we, as a country, have been backward in coming forward to other countries that need our help. We are working closely with Greece. As I said, we have given it money to deal with some of the most vulnerable people on its islands, and we will continue to do that.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister, but what I heard in the first question from the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, was about taking refugees from the camp in Lesbos. She talked exclusively about unaccompanied children. Germany had initially agreed to take 400 unaccompanied children, but has now changed that decision and will take in 1,553 refugees from Lesbos, making up the difference in the numbers with adults. Can the Minister clarify that the Government’s position on not taking adult refugees from anywhere in Europe has not changed despite the disaster in Lesbos?
What I said was that we did not participate in the EU relocation scheme; I am not sure whether we ever have. I am saying that we will absolutely meet our obligations under Dublin, and if a request comes from the UNHCR for us to take displaced people from Greece who are eligible to come under Dublin, we will of course consider that.
My Lords, the Minister will correct me if I am wrong, but I understand her position to be that the amendment we are discussing is not necessary and could make the situation worse. Apparently the Home Office supports the aims of the amendment but it is not going to act, because there are measures already in place to deal with this question, and it does not want any children to end up undocumented. Maybe I am wrong, but I am sure that if I am, the Minister will correct me. If I am correct, is she giving a cast-iron assurance that the Home Office will not let any of those children become undocumented, and that in the period ahead it will not take decisions that undermine what she has said to us today?
What I am saying is that the Home Office, in conjunction with other departments, will ensure that we can identify every child, or indeed adult, in that vulnerable category and that they are assisted where possible. As I said the other day, the EU settlement scheme will not close and reasonable grounds for late applications will not end, so if any people—either adults or children—are identified in future as coming into the category that noble Lords have spoken about, they will be documented.
I now call the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, to respond to the debate on his amendment.
My Lords, so many things have been raised in the debate that I shall be hard put to it to spend only a short time dealing with them. First, I am still concerned, because the Minister said that although she agreed with the sentiment, she thought Amendment 56 was unnecessary and might be counter- productive. I am not convinced that, next June, we will not see a large number of children who, as the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, said, have fallen through the crack and are undocumented, and nothing much will be done for them. That is the concern. Short of repeating the point in this debate, we will be forced to keep asking Parliamentary Questions to find out whether all those children have been identified and had their status granted.
The Minister did not talk about the difference between pre-settled and settled status, but the thrust of the debate was that we must give people settled status otherwise they are still left in limbo and a state of uncertainty.
I would like to feel that the Home Office will redouble its efforts to make sure that the amendment is unnecessary, but I am bound to say that I am not that hopeful. I fear that we will have to go on pressing the Government as to where we have got. I find that a bit disappointing, despite the fact that the Minister’s sentiments were very much in support of the aim of the amendment.
Turning now to some of the specific comments, I am grateful to all noble Lords who contributed to the debate. I particularly welcome the comments on Moria made by the noble Lord, Lord Kerr. I was going to raise this but did not know whether I should at this point. On the other hand, by the time we get to Report, when this issue will come up, another two or three weeks will have gone by. It is such an urgent matter than I can only press the Minister that we can do a bit more than we are doing. We cannot do everything. All we should do is act in concert with other EU countries, even if we are not part of the scheme, and say, “Look, we’re going to play our part in helping.”
We have done something already, of course—before the fire in Moria—but the Greek Government appealed for help from all countries. We are friendly with the Greek Government; we have got an agreement with them. The least we can do is say that we will take some more children, especially the ones who can reunite with their family here.
I was concerned by the Minister’s comment that Dublin III will be operational until the end of December. Of course it will be, but we are worried about what will happen after then. We are concerned that there will be no safeguards unless the Government act on the amendment that we discussed the other day, which is to say that we will negotiate to continue the arrangement long after we have left the EU. I fear that that is not the Government’s position; I would like to feel that it were. There is a real gap here in what the Government are doing, and I am disappointed. We will come to the end of December and there will be children with relatives and family here who will no longer have the right to come here.
Having said that, I am grateful to the Minister and the other noble Lords who contributed to the debate on this amendment. We will have to watch and see. If the Government are as good as the Minister’s word—that is a big statement—maybe it will all get sorted by June next year. I would like to think so, but at the moment I am still doubtful.
I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 56 withdrawn.
Amendments 57 to 61 not moved.
We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 62. I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate. Anyone wishing to press this or any other amendment in the group to a Division should make that clear during the debate.
62: After Clause 4, insert the following new Clause—
“Refugee family reunion
The Secretary of State must make rules under section 3(2) of the Immigration Act 1971 to allow any EEA or Swiss citizen who has exercised a right brought to an end by section 1 and Schedule 1 and who has been recognised as a refugee in the United Kingdom to sponsor their—(a) children under the age of 25 who were either under the age of 18, or unmarried, at the time the person granted asylum left the country of their habitual residence in order to seek asylum;(b) parents; or(c) siblings under the age of 25 who were either under the age of 18, or unmarried, at the time the person granted asylum left the country of their habitual residence in order to seek asylum;to join them in the United Kingdom.”Member’s explanatory statement
This new Clause is intended to probe the need to expand family reunion rules.
My Lords, Amendment 62 is grouped with Amendments 64 and 79, which I very much support.
On a previous day, we debated Amendment 48, a “Dubs amendment”—the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, is becoming a noun; I hope that he will forgive me for using his name in this way—which was also about refugee family reunion, with a focus on unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. My Amendment 62 is different. The starting point is that someone of any age, including a child, who has refugee status in the UK could sponsor certain family members to join him or her. As with other amendments that we have debated, the issue is very much wider than EEA and Swiss citizens, but I cannot let the Bill go by without making points about this situation, too.
I believe that this is a very modest ask to test the water, as I have done previously and hope to do again if we ever get back to Private Members’ Bills, because I have one on this subject in the pipeline. The amendment would allow a refugee to sponsor his or her
“children under the age of 25 who were either under the age of 18, or unmarried, at the time”
the sponsor left the country. The “unmarried” point is important. One hears alarming stories about the treatment of young women in refugee camps. They have an even more precarious existence than others, as well as precarious experiences on their journey. The amendment would also allow the sponsorship of parents or siblings who came in the categories I have just mentioned.
It is often suggested that families in difficult parts of the world send a son off to try to reach the UK with a view to the family seamlessly following for economic reasons. It is true that children in this situation do sometimes leave with a parent’s agreement, but all too often it is about seeking asylum which is a necessity. This provision would not kick in unless the sponsor was recognised as a refugee. I hope that that reassures noble Lords.
I dare say that someone might argue that such a provision would endanger that sponsor, who might be a child, because of the danger of getting to the UK. As always, the answer is to create safe and legal routes, as this amendment would do for those who are sponsored. It would also help with the recovery and integration of refugees in this country. I hope that it is not necessary to explain to the Committee the importance of families being together. They belong together.
In January of this year, other noble Lords may have received, as I did, emails from a primary school where children had read a book about a boy refugee trying to be reunited with his family. This was as the Government were repealing Section 17 of the 2018 EU withdrawal Act. At the time, I quoted a child who said:
“I thought my country was better than this.”—[Official Report, 15/1/20; col. 755.]
Another child castigated us. He said:
“You’re all leaders. You’re all meant to lead by example, yet you’ve made us feel so ashamed that we are prevented from helping these children. What if you were in their position? You’d want to be brought to safety, wouldn’t you?”
Well, I know the answer to that.
Another child said:
“There’s no war in the UK and if children have family here, they should have the right to go to them. I think it must be very scary to be alone, not speaking the same language as people around you, in a big new country surrounded by new people. These children don’t know what is going to happen to them. Knowing they were able to go to a relation in this country would be a relief for them and we would know we’ve helped.”
Finally by way of example, I will quote a young refugee assisted by the Red Cross:
“I was so little when I left my home and my family. I left but my family unfortunately did not have the chance to leave with me. I wish they were here with me. We’re forced to leave. We leave as children and we still need our parents’ figures in our lives. I worry about my brothers because I know they will be in danger. I worry about my younger sister, who’s 14. I want to get her out of there. It is so important that we are all together again.”
As I said, there are three amendments in this group. The fact that noble Lords from around the House are showing concern for refugees in different situations— and this is not the whole of it—indicates how widely shared the view is that we as a country should be doing more.
I beg to move.
My Lords, I support Amendment 62—spoken to in a very moving way by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee—which seeks to expand family reunion rules. I also support Amendment 79, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, which ensures that family reunification should not be restricted by any lack of income or assets affecting relevant parties.
Amendment 64, in my name, allows visas to be issued on humanitarian grounds. Three conditions are stipulated: the person needs medical treatment, is an orphaned child, or is a child who is a dependant of a person in the United Kingdom. These conditions are covered in Section 3. However, Section 4 enables the Secretary of State to add to them if required.
As outlined, therefore, Amendment 64 does not address family reunion. Instead, it deals with people who need to come to the United Kingdom for medical attention, orphaned children, and those who do not qualify for family reunion but who are dependent upon another person, or people, in the United Kingdom. Post Brexit, this amendment may thus prove useful for the continuity of the United Kingdom’s excellent record of sustained high standards of humanitarian good practice, such as receiving here for emergency surgery the Nobel Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai, after she had been shot in the head by Islamist terrorists, and, during the recent lockdown—and for this my noble friend the Minister and her government colleagues deserve a great deal of credit—the relocation to the United Kingdom of dozens of unaccompanied minors from Moria refugee camp in Greece when it was recently destroyed by arson.
Secondly, the measures proposed may also help many to avoid become prey to human smugglers and traffickers. An absence of humanitarian visas, which the amendment seeks to redress, is also an advantage to human smugglers and traffickers. For these reasons, I hope that the Minister can accept Amendment 64.
My Lords, I rise to support Amendment 62 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, which I was delighted to sign. I also wish to express my support for Amendment 64, which the noble Earl has so ably presented, and to speak to my own Amendment 79. The first two refer to people who need refuge; mine refers to a different group and I will get to that in a second.
As I was listening to the powerful presentations from the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and the noble Earl, I was thinking back to January 2016 when I was at a memorial service for a 15 year-old Afghan boy. His name was Masud, and he died in the back of lorry trying to get to the UK to rejoin his brother. This relates to the discussion we were having before about the situation on Lesbos. We have to provide safe, legal, orderly routes for people to reach the UK, and to achieve the refuge they should be entitled to.
I note my position as the co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Hong Kong and identify what may well be a rising issue. The Government have stepped forward and said that they want to help people who need to leave Hong Kong because of what is happening there with regard to human rights. I very much hope that we will see action on providing orderly routes for people to be able to do that, and for people all around the world.
I mostly want to speak on Amendment 79. As I said, this does not relate to refugees. This relates to a situation involving those generally known as Skype children, the numbers of whom are, of course, likely to be significantly enhanced. At the moment, for non-EU and EAA citizens who are the spousal partner of a British citizen, the British citizen has to have an income of £18,600 a year to bring them to the UK—more with children—and at the end of the transition period this Bill will extend that to many more people and many more children.
This is a more limited amendment than Amendment 23, which we debated last week, which addressed couples being able to stay together as well as children. While I prefer Amendment 23, I am hoping that the Conservative Government might be more prepared to consider amending the legislation specifically so that it is not tearing children out of their parents’ arms. It is, at the moment, not using the wisdom of Solomon but actually delivering the verdict of Solomon and forcing parents to let their children go to be separated from them for years. As we all know from the situation with Covid-19, yes, you may be able to keep in contact through a screen, but it is certainly not the same thing.
I note that in 2018 the Children’s Commissioner for England commissioned a report showing that up to 15,000 British children were already growing up in this situation. This is without adding in people affected by Brexit. Many children were reportedly suffering from significant stress and anxiety from the separation.
So have the Government made an estimate of the number of children likely to be affected annually by the minimum income requirement once the immigration Act, as it will be, comes into effect? The research by the Children’s Commissioner found that Britain had the least family-friendly reunification policies of 38 developed countries, largely because of that minimum income requirement. That is of course £18,600 a year, which was then 138% of the minimum wage. It will not be quite so bad now. The Children’s Commissioner, Anne Longfield, said at the time:
“There is a wealth of evidence which indicates that children are far more likely to thrive when they are raised by parents in a warm, stable and loving family environment.”
There is evidence, she said, that this affects
“their well-being and development. It is also likely to have an impact on their educational attainment and outcomes.”
As one of the authors of the report commissioned by the Children’s Commissioner pointed out, the great majority of children affected by this are British citizens. They are being forced to grow up effectively in single-parent families, when their parents want to be together. So I hope that the Government will reflect on the comparison with Solomon and think about accepting this amendment.
My Lords, I wish to speak to Amendment 64 to which I have added my name, which has already been moved by the noble Earl, Lord Dundee. The concept here is a very simple one because, as I understand it, we are already doing it in part. The Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme, for example, which takes some Syrian refugees from Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, already seems to be giving effect to a proposal similar to that in this amendment. The question is: why can we not apply that to people in Europe? That is the purpose of this amendment. It seems to be a very simple point, and it would also take away some of the pressure.
At the moment, if we are taking children from an EU country, there is quite a complicated bureaucratic procedure; they have to apply and then they have to be registered before we accept them. Would it not be easier if we had a humanitarian visa, so that it could be granted to children in that category and they could come straight here without any bureaucratic toing and froing? The concept is a simple one.
I appreciate that the idea of a humanitarian visa, generally, has been floated for a long time. I do not know whether it has the support of the UNHCR—I believe it does—but of course the scheme I referred to, the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme from that region, is based on the identification by UNHCR of individuals who are vulnerable, so the same arrangement could apply for the granting of a humanitarian visa. It seems to be a fairly straightforward proposal and one that would add to the other measures to provide a legal and safe way for people in desperate need to come to this country.
My Lords, I commend those noble Lords who have followed this Bill in detail and identified so many anomalies and injustices that may arise with the ending of free movement. I have intervened to give them support and to identify amendments in which I have a particular interest.
My brief intervention here is in support of Amendment 64 which, like a number of others, highlights the hardship and injustice that may arise not by deliberate intent but because, when a freedom that has been available for so long is terminated, something that is currently not an issue becomes one.
In Scotland, we have leading centres of medical excellence. In my home region, in Aberdeen, we have the oldest teaching hospital in the English-speaking world, which has pioneered a number of innovations including the MRI scanner. Medical centres of renown exist in Dundee, Edinburgh and Glasgow.
Under the present rules, treatment can be provided to EEA nationals without recourse to a visa. It would surely be inhumane if, under the terms of this amendment, a visa were to be denied in future. Similarly, it is surely right on compassionate grounds if an orphaned child can best be placed in foster care in the UK—for example, where a sibling is already placed or some other particular circumstances apply. If the child is the dependant of someone living in the UK who has the right to remain, it is surely absolutely right that they can be united with them in the UK. This should be sufficient grounds for the automatic right to a visa.
We have seen cases in which UK citizens have availed themselves of medical treatment elsewhere in the EU, and previous contributions have discussed treatment being provided to people from elsewhere, so it is to be hoped that accepting this amendment would help to ensure that EU countries provide similar reciprocal arrangements.
So much will change next year, sadly, in my view, to the detriment of UK citizens in most cases, and also inflicting potential hardship on our fellow EU citizens whose access to the UK has not been restricted hitherto. This amendment is a simple example of how we can modify our visa arrangements post Brexit on compassionate and humanitarian grounds. I hope it will be accepted in that spirit.
My Lords, in Committee in the Commons, the Government stated that they were
“committed to the principle of family reunion and supporting vulnerable children”
and that they
“recognise that families can become separated because of … conflict and persecution”,
“the speed and manner in which people are often forced to flee their country.” —[Official Report, Commons, 30/6/20; col. 263.]
Eligibility for refugee family reunion is covered in the UK’s Immigration Rules, which provide that refugees in the UK can be joined, via family reunion, by their spouse or partner and their dependent children under the age of 18.
Amendment 62 increases the family members whom EEA and Swiss nationals, who have exercised a right ended by Clause 1 of this Bill and are refugees in the UK, are allowed to sponsor to join them. In reality, the existing UK policy leaves some of the most vulnerable children separated from their parents at a time when they need their families more than ever—an issue that Amendment 62 seeks to address.
Amendment 64, to which my noble friend Lord Dubs’s name is attached, seeks to remedy this by requiring the Secretary of State to make provision for a visa to enter or remain in the UK on humanitarian grounds. This would apply to an EEA or Swiss national—that is done to keep the amendment in scope of the Bill—who requires medical treatment in the UK that is not available where they are resident; who is an orphan child, and a foster family or other foster care is available to the child in the UK and leave to enter or remain in the UK would be in the child’s best interests; or who is a dependent child of someone who has been granted leave to enter or remain in the UK. In their reply, perhaps the Government could say what they estimate would be the number of people entering the UK each year under the terms of such a humanitarian visa, compared with the latest annual net migration figure, for example.
The third amendment in this group provides that a person should be granted leave to enter or remain in the UK if they are an EEA or Swiss national and either have a child with a British citizen or person who has leave to remain in the UK, or are a child of a British citizen or person who has leave to remain in the UK.
I conclude by saying only that if the Government are
“committed to the principle of family reunion and supporting vulnerable children”,—[Official Report, Commons, 30/6/20; col. 263.]
as they said in the Commons when this Bill was being discussed, surely they can accept one or more of the amendments in this group.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, for her amendment and my noble friend Lord Dundee, the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle. I turn first to Amendment 62 from the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. I note that she has raised this amendment to probe the need to expand the UK’s refugee family reunion rules. I will address each part of the amendment in turn.
Paragraph (a) of the proposed new clause seeks to allow refugees to reunite with their dependent children under the age of 25, as long as they were under 18 or unmarried at the time their parents left their country. The refugee family reunion guidance is clear that where a family reunion application does not meet the requirements of the Immigration Rules, caseworkers must consider whether there are any exceptional circumstances or compassionate factors that may justify a grant of leave outside the Immigration Rules. To this end, particular reference is given in the guidance to the example of children over 18 who are not leading an independent life and would otherwise be left alone in a dangerous situation. I can confirm that this discretion is used to allow dependent adult children to reunite with their parents in the UK where appropriate.
Paragraph (b) of the proposed new clause relates to refugees sponsoring parents. The noble Baroness will know that the Government have been very clear on their established position on this issue, as we are very concerned that allowing children to sponsor their parents would lead to more children being encouraged—even forced—to leave their families and risk dangerous journeys to the UK. However, discretion can be applied where a caseworker feels that a refusal of entry clearance would breach Article 8 of the ECHR or result in unjustifiably harsh consequences for the applicant or their family. Furthermore, Appendix FM of the Immigration Rules already allows refugees to sponsor adult dependent relatives living overseas to join them where, due to age, illness or disability, that person requires long-term personal care that can be provided only by relatives in the UK.
Paragraph (c) of the proposed new clause relates to refugees sponsoring dependent siblings under the age of 25, as long as they were under 18 or unmarried at the time their sibling left their country. I draw noble Lords’ attention to paragraph 319X of the Immigration Rules, which allows extended family, including siblings, to sponsor children to come here where there are serious and compelling circumstances. Again, consideration will also be given to any factors that might warrant a grant of leave outside the rules, where the rules are not met.
I hope this reassures the noble Baroness that there are vehicles within the existing policy framework to reunite the family members her amendment seeks to cover. An expansion of the policy could significantly increase the numbers who could qualify to come here from not just conflict regions but any country from which someone is granted protection. This would mean extended family members who themselves do not need protection being able to come here, which risks reducing our capacity to assist the most vulnerable refugees.
On numbers, I highlight that the UK has now issued over 29,000 family reunion visas in only the last five years, with more than half of those issued to children—a substantial number that should not be underestimated.
I agree with the intention of compassion and humanity that motivates Amendment 64, proposed by my noble friend Lord Dundee. However, we do not support this amendment, which seeks to create a humanitarian visa for EEA and Swiss nationals. It is unclear to me and the Government why those citizens have humanitarian needs that cannot be addressed by their own European country.
The Government have an excellent humanitarian record in assisting vulnerable people, including children. The UK is one of the world’s leading refugee resettlement states, resettling more refugees than any other country in Europe, and is in the top five countries worldwide. Since 2015 we have resettled more than 25,000 refugees, around half of whom have been children.
Once we have delivered our current commitments under the vulnerable persons resettlement scheme, we will consolidate our main schemes into a new global UK resettlement scheme. Our priority will be to continue to identify and resettle vulnerable refugees in need of protection, as identified and referred by the UNHCR. The focus of our humanitarian record is on those most in need, and I suggest that today’s amendment does not cover those most in need.
I turn to each proposed condition of the humanitarian visa in detail. Overall, it is unclear why, regarding the condition set out in subsection 3(a) of the proposed new clause, the UK should pick up healthcare provision for EEA and Swiss citizens, whether they are residing in their country of nationality or not, as these countries have excellent healthcare systems. However, our current discretionary leave policy allows us to grant leave to remain to individuals who do not qualify for leave to remain under the Immigration Rules but where there are exceptional or compassionate reasons for allowing them to remain in the UK, including on medical grounds and ill health.
The discretionary leave policy can, for example, address the needs of those who face a real risk of being exposed to a serious, rapid and irreversible decline in their state of health as a result of the absence of appropriate medical treatment in their home country. The policy also allows us to balance this care, and our international obligations under the ECHR, with the need to protect the finite resources of the NHS. The threshold for a person to be considered for discretionary leave on the basis of their medical condition is very clearly set out in our policy on medical claims and is intentionally high for this reason.
Furthermore, we are already dedicated to ensuring that vulnerable groups can access the NHS without charge. There are several groups applying for leave to remain in the UK who are exempt from the requirement to pay the immigration health charge, including asylum claimants and victims of modern slavery who apply for discretionary leave to remain. Those who are exempt from paying the IHC, or for whom the requirement is waived, are entitled to use the NHS generally without charge.
On the condition set out in proposed new subsection 3(b), the Government are committed to supporting vulnerable children. This amendment fails to recognise the safe and legal routes in the current immigration system for reuniting families, including the previously mentioned refugee family reunion rules, as well as Part 8 and Appendix FM of the Immigration Rules, all of which will remain in place at the end of the transition period.
The proposed amendment would also require the Government to create a new visa route for orphaned children who are EEA or Swiss nationals to come to the UK to be placed in local authority foster care where it is in their best interests. It is unclear why an orphaned child who is German, Italian or Greek, for example, should come to the UK on humanitarian grounds and be placed in local authority care here. These are safe European countries, and it is not appropriate for the UK to take children out of care in their own home countries and bring them here. Local authorities in the UK are already facing significant pressures, currently caring for over 5,000 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, which is an increase of 146% since 2014.
On the condition set out in proposed new subsection 3(c), child dependants of those with leave in the UK are very well catered for in the Immigration Rules, which means that there is no need for primary legislation to create provision that already exists.
Turning to Amendment 79, I appreciate the noble Baroness’s intent behind the amendment, which seeks to create a means whereby, in the future, EEA and Swiss citizens will be able to join a spouse, partner, parent or a child in the UK who is either a British citizen or holds valid leave here, but without being subject to the current and established financial requirements for family migration.
There are a number of additional factors that I would like to turn to, which are also reasons for objecting to this amendment. I remind noble Lords that the minimum income requirement is based on in-depth analysis and advice from the independent Migration Advisory Committee. It did not find any clear case for differentiation in the level of the minimum income requirement between UK countries and regions. A single national threshold provides clarity and simplicity. Data also show that the gross median earnings in 2019 exceeded the minimum income requirement in every country and region of the UK. So it is true to say that the minimum income requirement is set at a suitable and consistent level and promotes financial independence, thereby avoiding burdens on the taxpayer and ensuring that families can participate sufficiently in everyday life to facilitate integration into British society.
In all family cases, the decision-maker will consider whether the Immigration Rules are otherwise met and, if not, will go on to consider whether there are exceptional circumstances that would render refusal a breach of Article 8 of the ECHR because it would result in unjustifiably harsh consequences for the applicant or their family. Each application is considered on its merits and on a case-by-case basis, taking into account the individual circumstances. The rules also give direct effect to the Secretary of State’s statutory duty to have regard, as a primary consideration, to a child’s best interests in making an immigration decision affecting them. In the future, British citizens and settled persons who want to be joined by family members who are EEA or Swiss citizens will benefit from these considerations without the need for Amendment 79.
Amendment 79 undermines the sound basis on which family migration to this country has been placed in recent years. It would circumvent the need for family migration to be on a basis whereby families are financially independent and able to contribute to the UK. It is for this reason that the income requirement was set out in the Immigration Rules. The Supreme Court has upheld this requirement as lawful and judged that it is not discriminatory. The amendment therefore seeks to contradict this ruling. There is no justifiable reason to avoid this requirement in the future by giving preferential treatment to family members based solely on their nationality. It is also unlikely to be lawful to do so.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, asked if I had figures on the numbers who are affected, or who are projected to be affected. I do not have them on me. If we have them, I will provide them for her.
I hope that, on that basis, noble Lords are happy not to press their amendments.
I have received one request to speak after the Minister from the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington.
My Lords, I do not always agree with the Home Office, but I do commend the answers that the Minister has just given on these three amendments.
I want to make some brief comments on Amendment 79. As the Minister just pointed out, the present income threshold for a spousal visa is designed to ensure that those coming to the UK for family reunion have enough resources to play a full part in British life and do not become a burden on the taxpayer. That is surely a sensible approach. As she mentioned, this has been to the Supreme Court, which ruled the policy to be lawful. Indeed, far from removing the threshold, there are, in certain cases, strong arguments for raising it.
The Migration Advisory Committee has said that, on average, for the family income to cover the cost of all public services, a higher threshold is required: namely, £25,700, rather than the current level of £18,600—a difference of £7,100. Even that threshold would not be enough, it says, for a non-EU household to make a net contribution to public finances. For them, the figure would be £38,000 a year. We must have in mind the impact of changes to these rules on the taxpayer and the reaction that they may have to that.
Finally, it is perhaps important to note that a reduction in the threshold would run entirely contrary to the Government’s 2017 election manifesto, which promised to raise the level of the threshold. That, of course, has still not been done.
I thank the noble Lord for his comments. I pretty much agree with him on every point.
On the higher threshold, the MAC will not be passive in commenting on the various aspects of the new immigration system, and I am sure that the threshold will be one of them.
My Lords, on the minimum income requirement, what is lawful is still not necessarily the system that many people want, including British citizens who, to their surprise, are affected by the rules. The Minister said that they were clear, but what counts towards assessing whether an income is £18,600 is a problem and has been for some time. It has also been changed from time to time, and the income of the person sponsored does not count. I do not have up-to-date figures, but it puts this arrangement out of reach for about half the wage earners in this country.
However, we are not here to debate the minimum income requirement, so I will go back to the family reunion point—it is all intertwined, of course. My noble friend Lord Bruce said he had been struck by how something that was not a problem can become one. Here, we are seeking to address something that has been a problem for some time and which will become a bigger problem. I am of course aware that Appendix FM and paragraph 319X of the Immigration Rules deal with exceptional circumstances. Sadly, the situations we are debating are not exceptional. To exercise discretion outside of the rules is an unsatisfactory position when we could have rules. The Minister talked about dependents being left alone. More often they are left with a single parent.
The organisations on the ground are concerned about this. This is not something manufactured in my head. It is an issue that we will have to go on pursuing. I thought that the humanitarian case to which the Minister subscribed was undermined at the end by her referring to numbers. Since the numbers are never going to be overwhelming, I would prefer to stick to the humanitarian case. However, I beg leave to withdraw Amendment 62.
Amendment 62 withdrawn.
We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 63. I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate. Anyone wishing to press this or anything else in the group to a Division should make this clear in debate.
63: After Clause 4, insert the following new Clause—
“Duty to raise awareness of citizenship rights
(1) The Secretary of State must take steps to raise awareness of rights under the British Nationality Act 1981 to register as a British citizen to persons to whom subsection (2) applies.(2) This section applies to any person who has lost rights under section 1 and Schedule 1.(3) Within six months of the day on which this Act is passed, the Secretary of State must publish a report detailing the steps taken to raise awareness of rights under subsection (1), and lay it before Parliament.”
Amendment 63 would lay a duty on the Secretary of State to raise awareness of people’s rights to register as a British citizen under the British Nationality Act 1981, with the people concerned being those who lose rights under Clause 1 and Schedule 1 of the Bill. The amendment would also require the Secretary of State to publish and lay before Parliament a report within six months of this Bill becoming an Act, detailing the action taken to raise awareness of rights to register as a British citizen.
As I understand it, before the 1981 Act anyone born in the UK was born British. The 1981 Act ended that and laid down who is and who is not a British citizen, and who is entitled to citizenship. Someone born in the UK now is only a British citizen if one of their parents is a British citizen or settled in the UK. Apart from the Home Secretary having a general power to register any child as a British citizen, all registration under the British Nationality Act 1981 is by entitlement. A child or an adult who satisfies the criteria for registration is entitled to British citizenship. The 1981 Act does not give the Home Secretary the decision of whether someone is entitled to British citizenship. This is different from naturalisation as a British citizen, which is only at the discretion of the Home Secretary, and only adults can be naturalised.
The EU settlement scheme, which provides for pre-settled and settled status, raises an issue. Some of those about to lose EU free movement rights in the UK will have rights to register as British citizens that they have not yet exercised, and they would quite probably wish to do so as people of EEA or Swiss nationality or parentage in the UK if the alternative was settled status. Citizenship means much more than settled status, and there being no available evidence of citizenship can have significant adverse consequences if changes are subsequently made to immigration policies, as the Windrush generation have found out.
In the shadow of the Windrush scandal, the Government should not be casual in their attitude to people’s right of access to citizenship. They should be working proactively to ensure that those, including children, who have the right to register as British citizens, with the same rights as all of us, are aware of that right and can access it. With the end of free movement and the focus on the EU settlement scheme, there is a risk of those who have the right to access British citizenship and register as British citizens ending up with at best an immigration status. This amendment seeks to minimise the risk of this happening.
In their response, can the Government update the Committee on what work is being done by the Home Secretary and the Home Office to proactively raise awareness and encourage and assist those who have the right to be British citizens to enjoy those rights? If the answer is that no such work is being undertaken on this citizenship issue, can the Government explain why not? I beg to move.
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 67 in my name and those of other noble Lords who will be speaking. I am grateful for their support. I express support for Amendment 63, moved so well by my noble friend Lord Rosser. Once again, I am grateful to the Project for the Registration of Children as British Citizens, of which I am a patron, and to Amnesty International UK for its briefing.
Amendment 67 would place a duty on the Secretary of State to encourage, promote and facilitate awareness and the exercising of rights to British citizenship among EEA and Swiss nationals. It would also introduce a positive duty to confirm information known to the Home Office that is relevant to establishing a person’s right to citizenship. I am told that at present such information is all too often not forthcoming—a particular problem for many looked-after children—but there appears to be a greater readiness to check and act on such information when it confirms that there is no entitlement to citizenship.
The intention of the amendment is to shift the Home Office’s mindset, in the spirit of Wendy Williams’s Windrush report. That mindset resulted in the active discouragement of members of the Windrush generation from exercising their rights to British citizenship. As we have heard, there are real fears that the lessons of that review are not being learned when it comes to children of EEA and Swiss citizens who were born in the UK or who have grown up here from an early age. Research by the European Children’s Rights Unit, funded by the Home Office, indicates that Roma children, who are an especially vulnerable group, may be particularly at risk.
More generally, PRCBC gives the example of Matteo, who was born in the UK to Italian parents. He has lived here all his life apart from occasional visits to Italy and a gap year in continental Europe. When he became an adult, he discovered to his great distress that he was not regarded as a British citizen when he was refused inclusion on the electoral register for the general election and was twice refused a British passport. Before contacting PRCBC, he had been given poor legal advice that he should apply for settled status under the EU settlement scheme and be naturalised as a British citizen at a future date. Having established what his situation was, PRCBC was able to help him register his entitlement to British citizenship under the 1981 Act. No one had previously advised him of this right, and he had suffered serious mental distress as a result. A young man in this situation should not have to rely on the chance of finding his way into an organisation like that. How many are not finding their way to such organisations?
Can the Minister explain what exactly the Home Office is doing to proactively encourage the exercise of the right to register citizenship, both directly and through local authorities, to ensure that children and young people such as Matteo are not missing out on their chance of registering as citizens? What steps is it now taking to ensure that no one who is entitled to register as a British citizen is wrongly channelled through the EUSS as an immigrant without being informed of their existing right to register as a citizen? Are any specific steps being taken to ensure that Roma children have the information and support they need? Also, can she give us some idea of the number of children overall likely to be affected?
These are important questions. The right to British citizenship of an unknown number of children is at stake. I and others emphasised the importance of citizenship in moving an earlier amendment, and there was a lot of support in the Committee for citizenship’s importance. The answer to these questions will give us some idea of the importance the Home Office attaches to it, and how far it is genuinely willing to shift its mindset in the wake of the Windrush scandal and the Lessons Learned report on it. In that report, Wendy Williams wrote of the need for “deep cultural reform”. The response to these amendments will serve as an indicator of whether the Home Office is genuinely committed to such reform.
My Lords, I support the amendments of the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, on protecting rights to British citizenship. We have already debated her first one, Amendment 68. This urges that applicants should not be disadvantaged just because registration costs might become too much for them to afford. We are now considering her Amendment 67, which advises that our system should set out to be proactive, helpful and encouraging towards applicants. Correspondingly, Amendment 63, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, correctly argues that in the first place, steps should be taken to raise awareness of available British citizenship rights under the British Nationality Act 1981. I hope the Minister is able to endorse these recommendations.
My Lords, Amendment 67, to which I am a signatory, returns to the issue of citizenship. It is a pleasure to follow both the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, and the noble Baroness, Lady Lister. I was particularly pleased that she referenced the position of the Roma, an issue I raised earlier this week in our previous debates. I hope the Minister will be able to answer the question put to her by the noble Baroness. I also strongly support what the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, said in the context of Amendment 63, but let me add in parenthesis that I think it unfortunate that citizenship is so often viewed through the lens of immigration policy.
Amendment 67 was originally coupled with Amendment 68, which focused on the issue of citizenship fees, as referred to by the noble Earl a moment ago, and which we debated last week. At the conclusion of that debate, the Minister said the Government intended to appeal the decision of the High Court in the case, Project for the Registration of Children as British Citizens v the Secretary of State for the Home Department—a case in which, as she knows, I provided a witness statement.
On 10 September, following the discussion we had in Committee, I tabled a Question asking the Government what estimated legal and administrative costs the Home Office had met in that case thus far, and what they estimated such costs would be of any appeal against the judgment. The Question is due for answer on 24 September, but it would help the Committee greatly if those figures could be given today. Not only would the figures enable us to look at them alongside the cost of providing citizenship with charge to groups such as children in care; they would remind us of the lengths to which the Government are going to preserve the income generated above the administrative costs involved. We should be able to weigh one against the other, as I know the noble Baroness would. I would be grateful, therefore, if the Minister would also ask the Home Secretary to consider meeting the movers of Amendments 67 and 68 before embarking on yet another costly legal action, which seeks to perpetuate arrangements that Sajid Javid rightly identified as prohibitively expensive.
This brings me to the main question in Amendment 67: what price do we place on citizenship, or, as this amendment spells out,
“the duty of the Secretary of State to encourage, promote and facilitate awareness … of rights to British citizenship”?
If I have any quibble about the wording, it is that I would rather it went further and added the words, “responsibilities, duties and obligations” of citizenship to the word “rights”.
In thinking about this amendment, I reflected on my 20 years as director of the Foundation for Citizenship at Liverpool John Moores University, where I held a chair and am an Honorary Fellow, and on the central importance of promoting active citizenship and full participation in society. The city of Liverpool has had to wrestle with a painful history and all the tensions and challenges generated by social inequality. But it has refused to become a prisoner of its past. When it describes itself as
“the whole world in one city,”
it does so with a confident proclamation of the respect it has for diversity and the enrichment which different cultures have brought to its table. But as well as a respect for difference, its citizens also overwhelmingly cherish our British values of democracy, the rule of law and human rights, and they are not ashamed of the patriotic stories of sacrifice that have enabled those characteristics to flourish.
I want people to be proud of being British citizens and am alarmed by alienation, stigmatisation and ghettoisation, which can lead to people following ideologies that threaten our way of life. Parts of Britain feel completely abandoned by the metropolitan elites.
We need a rounded view of citizenship in which we have a respect for customs, laws and institutions that serve the common good and promote social solidarity. In promoting the centrality of the rule of law, we need to share our stories and histories and memorialise the lives which paid for our freedoms and liberties. We need to cultivate a reverence for the generous impulses and altruism which motivate so many who contribute so positively to our society.
The Jewish sage, Hillel, was right when he said,
“If I am not for myself, who will be? But if I am only for myself, what am I?”
Hillel’s fine balance must always be struck. So, I support amendment 67. Without a vibrant sense of citizenship, people living in our midst will not believe they fully belong. They will not share our rights, nor will they fully enter into the responsibilities which are the key to creating a good society.
When she comes to reply, I hope the Minister will be able to answer the question I have put to her about the costs of appealing the High Court decision on an easing of some of the costs involved in securing the right to become a British citizen.
My Lords, I shall speak in support of Amendments 67 and 63. I support the comments made by my noble friends Lord Rosser and Lady Lister—she posed excellent questions—and I am pleased to follow the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Alton. Much has been said and I shall make only a few comments.
My first point concerns the crucial question of citizenship, which is of great importance to children. Significantly, it is a matter of identity, belonging and security, including, I regret to say, being free from the Home Office’s immigration powers and controls.
Many children born in the United Kingdom or with lengthy residence here have a right in law, under the British Nationality Act 1981, to register as British citizens—they are British citizens—but, as my noble friend Lord Rosser pointed out, the provisions in Clause 1 and Schedule 1 are in danger of undermining that right. These children include those born in the United Kingdom to European and Swiss citizens, stateless children born in the UK and looked-after children.
I looked at the debates on the British Nationality Bill to see what the clear intention of Parliament was. I would not recommend it as bedtime reading, but it clearly conveys the right to citizenship. It says that it is a right and that it should be given to individuals as specified, according to the intention of Parliament in debating that Bill.
Registering this right has become extremely important, particularly for children. Perhaps in the past much less emphasis was placed on the importance of registering, but, as the debates on this Bill have demonstrated, the hostile environment that has developed over the years means that thousands of children and young people are not being informed by the Government of their right to British citizenship. We know that citizenship means that a child or young adult obtains all the advantages that come with it, including the right to remain in Britain, freedom from immigration controls, and access to student loans, employment, health services and social security. Those are all rights that, tragically, we saw being denied to people in the Windrush scandal, and another generation could be at risk from the actions being taken here. Intentional or not, the outcome is the same.
Many children who were born in the United Kingdom or who have lived here from an early age do not have British citizenship or leave to remain. Currently, at worst, a child or young adult who is not registered is at risk of being removed. As many as 120,000 children, 65,000 of whom were born here, could be affected by this question of citizenship.
However, it is not just children who are not aware of their right. Similarly, parents, foster parents and corporate parents, such as social services, often do not know that these children are in fact entitled to British citizenship. That is not really surprising, given, I regret to say, that the Government do not systematically publicise the right to citizenship and encourage people to register.
As my noble friend Lord Rosser said, the Act does not give the Home Office the power to decide whether someone is entitled to citizenship. It is not a gift; it is a right in law. The role of the Home Office is simply to recognise the child’s legal right and register their citizenship. We do not need confusion around this matter. We do not need young people to be unaware of their rights. We need to ensure that the enormous danger of yet another generation being denied their right to British citizenship does not arise, and the amendment provides a way of doing that.
We cannot allow people to be denied their rights because of incompetent administration, a lack of knowledge of procedures or sometimes, I regret to say, callous responses from the Home Office. Amendments 63 and 67 seek to place a duty on the Secretary of State to raise awareness of people’s rights and ensure that they are able to achieve those rights, giving them security here as British citizens.
I know that the Minister is sympathetic to many of these arguments. I hope that when she responds she will answer the questions posed by my noble friends and that she will also explain to the Committee how, once and for all, this Government will make sure that those who are entitled can become British citizens without barriers or preventions deterring them from achieving those rights. I look forward to her response.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Primarolo, and particularly her last sentence. It should be written down and put on a banner strung from the balcony here—although, if we did that, we would probably be investigated for terrorism.
I think it was the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, who said that it is necessary to shift the mindset of the Home Office. If it was not her, she should have said it and we should all agree to it. She also thanked all the people who had put their names down to speak in support of the amendment. I always admonish people when they say that, as they should wait to hear what is said before doing so. However, in this case I completely support those who have introduced both amendments, particularly the noble Baroness, Lady Lister.
I am no expert in these areas. Every time I get involved in a citizenship or immigration case, as I do from time to time—either in the past as a councillor or, nowadays, as a Member of the House of Lords, or just as someone people know—I become ever more appalled by the hoops and obstacles that many people have to go through. Not everybody has to do that; some people sail through the system quite easily. That is not always because they are the sorts of people who can cope with systems, bureaucracies, organisations, administrations and so on. It seems random. Some people who seem to be in a similar position to others have enormous difficulty, but others less so.
One problem with the mindset in the Home Office is that, once it has said no or has raised serious obstacles, it does not like to admit that it was wrong. I have found that to be so throughout the culture of the organisation. It might apply to only a minority of people—I do not know—but once people are in difficulty, they just seem to get further and further into the morass.
The costs of achieving citizenship are ridiculous. We should encourage people, not try to rip them off. There is a high degree of bureaucracy involving the provision of documents. If something is slightly wrong with those documents, more obstacles are put forward, whereas very often common sense should dictate that they suffice. For people who want to be naturalised, there is also the utterly ludicrous testing of knowledge of British life, although it would not apply to people who are exercising a right.
One of the cases I was involved in, not so recently now, was that of a young man who lives in Colne. It got a lot of publicity so I can talk about it. His mother was not a British citizen; she was an Australian citizen and was not married to his father. This situation has since been sorted out, but he was old enough for it not to apply to him. Having got a provisional licence a few years ago, with no problem, he applied for a driving licence because he required one for his job. However, now there is all the cross-checking between the Home Office and the Department for Transport. He was issued with the licence but sometime later he got a letter, not from the Department for Transport but from the Home Office.
The first page had two or three paragraphs explaining why he was not entitled to a driving licence. This was all about the fact that he was not actually a British citizen and not entitled to live in this country. This was shocking enough, but he turned the page over and the first paragraph was headed, “What should I do now?”. It said, “You should take immediate steps to leave the country”. This is a lad who was born locally, had lived in Colne all his life, been to school, had a job and so on. He was lucky. He was clearly a Lancashire lad. He clearly had a white skin, and had parents who originally lived in the area, as had their parents. He got support from all parts of the political spectrum; from the Daily Mail to people like me and beyond. It was sorted out but that took several weeks.
What I objected to most was the abrupt and rude way in which a letter to somebody telling them they were not entitled to a driving licence suddenly went on to tell them to get out. Where he was supposed to go, nobody quite knew. That is the sort of attitude and mindset that requires to be shifted. Clearly, the whole process should be a lot easier for people who have been born in and grown up in this country, and who have a right to be British citizens.
Then there are the people who come to live here and decide that they wish to be naturalised as British citizens. Not everybody will; some would like to but do not want to lose their original citizenship, if they come from a country that does not allow joint citizenship. If they want to be British citizens, having come here and contributed to society—paid their taxes, gone to work, raised a family and all the rest of it—we should be welcoming them. We should not have procedures that consist of all these obstacles. We should have procedures that encourage and welcome.
Subsection (1) of the proposed new clause in the noble Baroness’s Amendment 67:
“It is the duty of the Secretary of State”
I repeat, the duty—
“to encourage, promote and facilitate awareness and exercise of rights to British citizenship”,
should therefore not have to be put in legislation. It should be obvious. Right across the political spectrum, we say to people all the time: “Integrate, take part, get registered, vote, stand for the council, join in, try and understand British ways of living, try and get on with your neighbours, get to know your neighbours, make friends”, and all the rest of it.
I live in a part of the country where, a few years ago, the issue of separate communities was talked about. It is still a problem. There is not enough integration. There are many efforts, but not enough, to get people from different communities to get to know those from other communities. They go to school together and are in the same classes. They go to work together and, after work, they go home into their own communities. We ought to be working to break this down. One way in which people who have come to live here from other countries can do this is by becoming British citizens. We should be cheering and welcoming it, not putting up the obstacles which the mindset of the Home Office does.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, for his characteristically forceful speech, particularly the striking and moving anecdote about the young man who lost his driving licence. I fear that that kind of experience is not unique and is repeated too often, in too many ways.
I put on record my strongest possible appreciation and support for these two amendments. They are vital. I also want to say how cheered I have been by the strength of argument and emotion with which my noble friend Lord Rosser introduced the debate, and by the way that my noble friend Lady Lister backed him up with her commitment. As the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, has just pointed out, the first bit of the Member’s explanatory statement for this amendment says that it
“is to probe the case for a statutory duty to encourage, promote and facilitate”.
These are key words. The statement runs on to say that it is to ensure the Secretary of State
“does not exercise certain of her powers and responsibilities in any way that may impede the exercise of those rights”.
That hardly needs to be said; at the same time, it needs to be underlined because one cannot be altogether certain on that front.
Rights are rights but there are too many indications of considerable numbers of people—young people and children, in particular—who are not really yet switched on to what their rights are and what is necessary to register them under the new arrangements. There may be a host of reasons why they are not acutely aware of what they must do, but that problem exists with a considerable number of people. I would like to feel that we had a Home Office with political leadership that supports civil servants in saying that their job is to ensure that everyone with a right is going to be able to register to continue the fulfilment of those rights. That is the kind of commitment and drive we need from Ministers and civil servants.
In the context of a Select Committee to which I belonged at the time, I was one of those who had the good fortune to attend a couple of briefings, and I also went to the Home Office to be briefed by civil servants on the arrangements that they were making under the necessary processes following the removal of European Union citizenship in Britain. I was impressed then, because there seemed to be a real commitment by the team working on this issue to tackle the situation effectively. Now, however, I have the feeling that there is not so much inertia but more a sense that our job is to provide the facilities and make them as accessible as possible. We have to be more proactive than that, but that is not going to happen on the scale and with the thoroughness that it should unless leadership comes from the top.
I thank my noble friends Lord Rosser and Lady Lister, and all the others who have spoken so effectively and convincingly on this issue. I cannot believe that the Minister, being the sort of person she is and on hearing these arguments, will not find a way in which she can convincingly respond to them.
My Lords, I offer the Green group’s support to Amendments 63 and 67. We have already heard many powerful speeches, so I will be brief.
I want to address Amendment 67 in particular, because it has full cross-party support, in so far as that can be expressed by the procedures of your Lordships’ House. I note that Members from the three largest parties and the Cross Benches have signed it. It struck me in looking at this that perhaps I might make representations about our procedures to show the full breadth of cross-party support in our multiparty age; there might need to be the possibility of more signatures to be available on the Order Paper, but that is something for another time.
I want to focus on some of the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Lister. She spoke about the imbalance between the Home Office’s actions: its clear desire to enforce action against people who it perceives not to be British citizens and not to have the right to be here versus its extreme inaction in informing and educating people about their rights and making sure that they are not excluded from those rights. As many noble Lords have noted, there is not much use in having rights if you do not know about them; that is effectively being denied your rights. I was reflecting on that and thinking that, effectively, the Home Office is defying the will of Parliament in defying the rights that Parliament has granted to people, by failing to inform them. That is not what should be happening, but it clearly is. That is why I think it is really important to support both these amendments, which work in much the same ways, and will push to see them in the Bill.
We saw with the Windrush scandal, which one just cannot avoid referring to in this context, that the Home Office denied people their personal rights. It denied them their life in some cases—the actions taken by the Home Office were deadly.
I also note the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, that all too often these issues are mixed up with immigration, but they are absolutely distinct. We are talking about British people being able to live in their own country and exercise the rights that they enjoy. I commend both these amendments to your Lordships’ House.
My Lords, I have added my name to Amendment 67 on behalf of the Liberal Democrat Benches, because we have all heard too many stories of individuals who did not realise the significance of their rights. Many speakers have stressed the term “rights”, including the noble Baronesses, Lady Primarolo and Lady Bennett, and the noble Lord, Lord Judd, and referred to people who did not know their rights until the crunch point when they encountered the difficulties of proving those rights.
Less tangible is what other noble Lords have referred to: citizenship being about bringing belonging, not just being about arriving—or, in many cases, not about arriving at all, because most people with rights to citizenship are born here. This is not about immigration but about nationality, as the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, and the noble Lord, Lord Alton, have both stressed.
Last week, my noble friend Lady Ludford and the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, both talked about the atmosphere of palpable excitement and anticipation, and then the sense of achievement, when they have officiated at citizenship ceremonies. I witnessed that, probably from the back of the same council chamber where my noble friend officiated, sitting with the husband of a friend who was becoming British—although I made her go back afterwards to arrange with the registrar to correct the certificate, since the omission of an umlaut had previously caused quite enough difficulties. The converse of belonging for the individual is that the state wants people living here to feel that they belong, to have all the rights that go with citizenship and to be able to be good citizens.
Windrush has been mentioned. Subsection (2)(c) raises the spectre of the destruction of records—the amendment seeks to quash it before it can be raised properly—which in the case of Windrush happened simply so that the building could be vacated. Duties to encourage, to promote, to facilitate awareness and to exercise the right of citizenship are all things that we support.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have partaken in this debate. I do not disagree that people should have their rights communicated to them and generally should feel part of the communities in which they live, as the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, says.
At this stage, it is worth decoupling two distinct matters: one is the end of the transition period and the other is the consideration of whether someone is British or should become so. However, I do not think the latter is at issue. For the former, which is the subject of this Bill, we have made extensive arrangements to ensure that the rights enjoyed by those who have resided here under free movement can continue until the end of this year.
British citizenship, as noble Lords have said, is determined by the British Nationality Act 1981, which sets out how someone may already be British—for example, through their birth here—and, for those who are not, the means by which a person may seek to become so. This might be through naturalisation or registration, depending on the individual’s circumstances and connections. Any applications submitted will utilise information that we already hold on an individual as far as possible, although there may always be circumstances in which further information may be needed. We treat all applications to become British equally, regardless of the nationality that the applicant may currently hold. The important consideration is whether they meet the requirements set out in statute. Equally, our guidance on the application process is published and available to all.
Last year we received nearly 175,000 nationality applications, which indicates that people generally are aware of the application process, the benefits of becoming British and what it might mean to individuals when they are ready to apply. That does not mean that we cannot consider alternative approaches. Noble Lords will remember, and a noble Lord referred to the fact, that the Home Secretary announced on 21 July in a Statement that alongside the Windrush Lessons Learned Review, she proposed—along with evaluating changes to immigration and nationality laws to ensure that they are fit for purpose for today’s world—to make sure that the changes were now communicated effectively where they had not previously been so. Many of the speeches touched upon that aspect of things.
While there has not been a suggestion by noble Lords that it is a change of law per se that is of concern to them—I absolutely get where noble Lords are coming from—but perhaps more general awareness for a group who may have previously not considered becoming British, I am happy to put on record that I will ask the Home Secretary whether raising awareness of citizenship more generally could form part of that ongoing process and to consider ways how that might be achieved. I will also pass on the request from the noble Lord, Lord Alton, to meet the Home Secretary, but any change should be for all people potentially affected, not only those who would lose freedom of movement rights—I do not think he was suggesting otherwise. He also asked how much the legal cost of court appeals had been. He will not be surprised that I cannot recall that off the top of my head, but I do not disagree with the general principle that an awful lot of money on all sorts of sides is spent on court cases. I hope that with those undertakings, the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
I thank the Minister for her reply. I understand from what she said that she has undertaken to discuss the issue of further raising awareness with the Home Secretary. I also thank all noble Lords who spoke in support of the amendments in this group.
I think I am right in saying that the Minister did not respond to the question as to what the numbers are of those who are still entitled to British citizenship under the British Nationality Act 1981 but have yet to apply. If we are not aware of the number, that in itself is a real case. I know that the Minister has undertaken to look at this matter further, but it makes the real case for making sure that we raise awareness as much as possible to people who might be in that situation to urge them to consider exercising their right to British citizenship. Surely we need to ensure that all those entitled to register for British citizenship either have it confirmed that that is already their status or are advised that they can register for that citizenship to which they are entitled under the 1981 Act.
We are, after all, talking about an entitlement—a right—to British citizenship, as I know the Minister has recognised. Surely, as people who are proud to be British, we should actively want to ensure that all those who have that entitlement are made aware of it and encouraged to exercise it, with the key responsibility for doing so and facilitating that entitlement to citizenship resting clearly with the Secretary of State and the Government. I hope very much that the discussions that I believe the Minister has said that she will have with the Home Secretary will lead to further very strenuous efforts to raise awareness of this right. Indeed, I hope that the Government will go further, as proposed in Amendment 67, to encourage people to exercise their entitlement and to do their utmost to facilitate matters so that the entitlement can be exercised with ease. In the light of that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 63 withdrawn.
Amendments 64 to 76 not moved.
That brings us on to the group beginning with Amendment 77. I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate. Anyone wishing to press this or anything else in this group to a Division should make that clear in the debate.
77: After Clause 4, insert the following new Clause—
“Charter for EU Immigration and Demographic Change
(1) The Secretary of State must prepare a document, to be known as the Charter for EU Immigration and Demographic Change, explaining the formulation of the policies of Her Majesty’s Government relating to immigration from the European Union.(2) The Charter must, in particular, set out—(a) the Government’s demographic objectives in relation to such immigration, and(b) the means by which such objectives will be attained.(3) The Government must lay the Charter before Parliament within one year of the commencement of this Act.”
My Lords, I will also speak to Amendment 78, which forms part of this group. I do not often quote Lenin, but he is supposed to have said, “There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen.” Our present era is one of the latter. It presents challenges and opportunities to the people in this country and across the world, and a challenge for Governments in managing these changes in a way that enhances our overall quality of life while balancing the inevitable tension between preservation and progress. However, politicians of all persuasions find it hard to address these mega-issues, which have a 10, 20 or even 30-year timescale. Inevitably, and quite properly, they have their eyes fixed on the five-year electoral cycle. Given this, it is perhaps unsurprising that, for many politicians, the long grass is an effective way out.
Many Members of your Lordships’ House will be aware of my long-standing interest in demography and the impact of demographic change. The results of increases or decreases in population—I am glad to see the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, in her place, because she referred to the dangers of decreases in her speech when I was not here last Wednesday; she was quite right about that—are inexorable in their effect and are of extreme importance to the settled population of this country. When I refer to the “settled population” I mean every person legally entitled to be in this country, irrespective of race, colour or creed, or whether they have lived here for five months or 500 years. The views of the settled population on the issue of population growth could not be clearer. Recent polling found that 64% of us think that the UK is too crowded and 74% felt that the Government should have policies to address this challenge.
Nevertheless, there remains an influential minority, particularly among the commentariat, who agree that this is all too difficult and what will be will be. On the right, the argument is that the market will decide. On the left, the brotherhood of man means that we should keep our arms and our borders open. However, I am afraid that these arguments would not be supported by the overwhelming majority of this country. For many, a perpetually growing population in a relatively small island has not obviously resulted in an improvement in their prosperity or their way of life.
A couple of figures help set the matter in context. In the late 1990s, when the Blair Government decided to encourage large-scale immigration, the population of the United Kingdom was 58.1 million. Today, it is 66.4 million—an increase of more than 8 million. The ONS mid-projection for 25 years from now is 72 million —another 6 million increase. Therefore, over half a century our population will have increased 14 million, or 24%—a particularly significant figure in a country with some very densely populated regions.
Even reciting these figures gives critics the chance to allege a little Englander mentality, with machine guns on the white cliffs of Dover. That is not so: I absolutely recognise that new arrivals bring an economic and cultural dynamic from which our society has benefited greatly. This is an argument about scale, the wider impact of population growth and responding to the concerns of the people of this country in a way that builds trust in government.
Most of the arguments in favour of the demographic policies followed to date have been economic ones. Total GDP is often waved about by politicians as some sort of totemic symbol of success. Like many, I find that argument unappealing. GDP per head would surely be a more accurate measurement, and since economic gains are often not fairly shared, median GDP per head would be even better. We can argue about these and many other economic factors and we have done so at great length in this House over the years. What is unarguable is that no one is weighing in the scale the long-term non-economic challenges for our environment, our ecology and our society.
According to the latest ONS figures, released a couple of weeks ago, our population is currently growing by an average of 1,172 per day—428,000 per year. We live 2.3 people per dwelling. So on that metric, the inevitable maths show that we need to build 509 dwellings every day, 21 an hour, one every three minutes. By 2040, we seem likely to have built over an area the size of Bedfordshire—this after a decade in which Danny Dorling, professor of geography at Oxford University, has said:
“In absolute terms this is very likely to be the largest increase in the number of square miles that have been tarmacked or paved over in any decade in British history”.
The ecological challenge is no less severe. It is not just that the Environment Agency believes we will run short of water within 20 years. The Environmental Audit Committee believes that 25% of our agricultural land suffers from acute soil degradation. The impact on our native species is no less dramatic. We have seen a 75% decline in the number of our farmland birds in the last 40 years. Earlier today, the House discussed a Question tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, about the report from the RSPB giving further details of the collapse in bird populations. The effect on pollinators—on bees and bumblebees—has been equally severe.
For those Members of the House who are inclined to accept this development with equanimity, I gently remind them of the phrase, “every third bite”—one third of the food that we eat depends on pollination for its production.
As for the societal impact, in an article in the Times, David Aaronovitch wrote:
“I have a regular correspondent—let us call him Igor—who writes to me from Offa’s Dyke to complain about the modern world … Running through Igor’s protestations is a sense of bewilderment. And in this he captures what I now feel. What many of us are feeling and expressing. How could they? Why would they? Why didn’t we know?”
And these are only a handful of the non-economic issues that need to be properly considered and weighed. I hope the House will accept that collectively they are more important than, to quote Solzhenitsyn,
“the mould grown on the rock of economics”.
My amendments seek to achieve this balanced consideration. I have used as a template the example of the excellent Office for Budget Responsibility, which has the necessary level of independence and has achieved a high degree of public confidence in a relatively short time. Amendment 77 creates a charter for EU immigration and demographic change, which requires the Government to set out both their demographic objectives and the means of their achievement.
Amendment 78 establishes a body, the office for EU immigration and demographic change, to assess whether these objectives have been achieved. The office must report at least annually and under subsection 4(a) must include assessments of the environmental, ecological and societal impacts. Importantly, under subsection 5(b) the office is not empowered to,
“consider the impact of any alternative policies”.
This is to provide the reassurance that the office will not become a mouthpiece for one particular side of the argument.
No doubt some will ask, “Why does this only cover the EU?” Well, I am afraid that the scope of the Bill rules out wider considerations, but I see this as a first step. I freely admit that I would like the remit of this new body eventually to be extended to assess all aspects of the demographic challenges that this country faces.
To conclude, I hope the Minister will see that this is a way to lance the boil of an issue which has divided and disfigured our society for too long. I hope the House will agree that now is the time for the issue to be considered and addressed fairly and squarely. This is a new road and I accept fully that it will not be an easy one. In his book The New World Order Henry Kissinger wrote:
“To undertake a journey on a road never before travelled requires character and courage: character because the choice is not obvious; courage because the road will be lonely at first.”
I hope that the Government, and indeed the Opposition parties, will on this occasion show the necessary character and courage. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am delighted that my noble friend was able to get these amendments tabled. I think we should pay tribute to the wisdom of the clerks on this issue in extending it as far as they have. This is the right way to approach immigration policy—from the point of view of demography and population growth. We should assess the optimum level of population for a country such as the UK and, once that has been settled, we should decide what our policy is on immigration.
My noble friend has set out this subject with great clarity in his pamphlet Overcrowded Islands, produced with the help of Civitas, the Institute for the Study of Civil Society—an entirely appropriate body, if I may say so, for this question. It is well researched, cogently written, beautifully illustrated and I urge noble Lords to read it if they get an opportunity. I may say in passing that it is far better than most government White Papers in this area, which are rather turgid by comparison. They could well take a leaf out of his pamphlet.
My noble friend has covered the ground very well in his remarks this evening, so I will confine myself to two points, remembering the advice of Lloyd George to Harold Macmillan after his maiden speech that a good speech should make no more than two points, and if the audience remembers even one of them you have done well.
My first point is that, despite being an economist myself, I wholly agree with my noble friend’s sentiments about the role of economics. It is entirely the wrong way to approach immigration through the prism of economic policy. Business and many commentators and, sadly, the Government, do this in spades. The Government’s main adviser in this area is the Migration Advisory Council and they invoke it at every turn. However, the fact is that the MAC is composed almost entirely of academic economists specialising in manpower issues.
The MAC does a good job within its narrow remit, under a lot of pressure from business interests. I have met the new chairman of the MAC, Professor Brian Bell, and he is an impressive man. But, as my noble friend said, immigration involves much broader issues than simply economic policy. There is the question of democracy and population. There are environmental issues. Quoted in my noble friend’s pamphlet is a certain Boris Johnson, who said in an article in 2007:
“Do we want the south-east of Britain to resemble a giant suburbia?”
Frankly, he seems to be going the right way about that at the moment, judging by his housing policy. He seems to have forgotten all about his excellent sentiments of 2007. However, that is another matter.
There are ecological issues as well as environmental issues. There is the quality of life issue. Do we want all the good things about Britain to be perpetually unavailable because of overcrowding? There is the question of social cohesion. There is even a moral dimension—I have attached great importance to this. What right has Britain, a rich, developed country, to scour the world for talent from poorer developing countries that need it more than we do? All these issues should be addressed and the sort of unit that my noble friend envisages has the right approach to do that.
Again, speaking as an economist, I should say also that the assumptions underlying the usual economic argument that large-scale immigration is essential for business are simply wrong. Large-scale immigration damages economic growth. The simple point is that growth depends on increasing productivity. Productivity comes from increasing capital assets per person. When a person comes to this country, they occasionally bring significant capital assets but usually do not, and therefore productivity decreases and economic growth is damaged. It is no surprise to me that the large-scale immigration we have had over the last 10 or 20 years has been accompanied by very poor levels of productivity in this country. It is a major problem and the two are not unconnected.
Those are the simple economics. In addition, allowing business to recruit immigrants on a large scale reduces the incentive to train people who are already here. That is one reason why technical education and apprenticeships have been so poor in this country. We have supported higher education too much and further education too little. Arguing that we need immigration for economic reasons leaves out all those other subjects that are so important. In my view, it is also bad economics and bad business.
My noble friend mentioned the views of the people. My final point is that it is about time that we listened to the views of the people. They have been saying consistently and for years that they do not want any more immigration. They have been ignored. This is one of the issues that led to Brexit. Now we have Brexit, and still the people’s views are ignored. Especially in a Covid-haunted situation, where jobs are scarce, I cannot imagine what the political explosion will be. The only sensible way out of this is to put a cap on immigration at a reasonable level, decided with the help of a body such as that proposed by my noble friend.
I appreciate, in addressing the Minister, that these are large issues that his brief may not cover to the extent which we would like. But he is from the north of England, as I am from the north of England, and I am sure he is well aware of opinion on matters of this kind in the north of England. I hope that he will convey to his colleagues in government the importance and urgency of understanding these issues.
My Lords, I am grateful to be able to express my support for these amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts. I particularly support the tour d’horizon of his opening speech.
I accept that these amendments are trying to sow the seeds of defining a wider principle than is focused on in the Bill, which is just on the EU. In my opinion, the two key words in these amendments are “demographic objectives.” As has been said, these will be defined by the Government and assessed by this new body, the office for demographic change. That office will focus exclusively on the agenda as put forward by the Government; it will not range freely wherever the current fashion happens to take it. However, it will focus on the current demographic objectives, while maybe revealing any shortcomings in them in practice.
Debate on this Bill has highlighted the need for a more systematic and dispassionate examination of this issue. There is, more than ever, a need for the public to have confidence in the statistics and aims on immigration to which the Government aspire. In the longer term, it is important that the department has some independent touchstone by which the public and Parliament can begin to assess the success or otherwise of what is being done in their name. The independence of the Treasury model gives some guidance as to how that might be achieved.
As a strong supporter of Brexit, and to the extent that we are no longer basing ourselves on the EU framework, I believe that we are now in a position to develop our own independent structures on immigration. Developing this new purported office or organisation to shadow how the department is framing its demographic objectives would be a vital process. This new office would not be an organisation that can range at will on the subject of immigration. Just to emphasise that, it is correctly restrained by the last line of Amendment 78, that it is not allowed to go wherever it wants and that it
“may not consider the impact of any alternative policies”—
that is, alternative to the Government’s.
Finally, following the stresses expected over the next few months, I would hope that the department and the Government could put this issue on their agenda for the future.
My Lords, I rise to offer my support to my noble friend Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts in his quest for a mechanism to inject a careful, objective study of demographic change into government work, particularly on immigration. I start by congratulating my noble friend on his excellent and thoughtful report for Civitas, Overcrowded Islands? This report is full of facts and perspectives that make the case for the action that we are discussing. I wish to highlight three very different points from the report, which I think make the case for today’s amendments.
First, our population continues to grow fast—on average by just under 1,100 people a day. Only 316 of these are from natural increase, while 202 represent net immigration from Europe, the subject of this Bill, and 679 are from net immigration from outside Europe, which is partly balanced by 134 departing Brits. This growth is unbalanced, with more in the south-east, and by the mid-century the UK will overtake Germany in having the largest population in Europe and the most dense. The numbers I cited are also an underestimate of migration, given the weakness of official statistics—a consistent problem since at least the 1990s, when I worked on home affairs at Downing Street. For example, national insurance card numbers suggest that the migrant figures are significantly higher than those that I have just mentioned.
My second point is that there is growing evidence that widespread immigration is an important factor in our persistently poor productivity growth. That makes sense to me as a businesswoman: if low-cost labour is available, you invest less in capital.
Thirdly, as my noble friend has already said, to house the growth in population we are likely to have to build an area over the size of Bedfordshire by 2041, which will lead to a further increase in the rate of species loss and possibly a shortage of water. Indeed, the species loss we are already suffering was highlighted this week by the UN and the RSPB, as was discussed by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, and my noble friend Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park at Questions earlier today. I am sure that those who care about the environment, as I do, also have an interest in proper demographic work.
Demographic changes have for many decades been a matter of contention. I am afraid that Ministers have sometimes misled the public on the facts. It would be clearer what the Government’s intentions were if there was a regular and reliable source of statistics and forecasts on demographic change. As discussed on earlier amendments, the new system leaves a great deal to employers, whose needs may change, which makes it impossible to plan properly for the additional houses, schools, GP surgeries, hospitals and transport infrastructure that we need. That planning takes many years, as we know so well from our debates on housing and the railways.
My noble friend Lord Hodgson, encouraged by several of us, has tried to secure a Lords committee to look at these demographic and immigration issues. That was an excellent idea and just the sort of thing that this House is really good at. Sadly, the House authorities have not yet seen the light.
Amendment 77 proposes a charter and Amendment 78 a new independent office for immigration and demographic change. Another approach would be to give this duty to the ONS or the Office for Budget Responsibility, both of which are full of quantitative experts, although perhaps less dynamic in their thinking than a new body might be. There should also be ministerial overview, which I know works well in areas as diverse as international property, Companies House and the Environment Agency. It allows regular reports to be made to Parliament and questions to be asked, so that we have more transparency.
We are entering a new era, and the UK will be more dependent on our own expertise in planning for the future across the economy and in statistics—and, indeed, in crafting their collection, analysis and presentation. The Government should listen carefully to my noble friend Lord Hodgson.