May I begin, as a fellow member of the all-party group on steel and metal related industries, by paying tribute to our chair, my hon. Friend Nic Dakin, not just for his passionate and thoughtful speech today, but for what he is doing to support his community and to fight for our industry following this week’s announcement about British Steel? The support and solidarity of my steel community is with his. Our steel industry is again in very difficult times and Members who represent steel communities will do all that we can to press the Government for all they can do on the things they can influence: energy prices, the sector deal, procurement—all the things my hon. Friend mentioned earlier. Along with the unions, we will never stop in our fight to save our steel. I also pay tribute, like my hon. Friend, to the dedicated steelworkers at Cogent Orb, Llanwern and Liberty Steel in my constituency. They are a very dedicated workforce making world-class steel and they deserve our support.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this debate, and I want to use it—partly because I did not secure an Adjournment debate—to talk about the EU settlement scheme and to raise some points that I hope the Minister will pass on to the Home Office and the Department for Exiting the European Union. EU citizens contribute a huge amount to our society, our culture and our economy, and it is very important that people who have made their lives here, been born here and grown up here are able to continue to live here with as little difficulty and disruption as possible.
The Government announced the EU settlement scheme in June last year to regularise the immigration status of EU nationals and their family members who are lawfully living in the UK according to their free movement rights. That scheme has been opened fully since March this year. A number of constituents and community groups have raised problems with the scheme, with many being put off from applying so far. I do not think that that has shown up in the Government’s reports on the testing they have undertaken so far, but a lot of people are slightly wary of the process.
The first issue is the language barrier. Although some people may have exceptional spoken English, not all of them will be confident in reading and their written English. This is leading to a misinterpretation of some parts of the process, which seems, as it is described to me, to be quite complicated. People are therefore providing the wrong information. Those who are less confident are not likely to have rushed to complete the process so far, and there is a worry that older people, or those who are more vulnerable and with more complex circumstances, might be very reluctant at this point and may need help.
Representatives from the Polish community association in Newport tell me that only a very small percentage of the residents they support have attempted to fill out the application as their understanding is that if they make a mistake, their future in the country may be in jeopardy. Some have informed me that a number of people have paid £40 or more for someone to do the application for them, and a representative from the Polish community told me that one of their major concerns is the lack of friendly and trustworthy information in Polish. This needs to be addressed.
I have also heard concerns in Newport that people who have been here for more than five years are being granted pre-settled status due to errors in the automatic checks, or issues linked to people being unable to provide evidence to the satisfaction of the Home Office to prove their five years or more of residence. Those people are finding the document-gathering quite difficult as what they need to provide is not clear. This could mean that people may need to apply again in the future and end up having different rights, even when they have lived here for five years or more.
Another issue is that people still do not know about the settlement scheme. Some people in my communities worry about this, and local authorities are concerned as well. The Home Office talks about widely communicating information, but clearly much more needs to be done. The Home Office needs to keep in mind those who are more isolated and vulnerable, and to do more to reach out to people in this group so that they are aware that they need to apply and of what steps they need to take.
There are volunteers out there helping—particularly volunteers from the3million in my area—but local advice and digital assistance for those who need it must be put in place as soon as possible. The applications are almost entirely digital, which can present barriers to those without digital skills. Community associations have provided me with a number of examples of applicants being unable to upload documents and being removed from the system at various stages due to technical difficulties. The system does not appear to be easy to navigate. I understand that an announcement was made yesterday on grants for organisations that can provide help, but they will need time to prepare and the services might not be available until the summer. Also, the announcement did not include smaller community groups, and it would be really helpful if the Minister would ask the Government whether a separate announcement could be made on this.
One piece of feedback that I would urge the Home Office to take notice of is that the first three stages of the application are in English, whereas the remaining stages are available in EU languages. If all the stages were available in EU languages for those who want them, that would go some way towards removing these barriers. I hope that it will be possible to get more information from the Home Office about that. The Government clearly have confidence in how the scheme is running so far, but they need to be aware of the fear and uncertainty among those who were not first off the line to try the application, and among those who have tried it and struggled. Please can these comments be passed on to the Home Office so that we can improve the system and help those who are struggling?
Given that there has been lots of talk about football today—I missed out on that at Digital, Culture, Media and Sport questions—and that I had the great pleasure of welcoming Norman Parselle and Dan Williams from Newport County in the Community to Parliament yesterday, I should like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to Newport County’s season and wish them all the best in the play-offs at Wembley this Saturday. Whatever happens, they have done our city proud.