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“must by regulations make provision—
‘(a) implementing article 18(4) of the withdrawal agreement (right of eligible citizens to residence documents proving legal status), including making provision for a physical document;
(c) implementing article 16(4) of the Swiss citizens’ rights agreement (right of eligible citizens to residence documents proving legal status).’”
This amendment would mean that EEA and Swiss citizens residing in the UK would automatically have rights under article 18(4) of the withdrawal agreement (and equivalent provisions in the EEA EFTA and Swiss citizens’ rights agreements) rather than having to apply for them, and would have the right to a physical document proving their status.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Amendment 6, page 10, line 41, at end insert—
‘(3A) Regulations made under this section shall apply to—
(a) the rights of all persons eligible for leave to enter or remain in the United Kingdom by virtue of—
(i) the withdrawal agreement, or
(ii) residence scheme immigration rules (see section 17) as in force on
(b) such other persons as Ministers consider appropriate.
(3B) The residence scheme immigration rules (see section 17) may not be amended so as to reduce the range of persons eligible for leave to enter or remain in the United Kingdom by virtue of those rules (other than by primary legislation), but other persons may be added as Ministers consider appropriate.”
This amendment would ensure that the range of persons entitled under UK law to benefit from the rights set out in the Withdrawal Agreement cannot be reduced except by primary legislation.
Amendment 27, page 10, line 41, at end insert—
‘(3A) Regulations made under this section may not prevent EEA and Swiss nationals, or their family members, who are resident in the United Kingdom on or prior to
This amendment would ensure that people eligible for settled status would not be prevented from obtaining it by an application deadline.
Clause stand part.
Clauses 8 to 10 stand part.
Amendment 2, in clause 11, page 14, line 2, leave out subsection (1) and insert—
‘(1) A person may appeal against a citizens’ rights immigration decision to the First-tier Tribunal.”
This amendment would give a right of appeal against a citizens’ rights immigration decision.
Amendment 3, page 14, line 24, leave out subsections (3) and (4) and insert—
‘(3) Subject to subsection (4), while an appeal is pending, the person concerned shall be deemed to have all the rights associated with indefinite leave to remain under the residence scheme immigration rules, in particular as concerns residence, employment, access to social security benefits and other services.
(4) Subsection (3) does not apply to an appeal against a decision falling within subsection (2)(a) or (c).
(4A) “Pending” shall have the same meaning for the purposes of subsections (3) and (4) as in section 104 of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002.”
This amendment would protect the rights of EU citizens while their appeals are pending.
Amendment 20, page 14, line 24, leave out “also”
This amendment is consequential on Amendment 2.
Amendment 7, page 14, line 25, leave out “(including judicial reviews)”
This amendment would remove the power being provided to ministers to make regulations about judicial review of certain immigration decisions.
Amendment 21, page 14, line 27, leave out “(1) or”
This amendment is consequential on Amendment 2.
Clauses 11 to 14 stand part.
That schedule 1 be the First schedule to the Bill.
Clause 15 stand part.
This amendment would make the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration responsible for appointing non-executive members to the independent monitoring authority, rather than the Secretary of State.
Amendment 23, page 46, line 20, leave out “Secretary of State” and insert
“Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration”.
This amendment would make the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, rather than the Secretary of State, jointly responsible with non-executive members of the Independent Monitoring Authority for ensuring that, as far as possible, numbers of non-executive members exceed the number of executive members on the IMA.
Amendment 37, page 59, line 15, leave out paragraphs 39 and 40
This amendment would require any transfer or abolition of the functions of Independent Monitoring Authority for the Citizens’ Rights Agreements to be by way of primary legislation.
That schedule 2 be the Second schedule to the Bill.
Clauses 16 and 17 stand part.
New clause 5—Protecting EU Citizens’ Rights—
‘(1) This section applies to—
(a) European Union citizens having the right to reside permanently in the UK according to Article 15 (“Rights of permanent residence”) of the Withdrawal Agreement;
(b) persons to whom the provisions in (a) do not apply but who are eligible for indefinite leave to enter or remain, or limited leave to enter or remain by virtue of residence scheme immigration rules (see section 17).
(3) The Secretary of State must by regulations make provision—
(a) implementing article 18(4) of the withdrawal agreement (right of eligible citizens to receive a residence document), including making provision for a physical document providing proof of residence;
(b) implementing article 17(4) of the EEA EFTA separation agreement (right of eligible citizens to receive a residence document) including making provision for a physical document providing proof of residence;
(c) implementing article 16(4) of the Swiss citizens’ rights agreement (right of eligible citizens to receive a residence document) including making provision for a physical document providing proof of residence.
(4) No provision of this or any other enactment, or adopted under this or any other enactment, may be used to require European Union nationals and their family members, or nationals of Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein and Switzerland and their family members, who reside in the United Kingdom immediately prior to the end of the implementation period, to apply for a new residence status under Article 18(1) of the Withdrawal Agreement, or to introduce a deadline for applications under residence scheme immigration rules or relevant entry clearance rules.
(5) Residence scheme immigration rules and relevant entry clearance immigration rules may not be amended to provide that any person who benefited or is eligible to benefit under those rules on the day on which this Act is passed benefits any less than he benefited or was eligible to benefit on the day on which this Act is passed.”
This new clause provides for all EU citizens who are resident in the UK before exit day to have the right of permanent residence, whether or not they have been exercising treaty rights, and makes sure that every person who is entitled to settled status has the same rights.
New clause 18—Fee levels and exemptions—
‘(1) No person to whom regulations under section 7(1) (as qualified by section 7(2) and 7(3)) apply may be charged a fee to register as a British citizen that is higher than the cost to the Secretary of State of exercising the function of registration.
(2) No child of a person to whom subsection (1) applies may be charged a fee to register as a British citizen if that child is receiving the assistance of a local authority.
(3) No child of a person to whom subsection (1) applies may be charged a fee to register as a British citizen that the child or the child’s parent, guardian or carer is unable to afford.
(4) The Secretary of State must take steps to raise awareness of people to whom this section applies of their rights under the British Nationality Act 1981 to register as British citizens.
(5) A Minister of the Crown may amend, waive or restrict any requirement of any other person to pay a fee to register as a British citizen where the Secretary of State considers it appropriate or necessary to do so in consequence of any discrimination between people of, or children of people of, differing nationality or other status.”
This new clause would ensure that persons entitled to benefit from the citizens’ rights protections in the Bill did not miss out on registering as a citizen of the UK because of the level of fee currently charged.
New clause 33—EU Settlement Scheme: physical documented proof—
‘The Secretary of State must make provision to ensure that EEA and Swiss nationals and their family members who are granted settled or pre-settled status are provided with physical documented proof of that status.”
This new clause would require the Government to provide physical documents to enable people to prove their settled status.
New clause 34—Settled status: right to appeal—
‘(1) A person may appeal against a settled status decision to the First-tier Tribunal.
(2) A settled status decision includes a decision—
(b) to grant limited leave to remain under Appendix EU of the Immigration Rules made under section 3(2) of the Immigration Act 1971 to a person who has applied for indefinite leave to remain under that Appendix.
(3) An appeal against a decision under subsection 2(b) may be brought only on the grounds that the person is entitled to indefinite leave to remain under Appendix EU of the Immigration Rules.
(4) While an appeal under subsection 2(a) is pending, the person concerned shall be deemed to have all the rights associated with indefinite leave to remain under Appendix EU of the Immigration Rules in particular as concerns residence, employment, access to social security benefits and other services.
(5) While an appeal under subsection 2(b) is pending, the limited leave to remain granted under Appendix EU to the Immigration Rules shall continue in force.
(6) “Pending” shall have the same meaning for the purposes of subsections (4) and (5) above as in section 104 of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002.”
This new clause would establish a right to appeal settled status decisions.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir George.
For us, this part of the Bill is relentlessly dire. For decades, British citizens and citizens across Europe have enjoyed the extraordinary benefits of free movement—to live, work and study across a continent. This part of the Bill implements part 2 of the withdrawal agreement, the part that brings all those benefits of free movement to a crashing halt. Future generations throughout Europe will miss out, but none more than UK citizens.
If those colleagues are waiting for a vote on the previous group, it may be useful to tell them that that vote is not happening, but if they are interested in free movement rights, they are welcome to stay.
As I was saying, free movement rights have been brought to a crashing halt by part 2 of the withdrawal agreement, and that is what this part of the Bill seeks to implement. It is not just UK citizens who will no longer be able to benefit from free movement, but those here at home who will have less opportunity to meet, work alongside or form families with European colleagues or to benefit from the skills and expertise they bring as workers in our public services or the wider economy.
In Scotland, we face the very real prospect of a stagnating or declining population, so any legislation implementing that agreement would be horrible, but this legislation is even worse than it needs to be because where the withdrawal agreement gives the Government a choice, they have made the wrong choice. Instead of making life just a little bit easier for EU nationals going through a torrid time, the Government are making it more miserable. In doing so, they have broken explicit promises made by the Prime Minister, the Home Secretary and the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster during the Brexit referendum.
Our amendments seek to remedy the awful choices that the Government have made—namely, the choice to demand that citizens apply to stay; the choice that they have made to fail to provide a physical document as proof of status; and the choice that the Government have made about how the new Independent Monitoring Authority should be constituted. Our new clause 18 seeks to make life a little better for EU nationals by ensuring that those who are entitled to British citizenship can access that entitlement, regardless of their ability to pay exorbitant Home Office fees.
I turn first to amendments 5 and 6. Article 18 of the withdrawal agreement gave the Government a choice. They could either do what the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary promised and declare in law the rights of EU citizens automatically—a so-called declaratory system or registration system. Alternatively, they could make EU citizens apply to stay in their own UK homes, changing the rules after those citizens had put down roots here and pulling the rug from under their feet. There is no reasonable explanation as to why the Government chose the latter. The difference between a declaratory or registration system and an apply-to-stay scheme might not sound like much to those who are new to the issue, but the implications are absolutely momentous in terms of the potential disaster that individuals will face and of the number of people who face such a disaster.
By way of a hypothetical example, let us imagine a retired French lady and a young Polish guy. The French lady has been here since the 1970s and had a permanent residence document under the old EU rules. Understandably, she thought she did not need to apply to stay, but it turns out that, of course, she did. The Polish guy was born here and because of that he believed that he was British, so he did not apply. However, it turns out that because his Polish mum and his UK father were not married at the time of his birth, he was not British after all, and he should have applied as well. Under the Government’s proposals, that French lady and the young Polish lad will be subject to the full force of the hostile environment. At some point, out of the blue, they will lose their job, their access to the NHS or the tenancy of their home. It will be just like the Windrush fiasco, but for them it will be even worse because they will have no way to rectify their terrible situation and will be subject to removal. Imagine what that will mean for those individuals.
In terms of scale, we need to recall that few schemes such as the one that the Home Office is attempting ever get close to a 90% reach, never mind a 100% reach, and that even if the Home Office does amazingly well and achieves a 90% reach of EU nationals, that will still mean that hundreds of thousands of people will be in situations like that. There are a million reasons why we will not get close to a 90% reach.
Is it not concerning that, when we look at the monthly figures, we see that more than 40% of EU nationals are only being given settled status? I am sure MPs right across the House will have had examples of people, particularly women with caring responsibilities who have been here for decades, who are not being given it. My concern is for those very elderly people who are not even considering that this might apply to them.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I was just about to give an example of the sort of person who will be caught out by this, and there are many more. It is not just those who did not think they needed to apply because of the complex stays, or their immigration and nationality situation, but also those with, for example, low digital literacy or poor language skills. There are also those who accepted pre-settled status and overlooked the subsequent deadline for applying for settled status, as well as children and vulnerable adults. The list goes on.
This is absolutely not the way, as the Government have said previously, to avoid a new Windrush disaster. This is the way to create a disaster on an even greater scale. It is not just me saying this; it is the3million campaign group, legal experts and think tanks, and it is the cross-party conclusion of the Home Affairs Committee, so we call on the Government to think again and to provide the status automatically and keep the settlement scheme open so that people can access the physical document that they need, as and when they realise they need it. That is what amendments 5 and 6 seek to do, as does the official Opposition’s new clause 5, which, because it would do everything in one go, is the one that we will support in a vote.
The second bad choice the Government made was in relation to documentation. The withdrawal agreement allows for the provision of a physical document as evidence of status. Alternatively, that proof could be in digital form. The Government have gone for a purely digital form of proof, which is completely contrary to what the overwhelming majority of EU nationals would prefer. How many Members would be happy to rely exclusively on a piece of Government digital code in an online system as the sole means of evidencing their right to live, work or study here or anywhere else? If the digital form were available alongside the opportunity to request a document, that would be fine, but it is completely unacceptable for it to be in digital form only. What if our retired French lady is digitally challenged, as the expression goes? How difficult will it be for her to prove her rights? And what will happen when the young Polish guy seeks to persuade a landlord that he is eligible to rent a flat in England? We know how great the chance is that the landlord will rent that flat to a person with a passport, way before they will go through the process of checking the Polish lad’s immigration status. The right-to-rent scheme is already in limbo because judges have found episodes such as this occurring with other less complicated forms of proof. What if the digital system crashes altogether at a crucial moment, as has happened already? Again, the Home Office is making decisions against the interests of EU citizens. That is why amendment 5 calls for a physical document to be provided.
I like to be fair, so let me acknowledge one good decision that the Government have made. That was the decision to open the settled status scheme to a broader category of citizen than was strictly required by the withdrawal agreement. Amendment 6 seeks to cement that into primary legislation, rather than leaving it to the whim of an immigration Minister to do away with at the drop of a hat by changing the immigration rules. The official Opposition’s new clause 5 would do the same thing.
A third disappointing choice that the Government have made relates to the make-up of the Independent Monitoring Authority—that is, the body tasked with ensuring that citizens’ rights under the agreement are properly protected. The withdrawal agreement gives broad discretion as to how the board should be made up. Given the torrid time that EU citizens are enduring, the last thing they want to see are provisions that mean that the person appointing the members of the IMA is a person who has ignored all the other concerns and broken the key commitment that she made to them during the referendum. That is of course the Home Secretary.
Yes, there are other provisions that are designed to create a degree of independence for the IMA, but in advance of the creation of the authority, it is the chief inspector of borders and immigration who has been monitoring the settled status scheme and who has prepared reports and recommendations about it. I would say that that makes him a strong candidate for knowing what skills are required for the Independent Monitoring Authority, but there are other independent people who could do the task and give EU citizens much more faith in the process. Additionally, in amendment 52 we seek to strengthen the role of the devolved Administrations in the process of appointing those IMA members being selected because of their knowledge of conditions in the devolved areas.
Turning to the issue of appeals, it is positive that the Bill makes provision for a right of appeal against settled status decisions, but not that it does so only by way of regulations or immigration rules. There should be a statutory right of appeal in the primary legislation. These are significant rights that are not to be toyed with on the whim of a Minister. So again, we support parties who have tabled amendments to put the right of appeal in the Bill directly.
In amendment 7, we challenge the Government’s giving Ministers the right to make provisions about judicial reviews of certain citizens’ rights immigration decisions. This seems unprecedented, and if the Minister can provide another example of such a power being granted, I would be grateful to hear about it. There is huge concern about what the Government want to do with judicial oversight of the decisions that they make, and I hope that this is not an early example of Government attempts to curtail judicial oversight of significant and sensitive immigration powers.
I turn now to the registration of British citizenship. This is another scandal that has developed on the watch of successive Conservative Home Secretaries negligently conflating naturalisation with registration. After the British Nationality Act 1981 came into force, many children and young people who would automatically have been British through birth here were instead given a statutory right to register as British if they met certain criteria such as living in the country for a certain period or their parents becoming settled or British. These criteria reflect the fact that for those children and young people, the UK is their true home. De facto, they are British and should therefore be legally entitled to British citizenship. A Conservative Minister of State said, when introducing the relevant provisions in 1981, that it is extremely important that those who grow up in this country should have as strong a sense of security as possible. That is not the same as naturalisation, where the law gives the Secretary of State discretion in relation to people who have chosen to make the UK their home. But the Home Secretary charges for children to register, as if the two things were equivalent. Even though the administrative cost to the Home Office of registration is around £370, the Home Office has been charging over £1,000 for several years—something the now Chancellor acknowledged was a huge sum when he was asked about it at the Home Affairs Committee. Imagine anyone in this Chamber being asked by an official for £1,000 before their child could be confirmed as British and could exercise their rights as a British citizen. It would be deemed outrageous and totally unacceptable to every single person in this Chamber. It is similarly outrageous that the Home Office is inflicting that fate on other children who are just as entitled to their British citizenship.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent point, and I am glad he is raising the issue. I often get families at my surgeries who cannot afford to have their children registered; they might register themselves because they need to work or travel, but they cannot afford to pay for their children. With the decision of the courts on this issue, does my hon. Friend have any view on whether people should be issued with refunds for the children they have already paid for, as the courts have ruled the charges unlawful?
I fully support that decision, and I will come to the court case in a moment. Another example I found when searching for cases is that parents have to choose which child will become a British citizen. They cannot afford to pay for two or three, so they have to pick which child will benefit from citizenship. It is a really appalling and cruel game.
It is therefore welcome, as my hon. Friend pointed out, that the fees have been found unlawful in the High Court because they do not properly take into account the best interests of children. I pay tribute to the Project for the Registration of Children as British Citizens, Amnesty International and others for their work on that case. Instead of appealing against that decision, the Home Office should listen to the reasoned arguments and stop this absolute scandal. Among the victims of this scandal are many EU and European Economic Area nationals—for example, a young Belgian girl born in the UK to Belgian parents just after they moved here and before they were settled. She becomes entitled to British citizenship automatically after 10 years, or if the parents become UK citizens or settled themselves, but she or her family quite simply may not be able to afford the £1,000 fee. She, along with many others, will be forced to register under the settlement scheme, when they have a far stronger right to citizenship. As the Project for the Registration of Children as British Citizens and Amnesty pointed out in a letter to the Minister’s predecessor, children and young people in the care system are especially at risk.
There are many things that need to be done to allow children and young people to access their right to British citizenship, but one key aspect is ensuring that all who have that right through registration can afford it. That is why new clause 18 sets out to limit the fee that can be charged for the administrative cost and to provide for free exemptions and waivers in appropriate circumstances. I do not want this to be limited to EU citizens, but it has to be because of the scope of the Bill. However, there is a far bigger job of work to be done in ensuring that these things are done right across the board. As my hon. Friend Alison Thewliss pointed out, we should look to reimburse those who have had to break the bank, take loans or do whatever else simply so that their children can become British citizens or register the right to British citizenship that they are entitled to under statutes passed in this place. It seems a simple matter of justice to me. I cannot understand how any Government or MP would want to continue to deprive de facto British citizens of the legal British citizenship they are entitled to, and that is why new clause 18 should be put to a vote this evening.
In conclusion, many EU citizens are having an incredibly difficult time, to put it mildly. They were hurt again by the lazy rhetoric coming from the Conservative party during the election about the cost of benefit payments to EU migrants, and by the Prime Minister’s remarks about EU citizens daring to treat the UK like their own country. Instead of occasional platitudes in this Chamber, we need consistent and vocal support for EU nationals. More than that, we need action, not words, and these amendments and new clauses are exactly the action that is needed to improve the lives of those people.
It has now been over three years since the referendum, and we are here today because the Conservative party can finally break the deadlock and ensure that there is no more delay. This Bill means that the UK will leave the EU on
Throughout the negotiations, our first priority has been to safeguard the rights of EU citizens, those who have built their lives here and contributed to the UK. The clauses laid out in the citizens’ rights part of the Bill are essential to implementing the withdrawal agreement so that EU citizens’ rights to live, work, study and access benefits in the UK are protected. We have delivered on that commitment, and this Bill provides certainty to EU citizens and their family members who are covered by our implementation of the withdrawal agreement.
The citizens’ rights clauses—clauses 7 to 17—include provisions to implement technical aspects of the withdrawal agreement. This will provide for a grace period for EU settlement scheme applications, frontier workers, restrictions of rights of entry and residence, appeals, recognition of professional qualifications, social security co-ordination and equal treatment. The Bill also implements the EEA EFTA separation agreement and Swiss citizens’ rights agreement, providing EEA, EFTA and Swiss nationals with certainty. For colleagues’ reference, unless I make further distinction, I will refer to this entire group as “EU citizens”.
Once we leave the EU, and after the implementation period, we will end free movement. Clause 7 allows Ministers to set a deadline for applications to the scheme and enables the Government to preserve the rights of EU citizens during the grace period. It also means that we can maintain the same protections for those with a pending application or appeal at the end of that grace period.
I urge hon. Members not to press new clauses 5, 18 and 33, as well as amendments 5, 6 and 27 to this clause, which put the success of the EU settlement scheme in jeopardy. If we remove the need to apply for status, put in place a declaratory system, provide for physical documents, lock the eligibility criteria and remove the deadline, it could undermine our ability to give EU citizens the certainty that we have promised and are determined to deliver.
I will be very clear with Members: the EU settlement scheme is already up and running. It is designed to be quick and easy for applicants, and it is working. For Members’ information, the latest figures show that over 2.8 million applications have now been received, and nearly 2.5 million people have been granted status. The scheme is a success.
As the Minister will know, I questioned the Prime Minister on this issue on
“now guarantee the right to healthcare, pension rights, the right to leave and return, the right to bring over family, the right to vote and all the other rights currently enjoyed by EU citizens”.—[Official Report,
Vol. 663, c. 1498.]
The Prime Minister, at the Dispatch Box, told me and this House that the Government were giving those guarantees “unilaterally”. Which clauses make good on those promises from the Prime Minister about the right to pensions, the right to healthcare, and the right to bring family members over at some time in the future? If they are not in the Bill, the Prime Minister has made promises from the Dispatch Box that the Government have no intention of keeping.
Order. I draw Members’ attention to the fact that interventions should be brief and to the point. I am not necessarily saying the hon. Gentleman’s was not, but for further reference I think that advice should be taken.
Thank you, Sir George. As my right hon. and hon. Friends will outline, we are working with our colleagues and friends around Europe, and they are all very happy with the scheme. In fact, as I will come to in a few moments, our scheme is far more generous than what many countries around Europe offer to UK citizens. I hope that will change, but this programme does deliver—I will come to some specifics in further clauses, but I am sticking to the clauses that are before us today. It is delivering a scheme that, as I say, has had over 2.8 million applications already, and nearly 2.5 million people have already been granted status. That is a success. EU citizens in the UK also have until the end of June 2021 to apply.
I have two quick questions for the Minister. First, how many individuals have applied? I note that some may have made several applications. Secondly, and more importantly, does he dispute my estimate that hundreds of thousands of EU citizens will fail to apply in time? Has the Home Office made such an assessment?
I disagree with the hon. Gentleman. In fact, I disagreed with quite a lot of what he said when he was on his feet a few moments ago, when he gave some clear misrepresentations of what is happening with this system. Over 2.8 million people have already applied, with nearly 2.5 million applications being granted, so that shows that the scheme, which has not been running for a year and still has at least a year and a half to run, is working.
On the second part of the hon. Gentleman’s question, I remind him and other colleagues who are unaware that not only have we said that if somebody has a good, reasonable reason for not applying earlier, we will still process their EU settled status application—even after June 2021—but we are doing specific work with groups around the country to reach the most vulnerable people. We have the road shows and our online work, and the phone centre is working around the clock, seven days a week, to deal with people’s queries. We have put in some £9 million to work with voluntary groups around the country to reach everyone so, yes, I disagree with him in the sense that I think that we will get to these people.
I will in a moment.
If EU citizens do not apply through the EU settlement scheme, it may prove difficult to distinguish them from those who arrived after the end of the implementation period. Stuart C. McDonald ignored that fact completely earlier. It is essential that EU citizens have the evidence that they need to demonstrate their rights here in the UK. Such an approach—
Not at the moment. Such an approach could also lead to EU citizens who have not applied for documentation suffering inadvertent discrimination compared with those who have. That is exactly what happened to the Windrush generation, and the Government are adamant that we must avoid a repeat of that dreadful situation.
Given that the Minister mentions the Windrush generation, he will surely recognise that many of the amendments relate to concerns that Stuart C. McDonald, others and I raised during Select Committee on Home Affairs sessions that examined the EU settlement scheme and, of course, the Windrush scandal. There is no malign intent behind the amendments. They are about ensuring that people have their rights and are able to exercise them. What lessons has the Minister learned from the Windrush scandal and, indeed, the evidence was taken by the Committee?
The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. It is clear, as I have just said, that we all want to ensure that we avoid the problems that we had with the Windrush generation. One of the key issues—
I will finish answering the first intervention before I consider taking any others. Part of the problem with a declaratory scheme is that it leads to the problems of Windrush. This scheme means that people have evidence of their rights, which means that they cannot be contestable in future, avoiding that problem in the first place. Moreover, this scheme is already more generous in its scope than the agreements themselves require, which the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East did outline earlier. For example, some people do not meet all the current requirements of free movement law and therefore are outside the scope of the agreement. As a matter of domestic policy, we have decided, nevertheless, that such people should be in scope of the EU settlement scheme, so we have granted them residence rights.
I will go a bit further on physical documentation. We are developing a new border and immigration system that is digital by default for all migrants, not just EU citizens. It is being rolled out incrementally and, over time, we intend to replace all physical and paper-based documents, which can be lost or stolen. Eventually, all migrants, not just those from the EU, will have digital status only, so amendment 5 would impede our ability to deliver an improved, equal and fair digital status.
Does the Minister not understand that someone getting to the end of the settled status process may be told that an email is meaningless and they will not have a document, which will not be reassuring? Part of the Windrush issue was that the Home Office destroyed records, so people who are depending on the Home Office to keep digital records are naturally pretty nervous. They would keep their records quite safe at home.
A declaratory system does not prevent registration. We can register people, but we can automatically say that they have a right. This is an application system, and people are being turned down or given pre-settled status—it is not the same.
It is important that I clarify some of the hon. Lady’s misrepresentations. Her point argues for and against her colleague’s earlier comments. We want to ensure that people have a status, and a digital status means that it is there for ever. It means that employers, landlords or anybody can access it in future. It is not reliant on somebody keeping any documentation or ensuring that it is not stolen. As for her comments about the process, it is fast and easy—
Let me finish the point. It takes five to 10 minutes online—the same as renewing a driving licence or passport.
The hon. Lady should be aware that, as of the last set of official figures, only two[This section has been corrected on
Pre-settled status is granted only to people who have not been living in the country for five years. I will come back to the process around that in a moment, but anyone who has lived in the country for five years or more—we are helping them with ways of evidencing that—is entitled to full settled status.
I will just finish my point. Protections for those who do not apply by the June 2021 deadline are already built into the agreements. There will be no cliff edge for vulnerable people who are unable to make an application due to circumstances beyond their control. As with all aspects of the EU settlement scheme, we will adopt a flexible and pragmatic approach and exercise discretion in applicants’ favour. I urge hon. Members to withdraw their amendments, but I will take the hon. Lady’s intervention.
What the Minister is saying is not accurate. I have a constituent who has a national insurance number card, which are not even issued anymore, who was only given pre-settled status. That constituent was able to prove that they had been here, and everything they submitted was correct, yet they have pre-settled status. How many more people have been given that?
As I said, anybody who has lived in the country for five years or more is entitled to settled status. I am very happy—[Interruption.] Will the hon. Lady listen to the answer? If hon. Members have individual cases in which somebody has been granted pre-settled status when they feel that they should have received full settled status, I will personally look at those cases. Every such case that has come forward so far has turned out to involve an issue. In one case, the person had not actually even applied for settled status and had gone through an entirely different system. In other cases, applicants had not been able to provide evidence. However, our teams are working with people—that is why we are doing the road shows—to ensure that anything that people can provide as evidence of their being in this country for more than five years will allow them to be granted settled status. With nearly 2.5 million settled statuses already granted out of 2.8 million applications, I think that highlights the success.
No, I will not give way on that point any further.
Clause 8 enables the Government to protect frontier workers and means that we can establish a registration scheme providing certainty to such workers about their rights going forward. Clauses 9 and 10 go hand in hand, enabling us to continue to apply EU deportation thresholds when assessing conduct committed before the end of the implementation period for the purposes of restricting a person’s right to enter or reside here in the UK. Conduct committed after the end of the implementation period will be assessed according to UK rules on criminality and behaviour non-conducive to the public good. That creates a fair and even system for all that does not benefit any foreign nationals over others.
Clause 11 provides a power to put in place various rights of appeal in connection with citizens’ rights and immigration decisions, including refusals under the EU settlement scheme, which are an essential and important part of our commitments.
I ask hon. Members to withdraw amendments 3, 2, 20, 21, 7 and new clause 34 because they are unnecessary. Thanks to the power contained in clause 11, EU citizens who are appealing a decision on residence will be able to do so under the EU settlement scheme. Individuals who have been granted pre-settled status who believe they should have been granted settled status can also appeal.
The amendments would also potentially do damage. The situations requiring the right of appeal under the agreements are numerous, and the applications of existing rules relating to appeal rights are complex. Putting a right of appeal on the face of the Bill would mean that none of that detail can be properly reflected.
The amendments would make it harder for EU citizens to appeal against an exclusion decision. They would actually remove our ability to provide EU citizens with access to the special appeals immigration commission when challenging an exclusion decision through judicial review. They would also prevent the Government from treating EU citizens in the same way as third country nationals when it comes to removals during an appeal process. Furthermore, the amendments create a perverse incentive for individuals to launch appeals and would mean that people who have applications that have absolutely no chance of succeeding could access social security benefits. I am concerned that this would open our immigration system to potential benefits abuse, which is something we should not allow. I hope what I have said assures the hon. Member that these amendments are not only undesirable but unnecessary, so I urge him not to press them.
Clause 12 provides a power to amend the statute book to protect existing decisions on the recognition of professional qualifications and to ensure that outstanding applications for recognition can be completed. Such lifelong recognition of qualifications will provide certainty to professionals such as nurses, vets and lawyers who provide crucial services to us all.
Clause 13 enables the Government to maintain our statute book in accordance with the social security co-ordination provisions. This will protect areas such as access to pensions, benefits and healthcare cover for those who move between the UK and the EU before the end of the implementation period.
Clause 14 provides a similar power for maintaining the statute book to make sure that the rights of equal treatment and non-discrimination are protected in future. The clause would, for example, make sure that EU citizens who are resident before the end of the implementation period can continue to access benefits and services on the same basis as they do now.
Clause 15 establishes the Independent Monitoring Authority for the withdrawal agreement and the EEA EFTA separation agreement on citizens’ rights. Schedule 2 makes provision for the authority’s constitution and functions. The authority will be fully independent and will have significant powers to receive complaints and conduct inquiries. It will also have the power to bring legal action against the Government and public authorities, and work is already well under way in the Ministry of Justice to set up this new organisation.
I urge hon. Members not to press amendments 22, 23 and 37. The first two amendments are unnecessary, as non-executive appointments to the Independent Monitoring Authority’s board will be made under the well-established principles of public appointments, in accordance with the governance code for public appointments. The Secretary of State will also have a statutory duty to have regard to the need to protect the IMA’s operational independence.
Clause 16 contains supplementary provisions, such as to prevent any overlapping conferred powers from affecting the extent of any power of a devolved authority. Clause 17 provides the necessary definitions of terms used in this part of the Bill.
I also urge hon. Members not to press new clause 18, which would remove citizenship fees for EU citizens. That could lead to discrimination based on nationality by giving EU citizens preferential fees for citizenship. It would also undermine the legislative structure, which is already in place, that not only sets fees but provides for specific fee exceptions.
That is exactly why new clause 18(5) would allow Ministers to extend the reduced fees and the waiver scheme to everybody else. It would be entirely within the Minister’s gift to make sure such discrimination does not arise. What is discriminatory is the horrendous fee, which prohibits some kids from getting the British nationality to which they are just as entitled as the children of everybody in this place.
New clause 18, as drafted, would discriminate by nationality because, as I said, it would give EU citizens preferential fees for citizenship.
My next sentence would have negated the need for the hon. Gentleman’s intervention, as it happens, because I was about to say that new clause 18 would also undermine the legislative structure that is already in place. This Bill is not the place to set fees, including specific fee exceptions, as that is done in different legislation.
Part 2 of the Bill honours our obligation to EU citizens who are living in the UK by ensuring they have the certainty they need as our country moves forward. Frankly, it is disappointing that not all European countries have provided the same assurances to British nationals living in the EU, which is something we hope will change. We will continue to work towards that for our citizens.
This Government have always put citizens’ rights first and foremost, and we will continue to do so. EU citizens are our friends, our family members and our colleagues. They have made and continue to make a hugely important contribution to our country, our economy, our communities and our society, and we want them to stay. This Bill will ensure we can deliver that unequivocal guarantee, both now and in the future.
I rise to speak to new clause 5 on the system for providing settled status, on which we will be seeking a vote, and to amendments 2, 3, 20 and 21 on the right of appeal, as well as amendment 37 on the Independent Monitoring Authority.
I regret the Minister’s combative response to Stuart C. McDonald, who made a typically thoughtful and considered contribution that did not reflect division across the Committee because, when these issues have previously been debated in Parliament, considerable concern has been expressed on both sides about the consequences of getting this wrong. If we do get it wrong, it will have a significant impact not only on EU citizens in the UK and on Brits in Europe but, frankly, on our caseload as Members of Parliament.
I believe it is possible to reach agreement on some of these issues, and it is in that spirit that I address our amendments. On new clause 5, the Minister said that providing certainty for EU citizens is central to the Government’s agenda. The Prime Minister said:
“under this Government they”—
“will have the absolute certainty of the right to live and remain.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 663, c. 1459.]
That seems clear, but the reality of applying for settled status is different. It is a constitutive system in which EU citizens acquire settled status or pre-settled status only by successfully applying for their right to live and work in the UK post Brexit. New clause 5 seeks to avoid that by making the scheme declaratory, meaning that EU citizens and family members who meet the eligibility criteria would automatically have the right to continue to live and work in the UK and would simply need to register for the purpose of proving their status.
We believe our approach would avoid a repeat of Windrush. The Minister suggested that the Government’s objective is to avoid such a Windrush situation and that a declaratory system could encourage a repeat. The Windrush scandal was caused by a number of factors: the changing legal environment for people who had lived here for decades; the 2012 introduction of the hostile environment; the lack of record keeping by the Home Office both under this Government and when we were in power—I am not trying to score party points; and by Home Office staff being incentivised by targets and bonuses to reach deportation targets. But for the Windrush victims, crucially, there was at least the legal safety net of the Immigration Act 1971, so they could seek recourse against their treatment.
What the Government are saying is that making the EU settlement scheme declaratory would create a second Windrush. They are perversely blaming the scandal—it was a scandal, as the Minister recognises—on that safety net, which is a fundamental misunderstanding. They are saying that the way to avoid another Windrush is to remove the safety net that the Windrush victims faced.
No system will get 100% of those eligible to apply, and I recognise the Minister’s point about the Government’s efforts to ensure that as many apply as possible. I take his point that 2.8 million have already done so, and I am sure many more will apply by the deadline of June 2021, but not everybody will. The Government do not even have a target for how many people they think should be eligible to apply. If only 3% of the estimated 3.5 million EU nationals living in Britain fail to apply, which is not beyond the bounds of possibility, it will leave 100,000 people facing a hostile environment and facing possible deportation. I have talked to many EU citizens who, despite all the Government’s publicity efforts, are unaware that the rights they have enjoyed for 30 years need to be applied for, and I have had to explain to them about how to apply for settled status. The Government have recognised that, as has the Minister. In an interview with the German newspaper Die Welt, he said:
“If EU citizens have not registered” by the deadline for settled status
“without an adequate justification, the immigration rules will apply,”
When pressed on whether that would mean deportation, he said:
“Theoretically, yes, we will apply the…rules.”
The possibility of people whom we describe as our neighbours, friends, taxpayers and colleagues being deported exists while we pursue the same approach to settled status as the Government are now.
It is not too late to correct course. In our view, and that of others proposing similar amendments, a declaratory system is the only way to prevent hundreds of thousands of people from potentially being criminalised and deported. Under a declaratory scheme, if somebody does not register for settled status before June 2021, they will not lose rights; they will simply need to register for the Government to provide them with the proof of their status.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the speech he is making. Does he agree that the Minister is completely wrong to think that a declaratory system means that fewer people will apply after June next year? People will still have every incentive to apply for the settlement scheme, because they will need that proof in order to avoid the hostile environment, and to access the NHS, employment and all their other entitlements in this country.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to say that there would be every incentive to apply, because without the proof these people will not be able to exercise their rights. We are simply seeking to ensure, through our new clause, that they do not lose their rights. The approach we are suggesting is explicitly allowed under the withdrawal agreement. The Government had a choice about what kind of system they would implement and, in our view, they chose wrong. We need to remember that this is not just about EU citizens in the UK; the largest national group affected by Brexit are the 1.2 million British citizens in Europe. The EU and the individual member states, not all of which have met our expectations, have been clear that rights granted to UK citizens will be based on reciprocity. The Minister is right to want to see other countries stepping up to the mark, but that will not be assisted if we reduce rights of citizens within the UK, because that will risk a reduction of rights of citizens across the EU27. So a declaratory scheme for EU citizens will be good not only for those here, but for UK citizens living in Europe.
I wish to move on to another aspect of the problems with the settlement scheme. The Minister said that 2.8 million have applied and he went on, unintentionally, I am sure, to give the wrong impression about the granting of status, because he said that 2.5 million had been granted status—that is correct, but it is not the status they had applied for. The most recent statistics show that almost half of the applicants for settled status are being granted pre-settled status, which comes with substantially fewer rights, it is a temporary form of leave lasting up to five years—[Interruption.] It is not indefinite leave to remain.
In a moment, I will ask the Minister to come back on me on some of these points and he might want to respond on that. In addition to the cliff edge at the end of 2021, when anyone who has not applied to the settlement scheme will face possible deportation, pre-settled status creates hundreds of thousands of individual cliff edges when people come to the point of confirming their individual position, because it does not provide—[Interruption.] I see my friend and former Committee colleague Mr Walker looking puzzled about that, but if pre-settled status does not provide a permanent right to remain, that is granted only at the point at which settled status is gained. We are creating hundreds of thousands of individual cliff edges.
The campaign group the3million has shared one case with me that illustrates many of the problems with settled status. It involves an older Dutch woman who has been living in the UK for decades. Despite her living at the same address for more than 30 years, and paying council tax, income tax and NI, the online system could not find a trace of her, so she was forced to trawl through paperwork to provide evidence of seven years of residency. For some of those years she had saved council tax bills, but she had to find at least six bank statements for each of the other years. She then faced huge difficulties scanning and uploading the documents. After she had eventually sent them off, she waited several weeks for a response, only to be told that the Home Office required more evidence. After another difficult process of finding and submitting documents, she was finally granted settled status, but this woman has said that she could not have done it without help, and her journey shows that although the app may be simple for the most straightforward of cases, as soon as somebody faces difficulties, it can be immensely difficult to resolve them and secure the right status.
That is also why it is important to have the right to challenge individual decisions. Under the withdrawal agreement, the Government agree to ensure that EU citizens have a right of appeal against any decision to refuse settled status. Clause 11 of the agreement specifically confers powers for Ministers to make regulations providing for appeal rights, but this Bill does not confirm the provision of appeal rights for all applicants. To that end, amendment 2 seeks to clarify that EU citizens have the right to appeal a decision on settled or pre-settled status. Clearly, the Government are not intending to accept any amendments, so I would welcome the Minister intervening to confirm today on the record that the right of appeal will be created using powers under the withdrawal agreement and that it will cover all those in the UK, particularly those who came under the Zambrano and Surinder Singh routes. Would he like to intervene? [Interruption] He indicates that he will come back at a later stage, and I would be grateful for that.
We know that particular groups are at a higher risk of not registering—for example, older people, children in care, those with lower language skills, or non-EEA citizens who are dependent on an EU family member. The scheme makes it more difficult for women and disabled people to secure their correct status and it is therefore likely to be causing discrimination. However, the Government have not put in place the tools to monitor the scheme effectively, they are not collecting equalities data, and, despite my requesting it several times over a lengthy period, they have still not published their equalities impact assessment.
Clearly, it is also essential that the EU settlement scheme is properly monitored and the withdrawal agreement sets up the Independent Monitoring Authority for that purpose—it is charged with overseeing the Government’s implementation of the citizens’ rights section of the agreement. As set up in schedule 2 of the Bill, the IMA will be neither independent of the Government nor empowered to hold them to account. The Government have used this Bill to further weaken the authority by permitting its functions to be delegated by secondary legislation. Our amendment 37 would ensure that if the Government intend to modify or abolish the IMA, that would be done only through primary legislation. We would ask the Government to look seriously at that proposal, as well as the other amendments tabled by other Opposition parties on the IMA.
I am coming to a conclusion, so I am wondering whether the Minister wanted to intervene on the point I made to him. [Interruption.] He is going to come back later in the debate, and that is fine. My concluding point is simply that the Committee needs to be mindful that the rights and position of 5 million citizens are at risk over Brexit—those in this country and those British in Europe—so it is essential that we get this process right. Our proposals would ensure that every eligible EU citizen and family member automatically has the right to stay here, which the Government are not providing for in this Bill. We would put their right to appeal in law and ensure that the IMA can properly hold the Government to account. We hope that the House will support us on new clause 5 and we ask the Government to look seriously at the other issues we have raised.
I am pleased to speak in support of clause 7 and part 3, and I support all the comments made by the Minister. When I served as a Minister in the Department for Exiting the European Union, I was responsible for drafting much of the Bill, and I am glad that a lot of it has survived my absence from the Government. I pay tribute to the Front-Bench team, to parliamentary counsel and to the officials for the drafting of a complex and critical piece of legislation. In preparing the Bill, we conducted considerable engagement with the charitable sector, representatives of EU citizens and the legal sector to identify their concerns so that we could design a new framework that would not only command their confidence but, above all, work.
I should say at the outset that with Brexit, free movement will obviously come to an end. That is one reason many people voted to leave the European Union, myself included. I am the child of immigrants, yet I do not have a problem with saying that it is right that our democratic institutions, our UK Government and the British people have control over migration, not Brussels, the EU Commission or the EU Parliament. Everyone in the House should welcome that fundamental aspect of the EU Brexit project if we are truly to reflect the desires and needs of those who send us here.
With the ending of the free movement of people, I do not think we can be in any doubt about the Government’s commitment to safeguarding the position and rights of the 3 million or so EU citizens who are already living and working here. We want them to stay, as has been said so many times; we value their immense contribution; and we want to make Brexit as easy as possible for them.
I am glad about the proposals that provide for the legal rights of EU citizens, their access to healthcare and social security, recognition of their professional qualifications, and their employment and equalities rights. The Bill will enable them to continue to live their lives as they do now. It is this Bill that provides for the groundbreaking Independent Monitoring Authority, which is a hugely important proposal that will reflect our watertight commitment to EU citizens.
First, the scheme is working. The Minister himself has overseen the roll-out of the settled status scheme for years now. As of October 2019, more than 1 million people had been granted settled or pre-settled status under the EU settlement scheme. That milestone came four months after the scheme fully launched in March last year. That is an excellent start, and I pay tribute to the Home Office and all those involved in such an immense administrative task.
Secondly, the scheme is working because it is practical and user friendly. The EU settlement scheme is designed to make it straightforward for EU citizens and their families to stay in the UK after Brexit. They need only to complete three key steps: prove their identity, show that they live in the UK and declare any criminal convictions. A wide range of support is available for EU citizens and their families, including a dedicated settlement resolution centre and 300 assisted digital locations to support those who have limited access to IT, and the Home Office funds a plethora of organisations to help those citizens who are more vulnerable—the homeless, the disabled and the elderly—to navigate the system.
I wonder whether the hon. Lady can do something that the Minister could not. During her time in government, did she see an estimate of the number of EU citizens who, perhaps accidentally or because they did not fully understand their own immigration situation, will have failed to apply for the scheme by the deadline? Was I right to suggest that it will be hundreds of thousands? What should happen to them?
I will come back to that point, but of course any system will have the challenge of reaching everybody affected by it. That is why the Government have not held back at all in coming forward with outreach, engagement and the publicity and advertising campaign, and with the resources made available to the millions of EU citizens who are affected. We need only look at the numbers to see that the uptake rate is so far very encouraging. We should judge it on the evidence, not fear speculative future possibilities.
I accept all that, just as the Opposition spokesperson accepted all that—in general, all is going well—but the difference between us is on the consequences of not applying. Under our system, people could still apply for years to come; under the Government’s proposed system they will not be able to. Overnight, there will be tens—probably hundreds—of thousands of people without status. How many people do the Government expect to be in that situation, and what should happen to them?
It is important for any system to have robust deadlines and to have consequences if deadlines are not met. Importantly, though, there is a grace period in the legislation that allows considerably for people being late or delayed in making their application. That strikes the right balance by ensuring robustness but making allowances for those who might not get there in time.
Thirdly, we know that the system is working because EU citizens and those who work for them have told us so. Charities such as the East European Resource Centre and the Refugee and Migrant Centre, which receives Home Office funding and has helped thousands of EU citizens and their families, have welcomed the operation of the scheme so far.
Lastly, the significance of the Independent Monitoring Authority cannot be diminished. It represents not just the legal protections that are offered and provided for in the Bill, but a cultural change at the Home Office and in Government towards migrants. It represents a culture of protection and safeguarding, and of enabling people to know their rights and exercise them.
Much has been said about avoiding the mistakes of Windrush, and I can see exactly why people fear history repeating itself. My parents emigrated to this country from Commonwealth countries at the same time as the Windrush generation and could have easily been caught up in the mistakes and consequent problems. When I was a barrister, I did a lot of work in immigration law, representing the Government in the High Court and in immigration tribunals. Of course, any large administrative exercise of this scale can be vulnerable to mistakes. This is a policy area that is heavily legislated for and therefore very complex. Mistakes are made, but there is also abuse of the rules.
Any system must be light-touch and pragmatic enough to minimise the burdens on those who are directly affected and those who have to go through the system, but at the same time robust enough and sound enough to prevent such abuse. It is okay to live in an ideal world and assume that there is no abuse of immigration rules, but, unfortunately, the reality—Stuart C. McDonald will know this from his experience in the sector—is that there is abuse. In recent times, we have faced unsubstantiated claims and unjustified appeals, and thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money has been used to perpetuate pointless and vexatious claims through the immigration system and the High Court.
The Government are highly cognisant of their obligations to EU citizens. It has to be said that even without the IMA there would be many avenues of legal redress for EU citizens—appeal rights and judicial review are enshrined not only in the Bill, but in common law—but the Government have gone further. They are committing to setting up an independent watchdog specifically—exclusively—for EU citizens to monitor the application of the rules, carry out inquiries, take up judicial review and represent EU citizens, be their collective voice and ensure that mistakes are remedied swiftly. It will be thanks to the IMA that a Windrush-type scandal will be avoided, EU citizens will have a voice and the system will improve and serve people. That is a step change—a sign of the political will to get it right and drive forward change.
Leaving the European Union presents us with myriad opportunities to take back democratic control of our migration policy—something that we should welcome and see as an opportunity for our country. I commend the Bill and the measures on EU citizens to the Committee.
I rise to support Labour’s new clause 5 and to press to a vote my own party’s new clause 34, which would create a right of appeal when settled status was refused.
Shortly before the general election, I visited a school in my constituency. During the usual chat with students about what they would do after their exams, what careers they would pursue and whether they would go to university, one girl told me that she was worried about her future. She wanted to go to university, but she was afraid that she would not be able to. She had lived in Edinburgh most of her life, but she and her parents were from a different part of the European Union and they did not feel secure about what would happen to them if Brexit went ahead. This is the only country that she really knows, and her parents did not know where they stood because of the uncertainty and the difficulties that they saw with the settled status proposals. She is not the only one.
Like so many in this place, I have colleagues, friends and many, many constituents who have made their lives here. These are not the people who, as this Government shamelessly claimed during the election campaign, cost us billions, put pressure on public services and strain on school places, and led to more crime. These claims were made despite the evidence from migration advisory services, which showed the opposite to be the case.
These are people who came to this country to work and pay taxes. Many were part of the hugely valuable workforce in our NHS, our university sector and major private companies. They deserve to have this country recognise that and respect their rights. This Government should do that by standing by the promise that was made to those people by the Prime Minister when he entered Downing Street. That is why I and the Liberal Democrats will be supporting the Labour party’s new clause 5 to give automatic rights to EU citizens, rather than them having to apply for settled status with the potential of facing deportation if they do not. That is no way for this or any other Government or any other country to treat people.
It is incredibly important that we take every opportunity to reassure EU nationals who, as the hon. Member rightly says, are so valued in our country. In those circumstances, did she take the opportunity to give that reassurance to her constituents and say that if they simply applied for settled status it would be vanishingly unlikely for them to have any difficulty staying in the UK?
I thank the hon. Member for his point, but what I did was promise them that I would fight for their rights in this country. I would fight for them to have the automatic—[Interruption.] No, I was not scaremongering. I promised them that I would do what I am doing tonight. I said that I would stand in this House and call for them to have the automatic right to stay in this country—this country, where they have lived, where their parents have contributed and paid taxes—without having to apply and face the fear of deportation if they failed. That is what I promised.
Our economy—our demographic—demands that we encourage people to come here and contribute, bolster our workforce and fill the skills gap that we see in the NHS. That is why, as I promised that teenager and the many constituents who have come to me, I will fight to safeguard the rights of all EU citizens in the United Kingdom, and of those UK citizens who have made their lives across the EU, by asking for reciprocity. That is why we have tabled new clause 34 to create a right of appeal if an application for settled status is refused. These people deserve so much better than what is being offered by this Government.
Many of those people will vote with their feet. We will lose people in an exodus that shames us. We will lose people who make a valuable contribution to our education system and our health service—something that shames this country. People will leave their lives and their livelihoods because they do not feel welcome. Alex Chalk accused me of scaremongering. The rhetoric of his party during the election, demonising people and driving us towards a scandal that will dwarf Windrush, was far from acceptable. It is not good enough. The Minister talked tonight about safeguarding rights, but if he really wants to do that and if he really wants to respect the people who have come here and contributed to our being the fifth largest economy in the world, make their right to stay here automatic—and do it now.
I thank you, Sir George, and the many Members who have made contributions today. Some really important points have been made on all the amendments on this crucial subject, which many of us who served on the Home Affairs Committee in the previous Parliament examined in great detail. The Minister gave a rosy depiction of how the scheme is working and how everything will function. Of course, we would all like to see people register for the scheme and get the right information, and we would all like to see more digital systems that work for everybody. The reality, though, is somewhat different, as those of us who have regular daily experiences with the immigration system on behalf of our constituents, and who have seen the many pieces of evidence that we took on the Home Affairs Committee, recognise.
The amendments that have been tabled, including by my party’s Front-Bench team, which I support, are there to improve the system and ensure that it actually delivers the rights that were promised to EU citizens and EEA citizens who have been resident in this country for many years and who have, as many have said in this debate, made huge contributions to our communities and to our country as a whole. Certainly in my own constituency, the contribution of EU citizens over many decades has been immense. Over the past few years, many constituents have come to me with concerns about the scheme, including those that are reflected in the amendments that many of us are supporting this evening.
We are not scaremongering if we look at the record of the Home Office and its continued failures on a series of issues. We have only to look back to 2017, when the Home Office sent letters to 100 EU citizens telling them that they had to leave the UK immediately—an episode for which the then Prime Minister, Mrs May, had to apologise in 2018. Members of Parliament were sent letters about the importance of applying for the EU settlement scheme, even though they were not EU nationals. It was an extraordinary situation, which the then Home Secretary had to explain.
One has only to look at the regular monthly statistics from the Home Office to see the number of cases of wrongful deportations and wrongful detentions as a result of the hostile environment policy and as a result of mistakes and problems. That is why appeal rights are so crucial. If we look at the compensation pay-outs that are being made when the Home Office makes mistakes, we can see how much this is costing the Government. We have all those examples and, of course, the example of the Windrush scandal, which was so shocking and so shaming to our country. People who had contributed to our country over so many years were treated in such an incredible way. With all those examples ringing in our ears, we should be taking these issues incredibly seriously. I urge the Minister and the Government, and those in the other place when they are examining these parts of the Bill, to look seriously at ways in which this legislation can be improved, so that we can deliver on the commitments that have been made. I do not doubt the Minister’s intent. I am sure that he is sincere in wanting to provide EU citizens with the rights that they deserve, but the reality is often different.
I want to raise with the Minister the specific point about physical documentation. Of course we all want to see digitalisation; we all want to see more efficient systems. We all want to see a system where we can quickly get information—whether that is employers, housing providers or other providers of services—to ensure that people receive the things that they are entitled to under the law. But the reality is, as we all know, that these systems break down. There are mistakes in them and names are often rendered incorrectly. What is the back-up? What will happen when somebody is trying to apply for a house, access medical services, apply for a job or apply for an education that they are entitled to in this country and the system breaks down? The computer may say no, or the blue screen of death may come up on the computer. Whatever the problem, we all know that these things fail.
When we are talking about such a fundamental thing as the right to live, work and exercise rights in this country, which many EU citizens should have under this legislation and deserve, we have to ensure that there is back-up. We have our birth certificates and passports—physical documents for the most crucial aspects of our rights and citizenship rights in this country. I caution the Minister: when the mistakes happen—the inevitable breakdown, a cyber-attack on the system or the system becoming unavailable—what will happen to the people who get caught up in them? All those mistakes will generate not only a huge cost for the Government in rectifying them in due course, but great harm and concern to the individuals involved. Anyone who deals with the immigration system on a weekly basis, as many of us do, can point to myriad examples.
There is also the crucial issue of numbers, which Stuart C. McDonald, who served with me on the Home Affairs Committee, mentioned. No exercise on this scale has been attempted before the registration of millions of individuals under this system. Problems are inevitably going to occur, not least when the Government themselves cannot tell us exactly how many EU and EEA citizens are lawfully resident in the UK. They also cannot tell us—this has been asked on a number of occasions—how many people they estimate will not have applied by the deadline that is now being put in place. I find it deeply worrying that the Government propose to implement a policy without even knowing the number of people that it is going to affect. We do not want to see the unlawful detentions and deportations of individuals that we have sadly seen in the past, nor the harm they cause to the individuals whose rights are affected.
This issue goes back to some fundamental promises that were made—not only by the current Prime Minister, but by the previous Prime Minister and by those who advocated leaving in the first place. The3million campaign, which has done so much good to highlight the concerns of those affected by these changes, rightly points out that it was made clear during the 2016 referendum that there should be
“no change for EU citizens already lawfully resident in the UK…EU citizens will automatically be granted indefinite leave to remain in the UK and will be treated no less favourably than they are at present.”
That was a clear promise and a solemn undertaking, and it is one that has been repeated by the Prime Minister and Ministers since. I have no doubt that the Minister intends these measures in good faith, but the reality of accessing the scheme, demonstrating those rights and being able to prove that they are being lawfully exercised will be very different. I think we will be picking up the pieces of this in years to come, so I urge the Minister to look carefully at these amendments.
Thank you, Sir George.
I am persuaded that the amendments are unnecessary, and I support the provisions of the Bill. But just one word of caution: I have received a number of inquiries from constituents—European citizens—who clearly have not been reached at all by any of the outreach, such are the basic questions that they ask. Indeed, I received one such inquiry today. On that score, when I think about it, I do not know whether I have been living in a bubble, but I have not seen any of that outreach at all myself. Admittedly, I have not been looking for it. Nevertheless, I just ask Ministers to re-examine the outreach that there has been and to reassure their level of confidence that it is adequate.
I speak in support of new clauses 5 and 18. Constituents have contacted me to raise serious concerns about the rights of their family and friends who are EU citizens and who are eligible for settled status, but who may not be able to complete their application on time or may be unaware of the deadline. This is a particular issue among elderly EU citizens, some of whom may have serious medical conditions that impair their ability to complete forms. One constituent told me about her mother, who is in her 90s and came to the UK as a refugee from Poland just after the second world war, but who has never needed to apply for citizenship. She now has Alzheimer’s and, had it not been for the help of her daughter, would be at risk of losing her rights through not being able to apply for settled status. No doubt there are others like her.
As the Minister stated, we want to avoid another Windrush situation. The IMA is no substitute for a safety net to protect the rights that people are at risk of losing. It has been suggested that legal redress can be achieved outside a tribunal system, but what would be the cost? Huge fees are incurred by people trying to get redress for their legal rights; such fees can be astronomical. One of my constituents, Martin Janu, has a wife who is Spanish. She is fearful of the potential erosion of her rights under settled status, so she has applied for citizenship, but that is at the cost of £1,400. Having such high fees for applications for citizenship and visitor visas is nothing more than a racket by the Government, who are ripping off applicants.
I thank my hon. Friend for making this case. I had a call three days ago from a constituent who told me that his wife, who he has been married to for well over 40 years, is a French national. She has worked as a teacher in a school here and is now on a pension, but she is worried about what is going to happen to them. I actually went on to the Home Office website and tried to guide them through what they need to do, but they are worried about what is happening to them and about the costs of all these processes. It is very important that we have safeguards in place.
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. We need to have safety nets in place, and these new clauses would provide the safety nets needed to ensure that people’s rights are protected, no matter how few people might be affected.
In short, EU citizens who have been here lawfully and qualify for settled status should not have their rights limited by any barriers, such as time limitation or fees. If the Government do not to listen to these warnings, there is a very real risk of another Windrush. The Government will then be found to have been asleep at the wheel, because another scandal is avoidable. This situation is unacceptable, totally avoidable and easily remedied. I therefore invite the Minister to accept new clauses 5, 18 and 34.
I will be brief; I just want to respond to a couple of points that have been raised during the debate. Paul Blomfield quoted me during an interview some time ago—with a German journalist, if I recall correctly. Sadly, he did not give the whole quote, so colleagues are probably not quite aware of the point I was making, which was that the whole point of the settled status scheme is to ensure that nobody is left behind and all rights are properly protected. That is why not only are we running the scheme until the end of July[This section has been corrected on
No, I will not be giving way at the moment.
Stephen Doughty said that the whole process is different from previous systems. We are looking to grant status. I give great credit to the superb team of Home Office civil servants, particularly in Liverpool, who have delivered this scheme—a scheme that, as the hon. Gentleman said, is unprecedented in now having taken more than 2.8 million applications and processed some 2.5 million of them. To be clear with colleagues, of the almost 2.5 million applications that have been processed, I can confirm that only five have been refused—all on grounds of serious criminality. It is right that we do those checks and ensure that there is proper evidence.
Let me go a bit further in response to the comments of the hon. Member for Sheffield Central regarding the difference between pre-settled status and settled status. What he said at the Dispatch Box risks creating a scaremongering regime that has been portrayed in a couple of other speeches this evening. Pre-settled status is a pathway to settled status, ensuring that people who have lived in this country for five years or more have their rights fully secured. There is no cliff edge. When somebody has lived in this country for five years or more, having got pre-settled status, they can move straight to full settled status; their rights will be the same. They will be protected from the moment they have pre-settled status, and the evidence is an important part of that.
The hon. Gentleman asked a very specific question about appeal rights. Yes, appeal rights apply to all cases under the new settlement scheme. That also goes to the point raised by Christine Jardine. My hon. Friend Suella Braverman is absolutely right: we are determined to make sure that we are delivering on the rights of EU citizens and that we in this country play our part in delivering on the promises we made.
I say to my right hon. Friend Sir Desmond Swayne that we are always reviewing the outreach work. The Home Secretary and I are particularly focused on this work to make sure that it is not just giving good value for money for the taxpayer but is also reaching the hardest-to-reach places and communities in the country. We are working with some 57 voluntary organisations around the country, and with commercial and public sector organisations that employ large numbers of EU citizens, and we will be looking to continue that work and drive it further and further.
It is important that we encourage people to apply for this settled status. It is simple, quick and easy, it delivers on people’s rights, and it delivers on our promises. That is why we will not accept any amendments or new clauses this evening.
Thank you, Sir George. I thank all hon. Members for their contributions to this robust and very helpful debate in which I think every single speaker spoke of the contribution that EU nationals make to this country and the importance of protecting their rights.
So far so good, but beyond that, there are fundamental differences about how best we do it. Opposition Members say that we must automatically protect EU nationals’ rights in law, so that nobody will lose their rights overnight, while Government Members say that they must apply to stay. The Government have not challenged at all our assertion that that almost certainly means that tens, probably hundreds, of thousands will potentially lose their rights overnight. The Minister said that there will be a period in which anyone with a good, reasonable reason for missing a deadline will be able to get that all fixed. We are possibly talking about a six-figure number—and what is a good, reasonable reason? I gave two hypothetical examples in my speech, one being a French lady who has been here since 1970, has retired, had permanent residence under the old EU scheme, and does not think she needs to apply. There are lots of folk in that boat. Is that a good, reasonable reason—that she did not think she had to apply? What about the Polish guy that I cited? He was born in the United Kingdom. He therefore thought that he was British because his father was British, but actually, because of his parents’ marital status at the time of his birth, he is not British. He fails to apply. Is that a good, reasonable reason—that he thought he was British but was wrong about nationality law?
There will be tens of thousands of cases just like that, and the Government have done absolutely nothing to reassure us about the cliff edge that awaits us. Amendment 5 would go some way towards solving that by putting in place a declaratory system. The Opposition’s new clause 5 is more comprehensive. I therefore beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment so that we can support the new clause instead.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 7 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clauses 8 to 14 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Schedule 1 agreed to.
Clause 15 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Schedule 2 agreed to.
Clauses 16 and 17 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Before I put the Question on the first new clause to be voted on, I should inform Members that the split of letters at the desks in the Division Lobbies has changed slightly—there’s a treat! Members whose surname begins with G will now need to go to the middle desk instead of the left-hand desk. There have been no other changes. The distribution of names is different in the new Parliament and the revised lettering should mean that the queues at the desks are more even.