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extension of leave to remain

Part of Coronavirus Bill – in the House of Commons at 8:15 pm on 23rd March 2020.

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Photo of Nick Thomas-Symonds Nick Thomas-Symonds Shadow Solicitor General, Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Security) 8:15 pm, 23rd March 2020

I rise to speak, ostensibly, to amendments 2 to 4 and new clause 4, in my name and in the names of my hon. and right hon. Friends.

This is certainly no criticism of the Public Bill Office, which has worked extraordinarily well under huge pressure, nor of Ministers or, indeed, of officials working under tremendous pressure, but in the past hour and a half, as the Opposition spokesperson, I have been presented with 60 pages covering 61 Government amendments, and there are also 27 Opposition amendments. It is clear that I will not be able to cover every single item in my remarks, but I will try to refer—[Interruption.] Not this early in the evening, but who knows? I will try to cover the amendments thematically, referring to them when it would be helpful to the House.

Amendments 2 to 4 relate to the Bill’s emergency powers, which I will deal with first because Mr Davis mentioned them and I want to make our position absolutely clear. New clause 4 would place a duty on the Government to support the basic means of living—food, water, clothing, income and housing—by employing all available statutory and prerogative powers.

Those two themes may be separate on the amendment paper, but they go hand in hand. The public health emergency and the restrictions on freedom must be accompanied by the strongest possible financial measures to ensure people still have the means to get by. I make it clear that I do not intend to divide the House on any of these amendments this evening, but I hope the Government will listen to my points.

The second world war emergency legislation required renewal every year, and the emergency coronavirus legislation in Ireland is subject to six-monthly renewal. We need safeguards. Often, the issue with this type of legislation, which is understandably done in haste, is not so much the intended consequences as the unintended consequences. That is important because there are vulnerable people across our society whose lives are going to change and who will need protection.

The Bill is subject to the European convention on human rights and does not exclude judicial review; there is no ouster clause in it. These are very important safeguards, and we need more. I welcome the Government’s concession on six-monthly review. I have listened carefully to a number of speeches, and I, like many others, would like it to have been even more frequent, but I accept that that is a reasonable compromise. There are some issues on which I would like reassurance from the Minister, though. First, it is clear that that is subject to a vote in both Houses, but the point made by the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden is crucial: if it is simply an unamendable motion, the House is left with the choice of take it or leave it on everything. It could be that we think four fifths of the Bill is achieving its intended purpose and one fifth is not, but we would have to keep everything operational. If the Minister can confirm that the motion will be amendable, so we can make clear which bits we want to switch off, that would make a significant difference. Even if she gave that as a verbal assurance, it would be a step forward that might increase the degree of consensus across the House. I am not saying that everyone would be satisfied, but it would help us to move forward on the basis of consensus.

As I read the Government amendment, there is a carve-out in relation to devolved matters. Will the Minister make the position clear? If this House switched off powers, would they be automatically switched off for the devolved institutions; or if a power was switched on by the devolved institutions, would they then have the power to switch it off when they saw fit? In those parts of England without formal regional devolution, would it be it switched off automatically for those areas?

More widely, we have to ensure that the measures are temporary and that hard-won rights are not lost forever. In that respect, I want to focus on a number of groups in our society. First, amendments 68 to 71 deal with children with special educational needs and disabilities. I would like more reassurance from the Government. The Bill clearly removes disabled people’s rights to social care and support, and the duty to meet children’s educational requirements is changed to a reasonable endeavours duty. Many hon. and right hon. Members will have received expressions of concern about that. I thank the all-party group on this for raising it over the weekend.

Of course there is a need for flexibility. There will be a need to redeploy staff, and we all understand that, but reassurance is necessary. If we are removing the rights in the Children and Families Act 2014, for example, could consideration be given to the proposal in the amendments to change “reasonable endeavours” to “all practical steps” to ensure that our duty to some of our most vulnerable and youngest people is met?

There is also deep concern in the care sector, to which amendments 57 to 63 and new clause 29 apply. Most statutory duties relating to social care are being suspended under schedule 11. Local authorities will only have to provide services deemed necessary to prevent breaches of people’s human rights. That is clearly not the vision of social care that anyone in this House had in mind when the Care Act 2014 was passed. Of course, the Bill does not prevent local authorities from providing higher levels of care, but there is no longer any duty to carry out assessments or involve user input in care delivery, and local authorities will no longer have to assess the needs of carers. Those are sweeping changes that may reduce the level of support. Will the Government make it clear that they still expect care to be provided to the highest level possible in the circumstances, and that some sort of green light to cut back to the minimum is not provided for in the Bill? There are wider impacts. There are doctors, nurses, NHS staff and key workers who rely on social care for their family members. That new legal minimum level of support cannot become a default. We cannot have care packages automatically cut back to the minimum, and care levels should never be reduced too far or too fast.

I have referred to a series of amendments, and I would push the Government on this. Can we look at things such as reasonable practicability? Can we look at disrupting existing care in the most minimal way and try at least to ensure, while recognising the pressures on staff, that reductions in care packages are a last resort? There are many unmet care needs, and people are being looked after in their own home by family members, who visit every day. For a start, that unpaid army of carers deserves deep gratitude from all of us, but what if one of those unpaid carers needs to self-isolate? What will the Government look at to protect people in their own home who will still be in need of care? The Government have to make absolutely clear the value of the measures for those who are older, and for disabled and young people who are in need of support. Many people—not just my constituents but people across the country—including disabled rights groups and, indeed, disabled people have contacted me to say that they are very, very concerned about what they regard as the scaling back of their rights under the Bill. We must protect them as best we can for the duration of the emergency powers, but also make it clear that this temporary hiatus does not represent a rolling back of progress over decades.

Turning to mental health and amendments 64 and 65, there are changes in the Bill to the detention regime and a restriction whereby someone can be detained on the say-so of a single doctor, which is a significant change for committal. That is set out in schedule 7. In the first instance, can that be the case only where it is absolutely necessary? Secondly, can we have no single recommendation from a doctor at a private hospital when the patient is detained at that hospital? Can we at least seek to adhere to timetables that are already in place? There are powers in the Bill on extension and removal of time limits, which clearly no Parliament in ordinary circumstances would wish to introduce. Can the Minister at least give some sort of guarantee that timetables will be respected as far as possible?