Accession (Immigration and Worker Registration) Regulations 2004

– in the House of Lords at 11:00 am on 23rd April 2004.

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Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Minister of State, Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Criminal Justice and Offender Management) 11:00 am, 23rd April 2004

rose to move, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 25 March be approved [14th Report from the Joint Committee] [2nd Report from the Merits Committee].

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Minister of State, Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Criminal Justice and Offender Management)

My Lords, on 1 May 2004, 10 new countries accede to the European Union. From 1 May, nationals of the new member states will be able to move freely and to take up employment in the United Kingdom. EU enlargement is extremely welcome to this Government, and our country and my right honourable friend the Prime Minister have been at the forefront of calls for early accession of the 10 new member states.

The United Kingdom has always been proud of its tradition of tolerance, and we believe that we will benefit both culturally and economically from new EU citizens. It makes sense for citizens of the new member states to be able to work, contribute to our economy and pay taxes. They will expand the range of skills and supply of workers in the UK economy. It is true that some other member states will not open their labour markets. It is because their markets are less open and less flexible than ours that they perform less well. If one were to ask any of our able economists, they would confirm that it is the loss of the other countries that they choose that path. It is entirely natural that others should wish to come to this country to contribute to and share in our success, and this is to be welcomed.

Enlargement brings wider benefits for the United Kingdom. It will enable fuller co-operation to tackle the threat of terrorism, organised crime and drug trafficking in a co-ordinated and effective way, and it will help to realise Europe's full economic potential. Independent studies estimate that enlargement could increase the United Kingdom's GDP by £1.75 billion in the medium term and create hundreds of thousands of jobs across the European Union. Our workers will enjoy freedom of movement across the world's largest trading bloc, and our companies will enjoy unfettered access to a market of more than 75 million new customers.

That is why all the mainstream political parties saw fit to support the Accession Treaty, which was presented to Parliament last year, and signed on 16 April 2003 in Athens. The Accession Treaty provides that after accession, nationals from all of the 10 new member states, and their families, will be able to travel freely throughout the European Union for any purpose.

Article 39 of the treaty left open the possibility for existing member states to apply transitional measures to regulate access to their labour markets by nationals of eight of the accession states; that is the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Poland, Slovenia and Slovakia. Malta and Cyprus are the exceptions. The European Union (Accessions) Act 2003, which had cross-party support, enables the Accession Treaty to be implemented in the UK. The draft regulations before your Lordships today set out in detail how we propose to do this. They are part of a package, along with other regulations being introduced by my right honourable friends the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the Paymaster General and the Deputy Prime Minister, which will limit the availability of benefits to nationals of the relevant accession countries.

Essentially, the draft regulations before the House today, which I am satisfied are compliant with our obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights, do two things. First, they put into effect, in Part 2, the provisions in European Community legislation giving citizens of the accession states the same free movement rights as citizens of existing member states. This means that they can come to the United Kingdom and, subject to the modifications made in relation to accession state workers requiring registration, they can reside in the UK if they are working, studying, are self-employed, retired and self-sufficient.

Secondly, in Part 3, they set out the worker registration scheme, which was announced on 23 February. The scheme is the means by which the United Kingdom will apply the transitional measures allowed under the derogation provided for by Article 39 of the Accession Treaty and Section 2(2) of the European Union (Accessions) Act 2003 to regulate access to its labour market by citizens of the eight accession states concerned. Workers from these countries, as opposed to people in other economic categories, will generally only have a right to reside in the United Kingdom if they are authorised to work for their employer under the worker registration scheme.

This is achieved in Regulation 4, which gives effect to the derogation to regulate access to the United Kingdom's labour market by accession state nationals. It provides that these nationals will have no right to reside in the UK as work-seekers, unless they are self-sufficient. This—together with the other regulations which are being laid separately by my right honourable friends the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the Paymaster General and the Deputy Prime Minister—achieves our policy aim, which was announced to the House in February, of ensuring that those who come here from the accession countries but do not work will not be able to exploit our benefits system.

In line with this, the International Organisation for Migration is launching a Home Office-funded information campaign in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Poland. This will communicate a simple message to people in those countries that if they come to the United Kingdom to work, they will generally have to register and they cannot claim benefits if they are not working.

The Accession Treaty allows us to put in place the transitional arrangements for a period of up to five years, with a review after two years. In the case of serious disturbance to our labour market, we may apply to extend that for up to another two years, although we do not expect that we will have to do so. The experience of Spain and Portugal acceding to the European Union suggests that accession will benefit the economies of the accession countries and that, for example, disparities in wage levels will reduce over time. The United Kingdom has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the EU—almost half that of France and Germany—and there are currently more than 550,000 vacancies across the UK labour market. However, we will monitor the impact of accession on the UK labour market carefully through the worker registration scheme and the Labour Force Survey. That will ensure that, if there are any adverse impacts, we can take appropriate measures in response.

I will say a few words about how the arrangements will work in practice. It is not a scheme to stop immigration. The migrants will have free movement here as in other member states. The scheme allows us to monitor the impact of accession on the labour market, as, I hope, I have made clear. Since we announced the scheme, we have consulted and have benefited from discussion with and contributions from employers, including the CBI and the Recruitment & Employment Confederation, as well as the TUC, the NFU, and the Health and Safety Executive, among others.

The key provision in the scheme is Regulation 7(2), which provides that nationals of the eight relevant accession states who are not exempt will be required to apply to register under the worker registration scheme as soon as they start a job and within one month at the latest. Under Regulation 8, the application will need to be supported by a one-off payment of £50. That is to cover the costs of administering the scheme.

Once payment has cleared, Home Office case workers will process the application. They will do that by confirming that the applicant is a national of one of the eight accession countries who requires registration under Regulation 2. The regulations provide for a number of exemptions, to which I will turn in due course. Case workers will check that the applicant's national ID card or passport is genuine and that the person has provided evidence of employment.

Regulation 8 requires that the applicant is then issued with a secure registration card, containing a reference number and a photograph, and a registration certificate authorising them to work for a particular employer. Regulation 8(10) provides that a copy of the registration certificate will be sent to the employer. Regulation 7(5) provides that the registration certificate will be valid while the person is working for that employer. It will expire when the registered person ceases working for that employer. If they change employers, they will need to apply for a new registration certificate to authorise them to work for the new employer.

In line with the accession treaty, workers who have worked legally in the United Kingdom for an uninterrupted period of 12 months or more will be freely admitted to the labour market and will not therefore be subject to the registration scheme. We have drafted the regulations so that, if any intervening periods in which the person was not legally working do not exceed 30 days, they can be discounted. That responds to representations that we received asking us to make sure that workers were not at risk from unfair dismissal after 11 months' employment. It also ensures that a person cannot abuse their worker status by working for short periods but then claiming full worker status after 12 months. After 12 months' uninterrupted employment, workers from the accession states will be entitled to the same rights as workers from any of the countries in the European economic area. For ease of reference, those provisions are set out in Regulation 2(8).

The regulations do not contain a requirement for workers or employers to inform us if a worker leaves employment but does not take on new work. That is because we have been conscious throughout of the need to avoid placing a burden upon employers unless absolutely necessary. In this case, we do not think it necessary. As I have explained, under Regulation 7(5), the registration certificate is valid only while the person is working; it does not itself confer any additional benefits on an individual and will need to be corroborated with other evidence in respect of any application for benefits.

So, what does the scheme mean for employers? As I have explained, our aim was to ensure that the scheme was as unbureaucratic and simple for employers as possible. The onus will be on the individual to register, as it is in their interest to do so. Under Regulation 9, employers will simply need to check that that has been done. The employer will do that by checking within one month of employing someone that the person is a national of one of the eight accession states and that he or she is required to register. Under Regulation 9(2), the employer then simply has to take a copy of the application form or other document proving exemption. That will provide them with a statutory defence and will authorise the employer to employ the person until receipt of the registration certificate.

When an application has been considered, we are required under Regulation 8 to send the employer a copy of the registration certificate, or, in the unlikely event that the application is refused, a copy of the refusal notice. Under Regulation 9(1), an employer who employs an unregistered accession state worker in breach of the regulations will be guilty of an offence, but, as I hope I have made clear, registration is a straightforward transaction, and there is no reason to think that large numbers of workers or employers will not comply. Our objective in running this scheme will be to encourage compliance and not to burden or penalise either employers or workers.

I indicated earlier that I would explain in more detail how the scheme will apply for different categories of applicant, in particular students, part-time workers and those employed by agencies or labour providers on a short-term or temporary basis. Students will be required to register if they are working. They will then be entitled to the same treatment as other EU citizens who work under the EC workers' directive. It ensures that students can accrue workers' rights if they work for 12 months without interruption.

Part-time workers will also be required to register. They are just as important to the responsiveness and flexibility of our labour market as full-time employees. We do not believe that it is in the United Kingdom's interests to rule out financiers, bankers and medical consultants from accession states who may want to work a limited number of hours a week. We have been conscious of the fact that if we were to prevent anyone from the accession states working for fewer than a specified number of hours a week, we would risk creating another class of illegal worker, not to mention added complexity for employers.

We are aware that by doing this we enable those who are registered to work part time under the scheme, and are on low incomes and do very small amounts of work, to apply for both in-work support and job seeker's allowance. To ensure that that does not become a means for people to access the labour market without contributing fully, we have put in place a number of safeguards in the way in which we operate the scheme.

First, we will look carefully at applications where a person is working fewer than 10 hours a week, and for little economic remuneration. Where the activity does not appear to be effective and genuine, we will refuse registration. Secondly, job seeker's allowance will be granted only on the condition that the worker continues to look for full-time work and takes it if found. Thirdly, we will keep that arrangement under close review. If there is any evidence of abuse we will consider bringing back a new provision for Parliament's consideration.

Under Regulation 5(2), those who work in short-term or temporary assignments for agencies or other labour providers will be required to register under the scheme during the period in which they are working for an authorised employer in the UK. For the purposes of the worker registration scheme, under Regulation 1(2)(g), the employer will be the agency or labour provider that pays the workers' wages. In practice, workers should apply to register as soon as they start working for an employer. They will be authorised to work until they cease working for that employer.

I should now like to turn briefly to the exemptions contained in Regulation 2. The regulations provide for a number of categories of people who will not have to register under the scheme in order to have access to the UK labour market from 1 May. That is because the Accession Treaty limits the way in which we can apply restrictions to regulate our labour market. One restriction is that member states may not introduce measures that are more restrictive for members of the accession states than the position when the Accession Treaty was signed in April 2003.

For that reason, under Regulation 2(2), those who had leave to enter or remain in the United Kingdom before accession and could work legally will not be required to register after 1 May. Similarly, under Regulations 2(3) and 2(4), those who have already been working legally in this country for 12 months before 1 May—for example, under a work permit—and those who are working here legally and do not change jobs will not be required to register.

Regulation 2(5) provides that accession state nationals who are dual citizens of the United Kingdom, Switzerland or any other country that is also a member of the European economic area other than the eight accession states will not be required to register for the period in which they hold dual nationality.

Regulation 2(6) provides that family members of Swiss or EEA nationals, including those from the accession states who are self-sufficient, retired or are in the UK to work or study, will not have to register. Again, that is because we cannot, under Community law and the Accession Treaty, derogate from those people's rights to work. We are obliged to ensure that the rights of family members of accession state nationals are not disadvantaged by the transitional measures that we are introducing. For example, the American wife of a Polish doctor who is here pursuant to a work permit can already work in the United Kingdom without restriction under the Immigration (European Economic Area) Regulations 2000. If she were to arrive after 1 May, her position would be the same.

Similarly, under the terms of the Accession Treaty, there is a right of free movement to engage in self-employment. That means that no member state can impose restrictions on self-employed persons while they are working solely in a self-employed capacity. Here, I have to acknowledge that there is an omission in Regulation 2(6)(b), which should also provide for the family members of self-employed persons from accession state countries to be exempt from the scheme. We will correct that by means of an amending instrument under Section 2(2) of the European Communities Act 1972 to come into force on 1 June. By making the correction quickly, we will ensure that no one will be disadvantaged in practice.

Regulation 2(6) provides that workers who are posted here to provide services in the United Kingdom on behalf of an employer who is not established in the United Kingdom will not be required to register. We took that decision because EU companies are free to provide services throughout the EU, including the UK, and because the ECJ ruled in the Vander Elst judgment of 1993–94 that cross-border service provision should be facilitated and not hindered. Normally, posted workers are in the UK for short periods of time and continue to receive salaries in their home country.

In summary, the worker registration scheme has been designed to reflect and not to hinder the flexibility and creativity of our labour market. I must stress that we do not seek to prevent people from the accession countries from working, provided that they comply with the registration scheme. But it is important to monitor that activity and to ensure that if they are not working they do not have access to our social security system.

The alternative to those measures is to restrict access to the United Kingdom labour market in the way in which other countries have. We do not believe that that is in the workers or the United Kingdom's best interests. It could drive individuals underground by creating an illegal underclass, and it would not help to fill the half a million job vacancies that the United Kingdom currently carries. It is far better, we believe, to give free movement a chance with regulation and careful monitoring and to take action if and when any adverse impacts are detected.

I apologise for the length of my speech, but I have tried to deal in some detail with all those matters that I know noble Lords have had anxiety about. I hope that I have therefore obviated the need for any questions. I commend the regulations to the House.

Moved, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 25 March be approved [14th Report from the Joint Committee] [2nd Report from the Merits Committee].—(Baroness Scotland of Asthal.)

Photo of Baroness Anelay of St Johns Baroness Anelay of St Johns Conservative 11:30 am, 23rd April 2004

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her introduction and explanation. She had no need to apologise for the length of her speech. However, because there are so many problems with this package of regulations, there will have to be significant questions. The Minister has already acknowledged that the regulations are faulty and need amendment. Any criticisms that I have will be in a far longer speech than I would ever normally make on regulations. I bear in mind that this is not the Minister's own departmental responsibility. From the experience that this House has of the noble Baroness's work, I suspect that the matter would have been handled far better if it were.

The further enlargement of the EU takes place in eight days' time. It has been on the agenda for years. Britain's strategy for the free movement of labour that impacts on British jobs and our public services should have been clear, consistent and planned in advance. The Government simply failed to address those concerns until the 11th hour. Some of the result is before us today.

When the Minister made a Statement on these matters in February, I gave a general welcome to the proposal to ensure that those persons who qualify to come to the UK to work after 1 May should be under a duty to register their employment. We were surprised that the Government sought to follow another route rather than the tried and tested one of work permits. As the Government have found, that route has had its difficulties, but at least it is a route that is known to both those who come here and the employers who have to operate it. However, the Government chose another scheme.

I looked at the IND website today, where confusion abounds. If I were trying to find out what on earth will be going on next week, either as an employer or as a prospective employee, my heart would sink. On 23 February, we also welcomed the essential part of the package outlined by the Minister; that is, those who are required to register for work should not be able immediately to claim social security, child benefit and work-related benefits. Their access to social housing should be restricted. In her opening remarks, the Minister was right to refer to those other orders.

I said at that stage that, despite my general welcome for the principle, I would of course need to consider all of the orders carefully. Indeed, I note that the second report of the Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee of the House makes the point in paragraph 4 that,

"Members of the House indicated that the House would wish to consider carefully the orders giving effect to the announcement to ensure that the full implications of the Government's policy were recognised".

Today we have only one set of regulations before us—the Home Office regulations on worker registration—on which the Minister has to make a presentation; her colleagues will present others. But the Government have to be aware that this has to be seen in the round, as a package. So a legitimate question for the House to ask the Minister today is: when will other orders be laid? I understand they are to be introduced under the negative resolution procedure but we have not seen them officially.

The regulations prevent workers from accession countries obtaining benefits next week. They are an essential part of the policy package. Indeed, the House is being asked to sign a blank cheque; we are being asked to sign up to the whole package having seen only part. The missing orders must be an important part of the package because the Prime Minister made so much of them in the interview that he gave to the BBC before the Statement. After all, he said that they give the grounds for throwing people out of the country if they do not comply with the rules. That is a very severe action to take against any person, particularly if he or she is destitute. It was a serious allegation made by the Prime Minister about the implications of the orders. We have not yet seen the proof of that.

I asked questions about the legal basis for the possible expulsion of people; I did not receive a reply. My noble friend Lord Waddington pursued that issue; he did not receive a reply about the legal basis. I am still waiting, of course, for the Government to explain what will be the expulsion rules.

I wonder whether the Department for Work and Pensions has kept the Home Office and the Minister informed on all these matters. I unashamedly nagged the Government Whip's Office on this issue—more than once a day, all week—and made a thorough, more than usual pain of myself. I wish to place on record my profound thanks to one of the officials in that office who has worked incredibly hard this week, on behalf of the whole House, in contacting the DWP and other departments. As a result, we were able to obtain draft copies of the important orders, which were placed on my desk late last night. I came in rather early this morning in order to have two or three hours in which to consider them.

Although we have to be extremely grateful—I am sure the Minister is—that we are so well served by the officials of the House, the difficulty is that the whole House has not been able to see the orders. Further, organisations outwith the House have not necessarily been able to see and consider them. Although I have made some telephone calls and visited various websites, the results have been rather limited. Will the Minister give the House an assurance today that the accompanying orders, the rest of the package, will be laid in time for the benefit rules to be legitimately in place by 1 May? I believe that it is essential the House should have that assurance.

I note that the Social Security Advisory Committee has been consulted on the Social Security (Habitual Residence) Amendment Regulations. According to its website, its consultation ended on 20 April. When I looked at that exemplary website—as I have not been a member of that committee for seven years I can say that without being partial to it—I noticed that the memorandum from the DWP to the Social Security Advisory Committee ran to 156 pages. I confess that I did not read them all—"Tut, tut", says the Minister—but, as one tends to have a quick look at the end of such documents, I looked at the last eight or so pages which summarised the accessibility to benefits for various categories of people, primarily from the A8 countries. I have to say that it reads like a mess; it will be so confusing. I find it very difficult indeed to follow.

Although this is a DWP matter, I have to ask today whether the Government are sure that the regulations which will be introduced as a result of these orders will have a good legal basis. My faint memory from seven years ago is that if the Government want to introduce an ineligibility from benefits on 1 May, they should have had the regulations in place about 21 days in advance. If they did not, they would be unable to apply that ineligibility. I am concerned about that.

I am also concerned about when we will see the report from the Social Security Advisory Committee. I make no allegation against the committee—I am sure that it has turned round the report in the fastest time possible—but can the Minister tell the House when the SSAC reported to the Secretary of State and whether the Government know when they will be able to publish its advice more broadly so that it may be taken into account when we consider the orders, if and when they are laid?

I noted on the SSAC website that the secretariat page states that,

"the legislation to implement the UK's workers' registration scheme that will be an integral part of these proposals has not been made as we commence our public consultation exercise, and only limited information about how the scheme will operate has been made available. Accordingly, the Explanatory Memorandum does not provide the complete picture of the proposed changes to the conditions of entitlement to the income-related benefits, and an account of how the new arrangements will operate in practice, that we would normally expect to receive from the Department"— that department being the DWP. So a consultation exercise has been carried out by the SSAC on draft orders that we and the public have not yet seen, and the SSAC has stated, in effect, that the consultation has to be flawed because it does not know how the regulations today will take effect. It really does sound a mess.

I turn now to the details of the order. It is important that we should have clarity about the procedure for those who come to work in this country. We welcome people who come here with skills and contribute to our economy. I have made that clear before; I make it clear again. They may come here after 1 May from the new accession countries. The Minister tried very hard to give the House as much information as possible and I am grateful to her. She explained very clearly some of the more impenetrable parts of the regulations and the Explanatory Memorandum and I should like to place my gratitude on the record.

I always think of these issues in terms of, "What if it is me coming here and it is happening to me?". First, can the Minister say whether or not the team that is to put the system into effect has been recruited? Are the staff of the new unit in place so that they can process the applications for registration? Have the forms for registration already been printed and are they available? Are the guidance notes for both employers and applicants readily available? Have personnel been properly trained to issue the registration forms and take the right decisions? What kind of workload do the Government estimate will be handled by the new unit?

There has been a dispute over the numbers involved over the past few weeks. It is not so much a matter of the numbers from the point of view of whether or not we are aghast at how many people will come here—different people have different views, but my concern is whether the Government's unit can handle whatever the numbers may be. The Minister will know that originally the Government estimated that an additional 5,000 to 13,000 migrants a year could come to Britain from the accession countries. Is that still their view? Are they aware that estimates from embassies suggest that the figure is more likely to be 50,000 or more? But all we really need to know is whether or not the systems are in place to cope with whatever level of application is made.

The Explanatory Memorandum states that a fee of £50 will be charged for all first time applications to register with the scheme and that this will cover the administrative costs of running the scheme. Whose administrative costs—the Government's or the employers'?

Paragraph 8 refers to the procedure for applying for a registration card and registration certificate. If I, as a migrant, come here after 1 May, will the application forms be held by my employer? Where do they get them from? How long will it take them to get access to the forms if they do not stock them on site? What records will need to be kept by my employer? Will it simply be the registration card and certificate, or will he have to keep a record of the proof that I have provided to the Secretary of State that I, the new worker, have a right to be here? How much evidence does the employer have to keep?

The Minister referred to paragraph 9(3)(b), which gives a defence to an employer against an accusation of improperly employing a worker under this system if the employer has taken and retained a copy of the registration certificate. How is the employer to prove paragraph 9(3)(a)? What documentary evidence will suffice, or will all evidence be sufficient?

The noble Baroness referred to the system as it affects students who come here and work. I agree with her entirely—it may well be that students will work here and contribute to the economy. Could she give us a little more information about what happens after the first year, when they have been granted a registration certificate? How will they be treated then? What if I come here and my application for registration is refused? The noble Baroness referred to a refusal notice. Does that give reasons why my application has been refused? Will there be any form of review or appeal against that refusal?

Let us assume that I have a job offer from an employer and I arrive here on 1 May to take up my post on 4 May, smartly after the bank holiday. How will I know about all this new procedure? I am coming here fresh with my skills, eager to do excellent work, perhaps in the National Health Service. What information have the Government made available overseas to those from the new accession countries to tell them of the rules, particularly the rules about ineligibility for benefits? Until the Statement on 23 February, accession countries would have expected that no restrictions would be imposed upon them.

My view overall has simply been that it is important for all concerned—migrant workers who can perform such a valuable service in this country and employers who need to be able to employ them legally—that this system is up and running in an efficient and effective manner by 1 May, in just eight days' time. The Minister's response to our questions will give us an indication of whether we can have confidence that the Government have sufficiently thought through the registration and benefits package. My reaction on seeing the shambles of the preparation for the benefits package, in particular, make me wonder whether that is the case. I do not envy either the employers or prospective employees who will have to fight their way through this new system which, at the moment, seems full of unresolved problems.

Photo of Lord McNally Lord McNally Shadow Minister (Broadcasting), Culture, Media & Sport, Deputy Leader, House of Lords

My Lords, I remind the House that some 15 minutes ago the Minister ended her 20-minute introduction by saying that because she had been so full in her explanation, she hoped that that would do away with any reason for questions. In that masterful dissection provided by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, never has a ministerial wish been so cruelly disappointed so quickly. I advise the Minister not to forget that the Conservatives are broadly supportive of the measure that she has brought before the House, so the Lord help her when the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, opposes a Motion before the House.

I associate myself with the thanks of the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, regarding the Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee report. It is useful; these are the first tentative steps by the House to grapple with the avalanche of statutory instruments that result from modern government. It bodes well that they draw the House's attention to this as a matter of public policy, and indeed it is.

I also welcome the Minister's reminder that enlargement has had all-party support. Some of the last-minute doubts about the implications of enlargement are a bit rum. The truth is that enlargement should bring benefits to this country, as the Minister indicated, in terms of not just our own prosperity and security but the exciting prospects, as we have seen in Portugal, Spain and Greece, of seeing new members increase their own prosperity. As we found in those examples—surprise, surprise—people do not simply up sticks on a whim but would much prefer to nation-build in their own countries and make them prosperous, and when they do, they provide us with markets.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, indicated, the problem with these regulations and the other measures that will follow is that they are in response to what the Home Secretary said is a real challenge to make sure that we do not act as a beacon in relation to benefits, housing and social services. Our worry is about the motivation. As the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, quite rightly said, all the evidence is that these are knee-jerk, back-of-the-envelope, ill thought out and ill prepared proposals. They are a recipe for chaos, such as we have seen in the past. It does the Government no credit that they should approach matters in this way. We see it in so much of the legislation, such as the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc). Bill—about the sixth Bill from the Government in seven years. I am afraid that the Home Office frequently gives the impression of pulling every lever desperately in the hope that somehow a solution will emerge.

There is also a real danger, which the regulations reflect. On "News 24" last night on the BBC, there was a discussion on the power of the tabloid press. The assembled journalists came to the conclusion that, of all Ministers, the Home Secretary was most prone to respond to tabloid campaigns by the Sun or the Daily Mail. When I heard that, I thought that he had a real rival in No. 10, but that is for another debate.

The problem is not only the very detailed criticism that the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, outlined but the indication that it is all part of a Home Office approach that either desperately pulls any lever available or responds, in a panic, to a Daily Mail editorial or a Sun headline. We deserve better of our policy-makers than this. I say that with some humility; as I have said before, I have heard the implications that it is all incompetence and wickedness on the part of the Government. Then there is a change of government and while the arguments change, the problems remain.

Immigration has been, for 40 years and more, a Rubik's cube for successive governments, appearing to deal with one problem and finding another. It is also worth reminding ourselves that in dealing with problems of immigration and our various attempts, in the main, we have remained, under successive governments, a tolerant society that has accepted, profited and benefited from the immigrant communities that joined us. It is always worth reminding ourselves that Enoch Powell was wrong about rivers of blood. But we also realise that modern immigration throws up new problems. The impact of organised crime has to be taken into account, as has the fact that the English language is seen not only in terms of our own society but as a gateway to the modern world. There are particular problems of communities such as the Roma in eastern Europe.

It is not a matter of criticising the Government who are trying to grapple with very real problems, but we are worried that this is yet another panic attack in the Home Office. It is trying to deal short term with a perceived problem which has been suggested, to a great extent, by tabloid hysteria, and it is coming up with solutions that are complex and bureaucratic and, one suspects—if the past record is anything to go by—it has few of the personnel and little of the machinery in place to put them into practice.

I echo other noble Lords who have said that we will not divide the House on this matter. However, I hope that the Minister does not thank me for my support, because I have received from our own excellent research department a list of about 20 unanswered questions that mirror many of those that were put so incisively by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay. As always, the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, is extremely persuasive at the Dispatch Box, but she has a bum brief today.

Photo of Lord Dholakia Lord Dholakia Shadow Minister, Home Affairs, Party Chair, Liberal Democrats

My Lords, perhaps I may seek further clarification from the Minister on Regulation 4(3) which is to be found in part 2. I do so because the Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee identified the need carefully to consider the orders giving effect to the announcement to ensure that the full implications of the Government's policy were recognised.

The Explanatory Note on Regulation 4 states that,

"nationals from the relevant accession States who come to the United Kingdom to seek work during the transitional period will not have a right to reside in the United Kingdom by virtue of that work seeker status. This is, however, without prejudice to their right to reside in the United Kingdom whilst looking for work if they are self-sufficient".

It would be helpful to know what evidence would satisfy the Home Office that individuals are self-sufficient.

I refer noble Lords to previous immigration legislation in this country. At one time, an immigrant was required to have £500,000 in his bank account as evidence of being a person of independent means. Regulation 4 is likely to be unhelpful for those coming to seek work in this country. It would be helpful if the Home Office were to put on record the qualifying criteria for self-sufficiency.

I turn to my second point. The Explanatory Note on Regulation 4 says of those seeking work:

"Whilst they require registration neither they nor their family members will be entitled to a residence permit or document".

Will they be entitled to registration when work is found? When that work is found, would they be entitled to bring their families to this country? Would they be entitled to benefits if they became unemployed?

Photo of Lord Avebury Lord Avebury Shadow Minister, Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs

My Lords, the Minister said that she hoped that her long speech would answer all noble Lords' questions. My noble friend has already disabused her of that notion. I am afraid that I have a further question, which I thought that the noble Baroness would have been likely to answer; namely, the implications of the Sutton report as regards what she has just told your Lordships.

As I understand it, the debacle in Sheffield—that is not too strong a word for what happened there—concerned people who will be affected by the new regime, except for those who come from Bulgaria and Romania. The Sheffield office of the IND was looking at the handling of European Community Association Agreement applications, which comprised accession countries, plus Bulgaria and Romania, but not Malta or Cyprus. As the noble Baroness mentioned, the new order does not cover Malta and Cyprus. Will all the cases that would have been dealt with under that regime be covered by the statutory instrument before us now? The Minister's answer will be germane to the final question of the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay. She asked if the Government would be able to handle the numbers who will enter under this scheme and whether the systems to cope with them would be in place. Manifestly, the systems were not in place to cope with the ECAA applications. Will the people in Sheffield who failed so dismally to cope with the increase in number of ECAA applications be the same ones who deal with the applications made under this scheme? Will the Minister indicate whether we will have a separate opportunity to discuss the Sutton report? That seems to be of fundamental importance in deciding whether the Immigration and Nationality directorate is capable of coping with any new burdens that are placed on it, let alone the ones that are specified in these regulations. The Minister may snigger, but this is not a laughing matter.

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Minister of State, Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Criminal Justice and Offender Management)

My Lords, I am not sniggering. The noble Lord is not right. We have tried extremely hard to deal seriously with this matter. I was merely shaking my head in disbelief that the noble Lord, who knows so much about this issue, could possibly think that that would be our position.

Photo of Lord Avebury Lord Avebury Shadow Minister, Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs

My Lords, I do think that. The Sutton report raised serious issues that have not yet been addressed. The Government have been in possession of it since 31 March. I know that there will be a Question on the Order Paper next week about the Sutton report, but we have not had a debate about it. We have no idea whether all the recommendations of Kenneth Sutton have been implemented. If they have, what impact will they have on the new scheme that is now being introduced? In her intervention, the Minister did not immediately say whether the work involved in administering the scheme would be undertaken by the same people in Sheffield who failed so dismally with the ECAA scheme. I hope that the Minister will reassure me that we will have an opportunity to go thoroughly into the issue and that we will not have to be content with a Starred Question next week.

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Minister of State, Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Criminal Justice and Offender Management) 12:00 pm, 23rd April 2004

My Lords, I begin by apologising for rising at the end of the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord McNally. I had unfortunately forgotten that my reply should follow all contributions and not just the first three. I apologise for that.

In accordance with his stricture, I shall not thank the noble Lord for his remarks. I shall however thank the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, for hers and for her kind remarks about me. I reassure her that the new system is not a shambles. A lot of hard work has gone into making sure that it is as clear, succinct and as practical as possible. I know that the noble Baroness has a high regard for practicality, as indeed do I. It is important to know that everything is in place for this system to work.

I hope that the noble Baroness will forgive me if I answer some of her questions in the wrong order because I wish to remind her of my comments on Regulation 9. I know that she is concerned about the way in which employers will be able to gain access to information. Employers will be able to play their part by checking within one month of employing someone whether a person is a national of one of the eight accession states and that he or she has registered under Regulation 9(2). The employer has then simply to take a copy of the application form or other document proving exemption. That would provide them with their statutory defence and authorise them to employ the person until receipt of the registration certificate. When the application has been considered, the Government are required under Regulation 8 to send the employer a copy of the registration certificate or, in the unlikely event that application is refused, a copy of the refusal notice. Under Regulation 9(1), the only time when employers would be in difficulties would be if they employed an unregistered accession state worker in breach of the rules. We have tried to make the legislation as simple as possible so that it is not too burdensome on employers.

I return to the noble Baroness's questions, which I shall take one by one, before turning to the questions asked by the noble Lords, Lord McNally, Lord Dholakia and Lord Avebury.

The noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, asked what systems were in place to ensure that we can cope with the applications on 1 May. I assure the noble Baroness and the House that we have taken measures to ensure that we can cope; we have implemented a planning capability of up to 250 applications per day. If there is an early surge of applications in the first weeks, we have contingency plans in place to draft in more trained staff without impacting on other areas of the business.

In relation to records, I have said that employers should take a copy and retain it. The obligation is on the worker to register, not on the employer, and we believe that balance to be right. The noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord McNally, suggested that the regulations had been cobbled together; I assure the noble Baroness and the noble Lord that they were not. The accession treaty specifically provided for these regulations to be produced in order to set out whether and on what terms we could access our labour market. We believe that we have done that in good time.

I am assured by my noble friends and colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions that the standard consultation requirements have been fully complied with in respect of the DWP regulations. It is our understanding that the advice of the Social Services Advisory Committee will be published without undue delay. That is what we have been assured. The draft accession regulations were laid before Parliament on 25 March, as noble Lords will I hope know.

The Department for Work and Pensions made draft Social Security (Habitual Residence) Amendment Regulations 2004 available on 18 March; the Social Security Advisory Committee has consulted on those draft regulations and will produce a report. We have always made clear what we intend the regulations to do and believe that the package will come into force, as planned, on 1 May. It was decided, however, that it was inappropriate to publish details of the scheme until it was approved by Parliament. The scheme will not be operational until 1 May—as soon as workers start a new job, on or after the 1 May, but not before. To avoid confusion, we have decided to make the application form available a week before the scheme goes live.

The noble Baroness asked, quite properly, about preparation—how people would get information about the new rules and what other countries had been told. In relation to A8 nationals, a publicity leaflet has been translated into the languages of the eight states and made available on the IND website. It is available at ports of entry to the UK, in public inquiry offices, Jobcentre Plus offices and citizens advice bureaux. The A8 embassies in the UK and the UK embassies in the accession states were also given the information. To the CBI, the TUC, the British Council and the UKCOSA, the distribution will begin on 27 April, as soon as the regulations have been approved by Parliament.

There will be posters at all ports of entry and public inquiry offices, which will advise nationals to check whether they are required to register for work. The application form and guidance on how to complete the form has been designed and drafted; that information will be available on websites and from our distribution centres on 27 April, subject, once again, to parliamentary approval. I make that point because the noble Baroness and other noble Lords will know that in the past we have been criticised for doing things before having parliamentary approval. We believe that we have behaved with propriety in that regard.

The IOM publicity campaign in four accession countries, TV, radio and face-to-face messages, was launched on 23 April. On 1 April, we held a briefing session with the 10 accession country ambassadors, and the Foreign Office has sent a letter to all ambassadors as a follow-up to that meeting. As to employers, there is guidance on how to prevent illegal working—short guidance sent out on 16 April to all PAYE-registered employers in the UK, and on the IND website from 16 March. More detailed and comprehensive guidance for employers was available on the website from 21 April on preventing illegal working. Employers will be able to request hard copies of the longer guidance in early May from the employers' helpline. I shall give the number for that helpline, in case anyone wants it; it is 0845 0106677.

As for asylum seekers, we have written to all accession nationals supported by NASS or by a local authority under the interim provisions, informing them that support will cease on 30 April and advising them of their options. All letters terminating support for that group were sent out on 16 April.

The noble Baroness asked about numbers. We have been clear that making predictions about numbers is difficult; however, we do know that we have more than 500,000 job vacancies, for which we welcome people who want to come and work hard and contribute. We are taking that action to ensure that people cannot come and not work and try to exploit our benefits. I hope from what I have just said, the noble Baroness will see that we believe that the provisions will enable us to meet the numbers, whether they are as high as she suggested or, indeed, are significantly lower. The noble Baroness also asked about removal, but I shall deal with that slightly later, and respond to the questions that she asked about the other practical steps, as that would be very much in the flow.

Noble Lords asked about training. A dedicated project team has been set up to deliver the necessary accommodation, IT systems, staff recruitment and training required to ensure that the scheme is up and running on 1 May. A dedicated casework team of 42 staff has been recruited. Training and accommodation for the team and the IT systems are in place. Training of new staff began on 19 April. The forms have been printed and will be made available on 27 April, as I have said, as will the guidance to employers. That issue will be very much part of the training. Section 8 checks will prevent illegal working. We have designed a new bespoke IT system, which successfully completed user acceptance testing last week.

I have dealt already with the forms, and I hope that that satisfies noble Lords. The noble Baroness asked what will happen with students after 12 months working. Students who are working will be required to register as workers; we believe that to be the most transparent way in which to do things. They will have full access to the labour market when they register. That does not breach the standstill clause in the EC directive on students, as students are currently able to access the labour market for 20 hours or less in term time and full time during breaks. Students who are working, who have registered under the worker registration scheme, will therefore be in an advantageous position. That will be a considerable improvement on their current status.

Prior to accession, students from accession states were subject to immigration control and had to obtain leave to remain in the UK to study. That is a much more burdensome process than the registration scheme that we have devised. They will also be required to be self-sufficient. From 1 May, they will be able to access the labour market and accrue workers' rights as well as student rights. Under the European directive, students are required to be self-sufficient, but they will be eligible for the same in-work support as other registered workers. That means that they can get child benefit, tax credit, housing benefit and council tax benefit, if they work. When students have been registered for 12 months and have accrued their workers' rights, if they wish to work they will be required to register and will be entitled to full EEA workers' rights. I hope that noble Lords will think that that is a major advantage to them.

I have already dealt with the suggestion by the noble Lord, Lord McNally, that I have a very difficult brief and might not be able to answer these questions.

Photo of Lord McNally Lord McNally Shadow Minister (Broadcasting), Culture, Media & Sport, Deputy Leader, House of Lords

My Lords, I know it is a difficult brief but I have never doubted the noble Baroness's ability to answer on it.

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Minister of State, Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Criminal Justice and Offender Management)

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord McNally. I hope that your Lordships will accept from what I have said that these are not panic measures. They have been well thought through and carefully carried out.

The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, is rightly concerned about the test for self-sufficiency. A judgment will need to be made on the facts of the matter and each case will be different. In general, if a person does not seek social security benefits or other forms of benefit as a result of destitution then he is very unlikely to fall foul of these provisions. We are not seeking to set some extraordinarily high threshold. If a person is looking after himself, is not a drain on public funds and is meeting his everyday needs then we think that it would be reasonable to say that he is self-sufficient. Obviously if a person seeks to claim benefits that may be an indication that that is not the case. In any event, we shall look at this on a case-by-case basis. I hope that reassures the noble Lord.

We are not saying that we want to exclude one type of worker or that only the most financially advantaged should come here. We believe that a broad spectrum of people can make a valuable contribution and should be encouraged to come here and take up work if there is work available for them to do. I hope that I have made it clear that if they do take up work they will be entitled to work-related benefits. We think that is fit, proper and decent.

The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, asked me whether it will be the same team in Sheffield. I assure him that the same team will not be responsible for the ECAA applications. I hope that reassures him. My smile was simply an expression of warmth at the ability of this House to misconstrue this Government. The noble Lord said this is a very serious matter. We do take it seriously and have tried to get it right.

The noble Baroness asked whether people will be told why they are refused. If an applicant is refused on the grounds that he is not a worker then he can continue to do what he is doing, for example, voluntary work, without the need for registration. He would not have access to tax credits or child benefit. If an applicant is refused on the grounds that it is suspected that he is not really from an Accession-8 country and may not be legally entitled to work in the United Kingdom and if the employer continues to employ him, despite receiving notification of refusal from the Home Office, that employer may be guilty of employing an illegal worker. If the employer knows that the person is not entitled to work in the UK then any defence established by checking his documents will be forfeited.

The noble Baroness asked whether there will be an appeal. The short answer to that is, "No". We hope that the vast majority of applications will be successful. But if the applicant is not an A8 national worker requiring registration, including if there is suspicion that the passport ID is not genuine, then WP(UK) will refuse the application, refund the fee and send a notice of refusal to the applicant and the employer. If the applicant does not appear to be a worker the application will be refused and the applicant will not be permitted to enter the labour force. If there is a lack of evidence of employment or a mismatch between the person's identity and the employment document application then WP(UK) will contact the applicant to obtain further information. Missing information will not be the ground for absolute removal.

I hope that the removal of current EEA nationals is the last issue. I have dealt with all the others from the noble Baroness. Noble Lords will know that that is possible under the Immigration (EEA) Regulations 2000. Under the Immigration (EEA) Regulations 2000 as applied by the Accession (Immigration and Worker Registration) Regulations 2004 where an A8 individual is not working in accordance with the worker registration scheme or is not otherwise exercising treaty rights, that is that he is not self-sufficient, self-employed or something like that, if he creates an unreasonable burden on public funds then he may be liable for removal. It has been a matter of public policy that this should take place on grounds of public security and public health. The powers of detention and removal under the Immigration Act 1971 still apply. That would be the route that would be taken to remove someone. If he had not clearly demonstrated that he was self-supporting or self-sufficient we could use the 1971 rules to do it.

I think that the last issue raised by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, was about the Sutton report. I do not detract from the importance of these issues. Whether there will be a debate on them will be a matter for the usual channels. I would not like to minimise the gravity of the problems effecting eastern European applicants that have arisen in Sheffield. My right honourable friends have already given a full account of the measures that we are prepared to take and will be taking in relation to that matter.

I hope that noble Lords will see from the explanation that I have just given that an enormous amount of work was put into these regulations by my right honourable friend the previous Minister of State responsible for asylum and immigration issues, Beverley Hughes. I pay tribute to her work on this. She worked incredibly hard and the fact that we have these regulations in good order is to a large extent because of her work.

Photo of Baroness Anelay of St Johns Baroness Anelay of St Johns Conservative

My Lords, I intervene with great hesitation and humility. The Minister has taken us to task on several occasions and has said that these regulations are in good order and that there has been no cobbling together. But does she remember that when she introduced the regulations she explained to the House that they are not accurate and will have to be amended? Is that still the case?

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Minister of State, Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Criminal Justice and Offender Management)

My Lords, I made it clear that they have to be amended in one regard. I shall be perfectly frank about how this matter arose. It was as a result of the lawyers going back through the details. When we examined them, it was found that the dependants of those who were self-employed had been omitted. It was a mere oversight. That is the correction that we want to make. I think that the lawyers in the department should be given credit for the acuity with which they looked at these regulations. They identified the problem early, they notified us of it and it will be cured. The noble Baroness and others have said that this is a shambles or a mess. I hope that I have been able to assure the House that those adjectives are not accurate in relation to the scheme that we have put in place. The credit for those who have worked hard on these regulations is well founded. I hope that, even if the noble Baroness cannot agree with me on that, she will agree that she now has more information about how this scheme will work. I commend the regulations to the House.

On Question, Motion agreed to.