My Lords, I must declare an interest as someone who lives and works in France a lot of the time. My aim today is to give a voice to the UK citizens in the EU, who have been totally ignored by the Bill.
The noble Lord, Lord Callanan, said in his introduction that the Bill protects the rights of citizens, but my noble friend Lord Teverson said quite correctly that it is disgraceful how little time has been spent on the debate about UK citizens in the EU. The Bill has diminished some rights and removed others—for example, the right to live and work anywhere in the EU—and many rights are now uncertain, such as pension upgrades. My noble friend Lady Hamwee and I have tabled an amendment to try to improve this situation.
I have heard some criticism that that should not be done in the Lords. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, is not in his place, because I could give him a good reason why it should be: nothing about UK citizens’ rights in the EU was even debated in the Commons last week. It was not even mentioned and the amendment was not allowed. If there has been no debate about their issues in the elected Chamber, we really have to do our duty and talk about them here.
Maybe the Government thought it was rich retirees who live in the EU, but the Office for National Statistics figures show that that is certainly not the case. Two-thirds of these people living in the EU are between 15 and 64; they are students and working people with normal jobs. The remaining third, who are retirees, are not particularly well off. Whether or not they get a pension upgrade will be a matter of severe concern to them, especially as many of them paid into their pension pots in this country for their entire lives, went abroad perhaps in 2010 and suddenly now find that the contract which they had with the Government about their pensions is not to be honoured.
I wonder if the Government have a current list of EU member states’ intentions to recognise qualifications on a reciprocal basis, because that again is extremely important to working people. Do the Government even have accurate numbers of exactly how many UK citizens there are in the EU? The UN seems to say that there are 1.22 million but the Office for National Statistics said that there were 784,900. However, a rather good article in the Independent newspaper on
My amendments to the Bill will focus on the pensions upgrade and health cover, which is a great concern. I will not go into those now because I will move the amendments in Committee. Of course reciprocal agreements, if they had been done on a bilateral basis much earlier by the Government, could have answered many of these issues. I understand the stand-off between the UK and the Commission at that point, but the Government could have pursued it and this would no longer be an issue. What we have are individuals who at the moment, at absolute best, can continue life but cannot progress. They cannot get a job, a promotion, a new mortgage or additional health cover because of all the uncertainties.
We have heard that the Government have a huge mandate. In my opinion, that should be secure enough for them to rise above the petty politics of not letting the Lords have any amendments and be able to admit that some of the Lords amendments are fair, just and a good idea.