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Moved by Lord Oates
2: Clause 7, leave out Clause 7 and insert the following new Clause—“Rights related to residence(1) This section applies to—(a) persons within the personal scope of the withdrawal agreement (defined in Article 10) having the right to reside in the United Kingdom;(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).(2) The Secretary of State may by regulations make provision to extend the scope of persons 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) A person has settled status in the United Kingdom if that person meets the criteria set out in ‘Eligibility for indefinite leave to enter or remain’ in Immigration Rules Appendix EU, or any amendment of these rules according to subsection (2).(4) A person with settled status holds indefinite leave to enter or remain and has the rights provided by the withdrawal agreement for those holding permanent residence as defined in Article 15 of the agreement, even if that person is not in employment, has not been in employment or has no sufficient resources or comprehensive sickness insurance. (5) A person has pre-settled status in the United Kingdom if that person meets the eligibility requirements set out in ‘Eligibility for limited leave to enter or remain’ in residence scheme immigration rules (see section 17), or any amendment of these rules according to subsection (2).(6) A person who has pre-settled status has leave to enter or remain and has the rights provided by the withdrawal agreement for those holding permanent residence as defined in Article 15 of the withdrawal agreement, even if that person is not in employment, has not been in employment or has no sufficient resources or comprehensive sickness insurance, except for the right to reside indefinitely in the United Kingdom and subject to the limitations set out in Article 23(2) of the withdrawal agreement.(7) The Secretary of State must by regulations made by statutory instrument 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.(8) The regulations adopted under subsection (11) must apply to those defined in subsections (1)(a) and (1)(b).(9) A person holding pre-settled or settled status does not lose the right to reside for not having registered that settled or pre-settled status.(10) A person who has settled or pre-settled status who has not registered their settled or pre-settled status by
My Lords, in moving Amendment 2 I shall speak also to Amendment 3, in my name and those of the noble Lords, Lord Kerslake and Lord McNicol of West Kilbride, The noble Lord, Lord Kerslake, gives his apologies that he cannot be in the Chamber because he has been called away to another meeting.
Amendment 2 seeks to create a declaratory registration system to replace the existing application-based system. Its intention is, first, to continue to provide incentives for registration but to avoid making EU citizens who do not register by the deadline immediately and by definition illegal. Secondly, it seeks to ensure that EU citizens can receive physical proof of registration, which is a concern that I know has been expressed to many Members of your Lordships’ House, and indeed has been the subject of representations made by EU sub-committees.
Thirdly, it would consolidate in primary legislation both the current eligibility criteria of the EU settlement scheme Immigration Rules and the rights of those who are eligible under the scheme. Amendment 3 tries to do similar things: that is, it would establish the declaratory principle and make provision for physical proof, but it would not seek to put into primary legislation the rules and rights under the scheme.
The aim of Amendment 2—that of seeking to put these issues into primary legislation—is to be helpful to the Government by ensuring the categorical commitment made to EU citizens, referred to by my noble friend Lord Greaves, during the referendum campaign by the current Prime Minister, the current Home Secretary and the current Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, to guarantee that those rights would be automatic and that EU citizens would be treated no less favourably than they are at present. The current scheme does not honour that commitment. The settled status scheme is not the automatic route to indefinite leave to remain that was promised by the leave campaigners. It is an application-based system with a finite cut-off of
I echo the comments of my noble friend and others: the Home Office is clearly making strenuous efforts in this regard. But we know that, inevitably and despite its best efforts, it will not be able to reach and grant settled status to every one of the 3.6 million—we do not know the exact number—EU, EEA and Swiss citizens. Tens or even hundreds of thousands of otherwise eligible people may find themselves undocumented and criminalised in as little as 18 months’ time. Inevitably, those most at risk will be the most vulnerable: young people in care, the elderly and the marginalised.
The Government’s argument for a cut-off date seems to be that it will help avoid a repeat of the injustice inflicted by the Home Office in the Windrush scandal. But it will do nothing of the sort. It will just criminalise the latter-day Windrush people. The solution of the Home Office to the problem of Windrush seems to be simply to ensure that it will not be acting unlawfully by removing eligible people, as it was found to be in the case of the Windrush victims. It is a bizarre form of protection.
Another issue with the settled status scheme is that, unlike the indefinite leave to remain scheme, where you have a stamp in your passport, it does not provide successful applicants with physical proof of their right to be in the United Kingdom. Instead, they must rely entirely on a code issued to them by the Home Office, which has to be entered into the relevant website by whoever requires proof of their immigration status. the3million, which represents EU citizens in the UK, has highlighted the many difficulties and concerns that this inevitably will cause for EU citizens. Interactions with landlords, airline staff and other officials obliged to check immigration status will become fraught with anxiety and will be dependent on the fragility of an internet connection or the resilience of a government IT system.
Finally, and most fundamentally, the current settled status scheme rests on immigration regulations, which can be changed virtually at the stroke of a ministerial pen, and on the undertakings of Ministers. But, as we know, Ministers come and go. We know already that the commitments—categorical, without any room for confusion or misunderstanding—that were issued by the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister have not been honoured. So why should EU citizens in this country have faith that this system will not be changed at a later date?
Beyond the principles of the settled status scheme, there are also lots of concerns about how it is applied: who is actually getting settled status and who is instead getting presettled status. In summing up at Second Reading last night, the Minister, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Keen, said that
“presettled status is a pathway to settled status,”—[
We are not seeking to change anything about the rights of citizens under the EU settled status scheme, or about eligibility. We are asking, first, that the rights are placed in primary legislation to give the reassurance that EU citizens need and want, so that they can feel secure and settled in their status in this country. Secondly, we ask that their request for a means of having physical proof is answered. It may be that not everybody wants that, but there should be an option for EU citizens to have it. Lastly, we ask for a shift to a declaratory system in which eligibility is the basis on which one has rights, not the application system. As the amendment sets out, it is perfectly possible to continue to give incentives to registration while establishing a declaratory system that will ensure that a whole load of vulnerable people are not criminalised when the registration date passes in 2021. I beg to move.
My Lords, the Government have done an amazing amount to look after EU citizens in this country. I cast my mind back to the early days of the May Government when there was great pressure to unilaterally make steps to ensure the position of EU citizens living in this country. At that stage, the Government resisted the pressure because they said that this should be part of the negotiations. It should be reciprocated by the EU: it should do the same for our citizens in the EU. As far as I can make out, that has not happened. We have made a generous, unilateral gesture towards EU citizens in this country and there has not been reciprocation from the EU. Does that not mean that the Government have been rather mistaken to make this generous offer? Surely we have an obligation to our citizens in the EU and we should look to it to reciprocate anything that we do in this country. Will my noble friend address this problem when she sums up? As I understand it, British citizens in the EU do not, at the moment, have any freedom of movement between one EU country and another and there are certain problems with EU citizens in this country travelling to and from their country of origin in Europe. This has not been a very satisfactory outcome in the negotiations. Perhaps we would have been better not to have made this extremely generous, unilateral offer.
My Lords, I support these two amendments. I do so as the roommate of my noble friend Lord Kerslake, who sends his apologies for not being here but has strengthened my arguments for supporting the amendments. I speak as someone who, after the 1997 election—oh glorious days—spent two years in the Home Office and saw every submission of any significance that was made to the then Home Secretary. I always shuddered a little when we got submissions from the immigration part of the department. They sent a quiver through my soul, because of reliability. I remember a former Conservative Home Secretary briefed us shortly after that election. He said to the then Home Secretary: “You have to remember that there are always 500 people in the Home Office who can ruin your political career. The really scary thing is that none of them actually realises that they can do it.” The Windrush exercise demonstrated rather well the wisdom of those remarks.
The important thing about these two amendments is that they do not in any way disturb significantly what the Government want to do. They provide legal certainty, about which I think we will hear more later in Committee. They also provide some very practical stiffening of the arrangements around these new Immigration Rules. I went to one of the Home Office briefings for parliamentarians on the new scheme, at which everybody, MPs, Peers and members of MPs’ offices, made the point to the Home Office that in the real world a lot of people expect someone to produce hard-copy evidence, whether it is the landlord, the GP or whoever. I can speak from personal experience, having helped a number of people get permanent leave to remain here, and not that long ago either. These people had had experiences of having to produce some written documentation that they were entitled to live here.
I shall just tell the story of a person who has lived here 10 years and has a son at school who has lived here for that period of time. The child was bullied in his school because there was no evidence, as they thought, that he had an entitlement to be here. We could deal with that issue only by being able to produce Home Office evidence that this person had permanent leave to remain here. It was the piece of paper that convinced the head that something had to be done. The absence of that documentation is very worrying, and it is why I think Amendment 3 is so important: it would give people confidence that they can convince people that they are entitled to be here. Just think about the idea of someone having to say, “I have this code and if you go on the Home Office website it will prove to you that I am entitled to be here.” That is not the way the real world works; it is not a credible way of helping people to reassure others that they have an entitlement to be here.
I think this House would be very wise to send this Bill back with both these amendments in it, or some government alternative to the precise wording, because, however hard we try, we will not be sure that by the deadline everybody who has settled status at the moment will be able to ensure that they are registered in the new scheme. If one stops to think about it for a moment, it is counterintuitive. If someone has in recent years secured a permanent right to be here, why should it occur to them, despite all the briefings to the public by the Home Office, that they are not entitled to be here? Why should they have to go through another step to prove to the Home Office that they are entitled to be here when they have already received, within the last two or three years, a letter from the Home Office guaranteeing them the right to be here? The Home Office is asking a lot of people to do a counter- intuitive thing and I think we should support these two amendments.
My Lords, I hope I may be permitted to elaborate on a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton. I do so as a long-term resident of Portugal, where there is a sense from officialdom on the continent that the rights of UK citizens in Portugal, and indeed elsewhere, are actually in a good place. The key word in all this is reciprocity. The Portuguese have made certain protections for UK citizens in their country, but there is this key word in Article 19 of the appropriate legislation that specifically— I will not translate it directly from the Portuguese—relates to reciprocity. The conditions are broadly the same; if you go and register, your rights are protected. In reality, that is what everyone should be doing anyway. If there is a single message that the Minister and others in this country might want to give, it is to encourage UK citizens to do the very easy and simple thing—go and register, and your rights are protected.
My Lords, important points have been made about UK citizens in other European countries, and my noble friend Lady Miller and I have an amendment on one aspect of that which I think will be taken on Thursday.
The noble Lord, Lord Warner, referred to permanent residence status. I understand that while the numbers of people applying for permanent residence have dropped a bit, as one would expect given the rollout of the settled status scheme, they are still significantly higher than they were before 2016. One can only speculate about the reasons for that—I do not think we can know what they are—but permanent residence provided documentary evidence, and the physical evidence available through that route may well have been a reason for the high number of applications.
Points have also been made this afternoon about immigration rules. I cannot let the occasion go by without saying how much I would welcome rules that are simpler and cannot be changed without going through full scrutiny and parliamentary process.
I will make a couple of points on these amendments, which I wholeheartedly support. One is the importance of ensuring that people who have some sort of status are not impeded in travelling. I have come across this in connection with independent leave to remain obtained by a refugee, only the latest of a number of examples I have heard of people who have had problems with travel documents. There is something about not fitting the boxes that officials are given and need to tick. We must make sure that those with settled status can properly exercise their rights and come in and out of this country freely.
My other point was mentioned by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Keen, last night in summing up the debate. He said that there will be an “automatic reminder” to those with pre-settled status to apply for settled status. I urge the Government to work with the embassies and the groups that have been so involved in this process and made such helpful interventions and comments to ensure that whatever very necessary arrangements they put in place to remind people both that they will have to apply for settled status and that pre-settled status is different will work as well and efficiently as possible—taking account of human frailty, if you like.
My Lords, I support both these amendments. I will begin with the words of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Keen, from the end of our very long day yesterday:
“EU citizens in the United Kingdom are our neighbours, colleagues and workplace friends, and of course we value the contribution they make to the United Kingdom and wish them to remain here.”—[Official Report, 13/1/20; col. 552.]
I ask your Lordships to put yourselves in the shoes of an affected citizen here in the UK, who may have come here quite recently or have been here for many decades, and think about which set of words you will have heard more clearly, which set of words will be affecting your sentiment and understanding of your place in the United Kingdom. I think everyone knows that what people will be hearing, worrying about and fearing are the words “threatened with deportation”. We are talking about up to 4 million people being affected. The latest figure I have seen is that 2.5 million people have applied for settled status. However, as the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, said, there are also the 1.4 million UK citizens across Europe, for whom reciprocity means that they will be affected by how we treat their fellows here in the UK.
My arguments for these amendments fit into two groups. First, there are the practical arguments. As many noble Lords have said, to have a physical document will be immensely useful in dealing with landlords and immigration—just knowing that it is in your wallet or purse. There is also the fact that to have a declaratory scheme is far easier and far less daunting. That is a practical benefit. Those are the practical advantages. But there is also the question of sentiment—sending a message of welcome to our EU and other friends who are part of our communities. I urge noble Lords to back these two amendments, to back the message which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Keen, delivered last night and which the Government say they want to send to these citizens.
My Lords, I too support these amendments, which were introduced by my noble friend Lord Oates and which are in his name and those of the noble Lords, Lord McNicol and Lord Kerslake.
I too was pleased to hear the noble and learned Lord, Lord Keen, say last night that those with pre-settled status would
“receive an automatic reminder to apply for settled status before their leave expires.”—[
I may have lost track of this issue, but is that new? I do not remember it. I remember that we on the EU Justice Sub-Committee asked repeatedly for that to happen, as well as for physical proof of status. Perhaps it is not new, but I do not recall when I was on that sub-committee that that system had been set up by the Government, and I am pleased that it now exists. Perhaps the Minister could explain whether it is new.
Some of us worry about 40% of people getting pre-settled status. Have the Government been able to do any surveys or analysis of how many people genuinely do not have the five years’ residence they need for settled status, or of those who give up because they have not managed to provide the evidence that is required for five years, some of which might be a little challenging to provide?
In a different context, I read in the papers about people who have had real problems convincing HMRC—regarding the years they need to clock up for a state pension—that its records are wrong about national insurance contributions. People have talked about how it has taken a year’s effort to persuade HMRC that they did indeed make national insurance contributions in a particular year. So the part of the supplying of evidence that relies on HMRC and DWP records may or may not be accurate. Some people might be struggling.
Can the Minister tell us whether there is any analysis of how many people genuinely do not have five years’ residence, and of those who are having difficulty providing the necessary evidence? A lot of us are very concerned about this. I agree that the Home Office appears to be putting good effort into it—some of my colleagues went to Liverpool; I did not manage to do that. None the less, the consequences come June of next year of people not having settled status are so severe that we cannot afford to overlook any possible problem—of course, I support the proposal that we pursued on the EU Justice Sub-Committee that applicants should get physical proof. We never managed to get, to my satisfaction at least, a good answer from the Home Office on why it refused to countenance that. I am sure the Minister will give us that answer.
That tracks into the fact that, as my noble friend said, there are people with permanent residence who believe, wrongly, that they do not need to apply for settled status. That adds to the concern about people who may find themselves bereft in 18 months’ time.
Then there are people who have been here for decades. They are often very elderly and just assume that, because they have always been allowed to stay, they do not need to do anything. They need our particular concern. I know that we are getting lots of reassurances and so on—we are about to get some more—but many of us will continue to worry very much about this situation and this scheme.
I also add my support to this pair of amendments. Others have said so many of the right things about them so I will not detain the House by repeating them. I had the honour of serving on the EU Justice Sub-Committee with at least two of the previous speakers. Witness after witness raised with us the issues that others have already spoken about, but I promised not to repeat them so I will not.
When picking up this list of amendments, I was concerned about the extent to which we were going to encounter obstructive rather than good faith amendments. I have to say, this is an entirely good faith set of amendments and some version of it needs incorporating into the law. It does what the Government declare they want to achieve; it simply gives what the noble Lord, Lord Warner, eloquently called “practical stiffening” to achieve it. I am happy to support the amendments.
My Lords, I too support these two amendments. Initially, I did not intend to speak but I also served on the EU Justice Sub-Committee. I reinforce the point that was made time and again about the deep concern of those seeking settled status that they would not have physical evidence and that the only evidence would remain in a database. Databases can come under cyberattack and be wiped. I ask the Government seriously to think again on this issue, which I have raised with the Minister before. I hope that the Government will look kindly on and support these two important amendments, which go to the heart of the concerns of the 3 million-plus people wishing to remain here and continue their lives with their families in our country.
My Lords, I have a couple of questions for the Minister. The November statistics for pre-settled status have been published and show a reduced number of applications after the
Secondly, what will the Government do if they notify people—by whatever means—that they need to apply for settled status in good time, perhaps a year in advance, to convert their pre-settled status into settled status, but they get no response? Will efforts be made to trace these people? Some of them will be ordinary people who have lived here for not very long at the moment and have to wait, but some—perhaps quite a lot—have been given pre-settled status even though they have lived in this country for perhaps more than five years, because they simply have not been able to provide proof of five years’ continuous residence here. Many of these people might have the kind of jobs that require them to move about a bit or a lifestyle that means moving from house to house quite frequently. They, or at least their current address and whereabouts, can quite easily be lost from the Home Office’s database of those who have pre-settled status. What will happen to chase these people, to find out where they are and to make sure they know their rights?
My Lords, the amendments that the noble Lords, Lord Oates and Lord Kerslake, and I have laid before us draw attention to, and look to move to and secure a shift to, a declaratory registration system—away from a constitutive application system to an automatic, declaratory system. These amendments demonstrate that there are different ways of going about this, with different levels of detail. However, the principle that such rights are written into primary rather than secondary legislation is critical.
Amendment 2 proposes that EU citizens should not lose their rights to reside if they are legally resident in the UK at the time of Brexit but have not registered for settled or pre-settled status. Labour has always been clear that citizens should not have been used as bargaining chips in the withdrawal negotiations and that the Government kept the question of citizens’ rights open for too long.
The noble Lord, Lord Hamilton, asked the Minister whether the Government were mistaken to offer pre-settled status before any reciprocity had been dealt with for British citizens living on the continent. I think the Government were right to do so. We are talking about 3.5 million to possibly 3.8 million people who live, work and play among us. Offering those people reassurances, security and, probably most important, the knowledge that our Government want them to stay in the United Kingdom, rather than be treated as pawns in a political negotiation, was absolutely the right thing to do.
Is the noble Lord saying that we have no responsibility for British citizens in the EU and that their position is something we just leave to the whims of individual countries in the EU? The noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, said that he regarded what he was benefiting from in Portugal as complete equivalence—but he is not allowed to move from one country to another within the EU, so you could say that British citizens in the EU have been seriously disadvantaged by not having a balanced agreement giving settled status to people on both sides of the English Channel.
As a resident of Portugal, at this moment in time I am well able to go across to Ayamonte, Sevilla and elsewhere in Spain without any hindrance whatever. I am a little concerned about what happens after a certain date; I do not fully understand the issue. Does that opportunity prevail? Does this exclude people from just being able to work in those other member states? If someone could answer that, it would be helpful to me and others.
Before my noble friend replies, does he agree that, as a member of the EU, a citizen has freedom of movement within the EU? If a country removes itself from the EU, its citizens cannot have the right of freedom of movement within the EU.
My noble friend Lord Cashman puts it very well. To the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton, I say that, on the contrary, the rights of British citizens across the European Union are of the utmost importance, and I believe that their position can be negotiated over the coming months. I was referring to people who have chosen to move to this country to work, live and bring up their children, who go to our schools, and who help in our hospitals. The Government of this country, and all of us, have a responsibility to look after and do right by these people, but not by way of punishing British citizens who have chosen to live abroad.
We will discuss appeals in the next group of amendments, but there are too many examples of the current settled status scheme falling short of expectations. As we have heard, those who get settled status receive it digitally, rather than in the form of a physical document. As the noble Lord, Lord Warner, said, a piece of paper, not a code, gives so much reassurance. It does not feel as though it is too much of a step to move to a physical document rather than something in the cloud or on a computer. While the Government more generally are trying to shift services online, there is evidence to suggest that the lack of physical documentation leads to an increased level of discrimination. As we heard from my noble friend Lord Cashman, there is also a risk of temporary outages of online systems and hacking, which could compromise the data of hundreds of thousands—or millions—of EU citizens. It is not too late for the Government to change their approach. This would provide reassurance to law-abiding EU citizens legally resident in the United Kingdom.
The motive for both these amendments is probably best summed up in a note from the3million. As the Government have stated, those who fail to successfully apply by the deadline can be deported. They become fully illegal immigrants overnight: by simply remaining in the country, they commit a criminal act. They have no right to reside, to keep their jobs or to access benefits or healthcare. In closing, I support Amendments 2 and 3.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in the debate on this group. I take note of the words of the noble Lord, Lord Warner, about the 500 civil servants who could end my career—I am surprised I have lasted so long, given that there are so many people out to get me.
I commend noble Lords for what they seek to achieve in their amendments, because they do not seek to achieve anything different from the Government: to reassure those highly valued EU citizens already resident here that they will have the right to remain after exit. However, the amendments take a slightly different approach to getting there, and we think they undermine the whole approach under the EU settlement scheme in the creation of a declaratory system.
Under the proposed new clause in Amendment 2, EU citizens would be able to apply for a document confirming their residence status if they wished, but would have to provide evidence of their rights if they wanted to access benefits and services. This is inconsistent with our international obligations under the withdrawal agreement. Alternatively, the proposed new clause in Amendment 3 would make provision for rights to be automatically conferred and enable EU citizens to register for a document confirming their residence status only if they wished to do so. This change in approach would cause confusion and uncertainty among the very EU citizens who we are trying to protect, including the over 2.8 million people who have already applied under the EU settlement scheme.
After the implementation period, free movement will end and those who are not British or Irish citizens will require a UK immigration status to enter and reside in the UK. The EU settlement scheme is a vital part of transitioning the UK from free movement to a new points-based immigration system which starts in 2021. The UK’s immigration system has long been predicated on individuals applying to the Home Office to be granted leave to enter or remain, under what we call a “constitutive” system. A requirement to apply for an individual status by a deadline provides a clear incentive for EU citizens living here to secure their status in UK law and obtain evidence of it.
By contrast, a declaratory system, as proposed by both the amendments and under which individuals automatically acquire an immigration status, would significantly reduce the incentive to obtain evidence of that status. This risks creating confusion among employers and service providers, and inevitably would impede EU citizens’ rights to access benefits and services to which they are entitled. Notwithstanding the protections that the proposed new clause in Amendment 2 seeks to provide, such an approach could also lead to EU citizens who had not applied for documentation suffering inadvertent discrimination compared with those who had.
This must be giving your Lordships déjà vu, because this is exactly what happened to the Windrush generation. The Government are adamant that we must avoid a situation in which, years down the line, EU citizens who have built their lives here find themselves struggling to prove their rights in the UK.
The approach suggested in the amendment is also unnecessary. Managing the end of free movement in the UK and the transition for resident EU citizens has been an absolute priority. We believe that the current constitutive approach under the EU settlement scheme is the right one. The proof of the pudding is that it is already working well.
If you apply and are successful for either pre-settled status or settled status, you will receive a letter. That is not in itself proof of your status, because your status is a digital one, but you will receive a letter to confirm the success of your application.
I do not have the numbers for how many people have applied for a document that confirms settled status, but I can find out. The fact that 2.5 million people have been successful should partly satisfy noble Lords that the system is working well. Also, there have been only five rejections on the system so far. I will come to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, later, but that is quite a decent statistic when you think about the—
I thank the Minister for giving way. Does she agree that many of the 2.5 million people who have registered have done so resentfully and unhappily, because the process that they have been made to go through is effectively applying for a status that many of them have for decades felt that they should have had automatically? Even though I accept that the system might be working successfully, and I applaud that, there are still some reassurances to be given—the soft power, if you like—to those, many of whom I know in my own diocese, who have applied with a great deal of resentment and unhappiness.
My Lords, I have spoken to my noble friends beside me and I have not had any feedback on resentment. I have had feedback on the fact that we have made the scheme free, which was a noble thing for the previous Home Secretary and Prime Minister to do. The fact that so many people now have a status they can prove can be only a good thing.
We are processing 20,000 applications every day. We are working with communities—sometimes on a one-to-one basis because some people find the filling-in of any application process difficult.
I am not sure whether I am hearing this right, but I think the Minister is responding to the amendments as if the proposal was to replace digital with documentary evidence. In fact, it is proposed that the documentary evidence would be supplemental to the digital provision.
My Lords, I would not agree with two systems because that really would confuse people. If I could get to the end of my comments, I would be grateful.
The scheme already allows EU citizens protected by the agreements to obtain UK immigration status to enable them to remain here permanently after exit. Both EU citizens with pre-settled status and those with settled status will be able to continue to live, work and access benefits and services in the UK after the end of the implementation period on the same basis as now. If individuals with pre-settled status go on to acquire settled status, they will then be able to access benefits and services on the same terms as comparable UK nationals. This is consistent with the approach taken under EU law, and we will assess individuals at the point they apply for benefits or when accessing services such as the NHS.
The proposed new clauses would interrupt the flow of a system which is already working well and achieving precisely what it was designed and implemented to do, providing certainty to those people who have made their lives here.
Under the future immigration system, EU citizens who are in the UK before the end of the implementation period will have different rights compared to those who arrive afterwards. It is essential, therefore, that EU citizens have the evidence they need to demonstrate their rights in the UK. This is also why many other member states are planning to take exactly the same approach and establish a constitutive system for UK nationals living in the EU. I shall come on to UK nationals in the EU shortly.
The EU settlement scheme means that those who have built their lives here do not find themselves struggling to evidence their rights in the UK or having to carry around multiple bits of paper and documents to evidence their previous UK residence. As I pointed out to the noble Lord, Lord Warner, we are legally required to issue all successful applicants under the scheme with formal correspondence setting out their immigration status, and this status can also be viewed online and shared with others. We do not want to go back to issuing physical documents when our vision for the future is a digital status and service for all migrants.
I should perhaps make a point about data protection, on which some noble Lords are very keen—certainly on the Liberal Democrat Benches. Under the digital system, employers, immigration control or whoever it might be will have access to the information on a need-to-know basis: not everything will be written down on a piece of paper, which is an important consideration. A continued declaratory system in the form suggested by noble Lords in Amendments 2 and 3 would force banks and other service providers either to wade through various documents, which they perhaps have no right to see, to establish for themselves whether the person is protected by the agreements or has been granted rights while they complete the registration process as envisaged in Amendment 2.
Additionally, Amendment 3 would grant EU citizens automatically conferred rights under the agreements, creating two groups of EU citizens: those with a registration document and those with no evidence at all of their status. There is therefore a high risk of inadvertent discrimination, particularly for those with no evidence at all in years to come.
There was controversy not very long ago about allegations that the settled status database would be shared with outside organisations, perhaps abroad. Is that completely untrue?
The noble Lord outlines the point that I have just made about information being seen by people who are entitled to see it for the purposes for which it should be seen.
I think my noble friend is forgetting that immigration data is not protected under the Data Protection Act put through last year or the year before. I think there is litigation going on about that.
The point I am making is that if you have a physical document which outlines everything, people have access to everything. When people go into banks, they do not necessarily know which documents to bring. Under the digital status, employers and landlords are entitled to see only the data which they need to see.
Before the Minister moves on, sticking with this issue, I am totally confused—more than usual. The Minister said earlier that, if I have been sent my letter from the Home Office describing my status, I can then apply for another document of some kind that I can produce to other people who want the other document. That seems to be an alternative to the code. Will the Minister explain what is the difference between the letter and the other document that I can apply for, which apparently I can use to satisfy someone that I am entitled to something?
I shall start with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Warner. The letter is confirmation that you have been successful. It is not evidence of your status, but it is there for anyone who wishes to have a physical document to say that they have been successful.
On the digital status—this comes to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford—if you want to rent, it could be accessed by the landlord. There is access to the data for people who need to see it for the purposes for which they need to see it.
My Lords, you automatically get a letter confirming that you have been successful. There are not two documents. You have online status and you get a letter confirming that you have been successful. There are not two documents.
My Lords, the document that the noble Lord refers to is a letter confirming that a person has been successful. Anyone who is successful in obtaining the status could show that letter to a landlord and say, “There. Go and look online to confirm that I have the status”. However, it is not a proof; it is a confirmation. Does that help the noble Lord? I see that it does. Thank goodness.
No. I am going to continue, and the noble Lord can speak when I have finished if he wishes.
I want to move on to the point that the noble Lord, Lord Oates, made about the criminalisation of people who do not apply by the deadline. That is a very important point—made also, I think, by the noble Lord, Lord McNicol. An EU citizen who fails to apply to the EU settlement scheme before the deadline will not be acting unlawfully in the same way as an illegal entrant or overstayer would be. They will not have knowingly entered the UK in breach of the Immigration Act or overstayed their leave. That is an important point to make. Once free movement has ended, they will need leave to remain in the UK—there is an important distinction there. We set up the EU settlement scheme to provide a quick and easy way to secure that leave, confirming their status in the UK.
We have been very clear that we will take a pragmatic approach, in line with the agreements, to provide those who have reasonable grounds for missing the deadline with a further opportunity to apply. I hope that that helps the noble Lord. He might want to intervene to ask what constitutes reasonable grounds for missing the deadline. We have deliberately not published a list of acceptable grounds for missing the deadline. As the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, requested, we will send reminders to those with pre-settled status six months before their leave expires so that they can apply for settled status. In the first instance, we want to continue to encourage people to apply. We do not want to provide an exhaustive list as we want to give ourselves the maximum possible flexibility when this situation arises. Examples of people in such a situation might include a child whose parents or guardian failed to apply on their behalf, people in abusive or controlling relationships who are prevented from applying or from obtaining the documents they need, or those who, as I said before, lacked the physical or mental capacity to apply.
The noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, pressed me again on the automatic reminder. I have previously confirmed that there will be an automatic reminder. In fact, in the EU Settlement Scheme: Statement of Intent, published in June 2018—quite some time ago—we committed to reminding people ahead of the expiry of their pre-settled status and it remains our intention to do so. That is not in place yet, as it will not be needed until five years after the first granting of pre-settled status, if that makes sense, so it will be September 2023 at the latest. The noble Baroness is looking puzzled. That is because March 2019 was day one, so it will not be needed for another five years.
The noble Baroness is absolutely right. I think that my last statement was wrong, but I shall confirm that to her in writing.
The noble Baroness talked about people struggling, and I think that I have outlined some of the ways in which we are trying to help people to make their application. She will have heard me say previously how we have put money into various centres around the country to help people.
The noble Baroness also asked whether we are still granting permanent residence. Yes, we are.
On the question of why settled status is better than permanent residence, you do not have to be exercising treaty rights to get settled status; there is a more generous right of return—so five years rather than two years permitted absence—and there is an automatic entitlement, as a UK national, to benefits for those with settled status. However, that does not stop people from applying for permanent residence, and they do.
Finally, my noble friend Lord Hamilton of Epsom and the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, talked about UK nationals in the EU. I recall the discussion that we had about unilaterally guaranteeing the rights of EU citizens, but they asked about UK nationals in the EU. The withdrawal agreement that we have reached with the EU provides reciprocal protections and certainty on citizens’ rights. The agreement applies equally to EU citizens here and UK nationals in the EU, in their member state of residence, by the end of the implementation period. Ministers and officials have already engaged extensively with UK nationals across the EU and will continue to do so. I am very pleased to hear about the good experiences of the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, in Portugal.
I am grateful to my noble friend for giving way. Does she agree with the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, however, that the EU will treat British citizens in the EU as foreigners who are unable to travel from one EU country to another? Surely, if we had balanced these negotiations, we might have been able to wring that concession out of the EU so that our citizens living there could travel from one country to another.
I agree with my noble friend; of course, that will be a matter for future negotiations. In the meantime, I ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
I should correct myself. The Minister was kind enough to say that she would have another look at that reminder system. After all, people could have four years and 300 or whatever days, just not five years. That system needs to come in a lot sooner; they might need a reminder in the next few months. Also, I do not quite understand—it may just be that I do not understand immigration—why the Home Office is twin-tracking settled status and permanent residence. I take the point that for settled status you do not have to be exercising treaty rights and perhaps simply have to meet a tougher standard for permanent residence. However, I do not see the value, either to the applicant or to the aim of simplicity and understanding of the immigration system, to have these two systems running coterminously.
I ask the noble Baroness to understand that perhaps they might not be EU citizens.
My Lords, I did not get an answer to my question about the numbers. I have checked: there were 2.6 million at the end of November; there are now 2.8 million. Of the extra ones, does the Minister have a breakdown between settled and pre-settled? Should she not have the answer now, it would be helpful if she could let us know.
Secondly, something has occurred to me while listening to all this about documents. If I want to order a railway ticket in advance, I order it on my computer and print it off. Some might not, but I do. People do different things; they take their devices with them and even buy tickets. Regardless, I can print off a railway ticket. If I have settled status and I want to prove it, why can I not bring it up on my computer, take a screen shot and use that? What legal validity would that have?
My Lords, by preference I do my tax online and get an email confirmation. If I book a train ticket, it is on my phone. In fact I rarely take my credit or debit card out any more; everything is on my phone. However, if the noble Lord is honestly suggesting screenshotting your settled-status proof online and then printing it off, I suggest that that might be forgeable.
My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. This discussion, and even the confusion from the Dispatch Box about some of the rules, demonstrates the issues that are going to be faced by EU citizens if there is not even clarity in this House.
I want to pick up on a number of points. The noble Lord, Lord Hamilton, talked about reciprocity. As the Minister has explained, Part 2 of the withdrawal agreement, on citizens’ rights, applies equally to UK citizens in the European Union. I was a little astonished because I thought I heard the noble Lord arguing for free movement. He is notably not a pro-European so I am a little baffled by that. I can only guess that because, I understand, he has Liberal politicians in his ancestry, perhaps he has a genetic disposition to Europhilia that he cannot escape from.
A more serious point is this: the current Prime Minister and Home Secretary made a categorical, unequivocal commitment to European Union citizens. It was not based on whether the EU did this or that; it was a categorical statement. The noble Lord, who sits on the Conservative Benches, seems to be saying, “It’s absolutely fine—we should use EU citizens as bargaining chips”. I am glad that the Government have not done that; it is absolutely the wrong approach. All the bodies representing UK citizens in the EU that have been in contact with me and, I am sure, many other noble Lords in this House have always made the point throughout these negotiations that Britain should act early and unilaterally. I am glad that we did eventually but goodness me, it took a long time.
The Minister said that it was a very noble decision of the former Home Secretary to waive fees on this scheme. I find that an astonishing statement. EU citizens had rights in this country that they were going to lose as the result of a referendum in which they had no say whatever, and then we were planning to charge them for the privilege of retaining any rights. To call it “noble” to not charge them I find astonishing.
Physical proof has been discussed at length. The Minister said that two systems would confuse people. It is not two systems—it is one system that has a digital output and a physical one. That is pretty common and it is not confusing. While the Minister says we should not have these two systems because they are confusing, she then tells us that we do have two systems: the European Union settled status scheme and the permanent residence scheme. If we want to avoid confusion, perhaps we should address that point.
The noble Lord, Lord Warner, made the important point that we have to live in the real world of how these things work. I know this from experience because my partner is not a citizen of the UK—not a citizen of the EU, I should say—but a citizen of the United States. He has in his passport his permanent residence stamp that he can show to people. That is quite a simple thing and I am sure that we could apply such a system as well. Doubtless, it is also on an official computer system somewhere—I hope so.
We have had real examples of these digital systems going wrong, as in the case with the United States. When we first used to go to the United States, my partner was detained on every single occasion, even though he was an American citizen. Apparently, there was somebody with the same name on the Department of Homeland Security no-fly list. He was detained every time. He was not the person and looked nothing like the person. After the poor officials had been through the process, which usually took about an hour, they would say, “Well, you’re not the person.” He said, “How can I stop this?” They said, “You can’t. It is the computer system.” Eventually, the Department of Homeland Security thankfully came up with a scheme, issuing him with a letter which effectively says: “This is not the guy you are looking for.” It has changed our lives, because we now go through and it is fine. He gets the letter out and they go, “That’s great, thanks.”
In this country, we are sending all the people who have settled status a letter that says they have settled status, but the letter also says that it is not proof of settled status. It is a crazy Kafkaesque world. Obviously, a letter on its own is not enough; you need some documentation with watermarks or whatever. As I said, we do this at the moment with indefinite leave to remain status. It is not beyond the wit of this Government to do it. European Union citizens ask for this on a wide scale, as they are extremely concerned. It is particularly concerning for elderly EU citizens. I do not like to think of my elderly relatives being told first that they have to apply for the right to live here, having done so for maybe 40 years, and then being told, “You’ve got it but this piece of paper we’ve given you doesn’t prove it. It is on some system in the cloud.” I ask the Government and their Ministers to please think about the human experience and, as the noble Lord, Lord Warner, says, to live in the real world. I hope that the Government will take this back and really think about it. This is not a partisan point but a genuine appeal. Please can we look at this again?
On the declaratory principle, we have been told by the Minister that, in a way, we do not need to worry too much because after the registration date has passed, there will be some bases on which people will be given a further opportunity to apply—the Minister explained why she did not feel she could list them all, but she gave some examples. However, this will of course be entirely a matter of discretion; the courts will probably interpret what a good reason is. Simply not having been aware, for whatever reason, of the importance of meeting that deadline will not be seen as a good reason—we know that. However, we do not know the following: if somebody is allowed to apply after the date because they were hospitalised during that time, for example, and the Home Office—hopefully—regards that as a legitimate reason, is there clarity about their payment during the period in hospital when they were an illegal resident? If they were not legally resident, who is responsible? Do they have to pay during that period? As I understand it, even if the issue is corrected and they are given residence, it is not backdated.
The Minister said that we do not need to worry because people who do not meet the registration date and therefore become illegal residents in this country are not illegal on the same basis as people who had come into the country illegally. If they are breaking the law but in a different way, I am not sure about the reassurance on that. Are they breaking the criminal law or is it a matter of civil law? Where is the reassurance? To be told you are breaking the law in a different way does not seem terribly reassuring.
We know that mistakes are made in systems all the time. That is why the declaratory system will allow that leeway. We have had examples of people resident in this country for 15 years being given pre-settled status, entirely wrongly, so we know that mistakes are happening. It may well be that only five people have been refused under the scheme but 40%—or more on the last figures, I think—have been granted pre-settled status and not settled status. That is a materially significant difference. If you are offered a job, maybe on a contract to work for three years outside the country, but have pre-settled status you cannot go because you would lose your rights.
The final point is about putting these rules into primary legislation, which is such an important issue. Because of all the back-and-forth and bad faith on this, it really is important that people are given that reassurance. I fully accept that the Minister has told me that the problem with putting the rules in is because I do not have the amendment exactly right. I am very happy to sit down with her and her colleagues on this. Let us get it right and put it into primary legislation to reassure people. It cannot be that hard to do and the unwillingness of the Government to put this into primary legislation, particularly given that senior Ministers have already not lived up to their commitments, is a matter of great concern.
Both these amendments raise incredibly important points. I ask the Government to go away and think about them in a non-partisan way, from the point of view of the human beings who are having to deal with this situation. I really hope that they will take them on board and with that, I withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 2 withdrawn.
Amendment 3 not moved.
Clause 7 agreed.
Clauses 8 to 10 agreed.
Clause 11: Appeals etc. against citizens’ rights immigration decisions