Amendment 37

European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill - Committee (3rd Day) – in the House of Lords at 11:52 am on 16 January 2020.

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Baroness Hamwee:

Moved by Baroness Hamwee

37: After Clause 37, insert the following new Clause—“UK citizens resident in the EU, EEA or Switzerland: protection of rights (1) The Secretary of State must make arrangements to preserve, as far as is possible, the United Kingdom’s obligations under EU law to British citizens who are resident in any EEA country, or in Switzerland, on the day before IP completion day.(2) The arrangements in subsection (1) must include—(a) arrangements for people in receipt of a United Kingdom state retirement pension to continue receiving that pension under the same uprating and other arrangements as apply on the day on which this Act is passed, for the rest of their lifetimes as long as they remain resident in any EEA country, or in Switzerland,(b) arrangements for British citizens to continue receiving the same level of publicly provided healthcare as they do currently as EU citizens.(3) The duty in subsection (1) applies whether or not the United Kingdom reaches any relevant reciprocal arrangements with other EEA member states, or with Switzerland.”Member’s explanatory statementThis new Clause requires the Government to take steps to preserve the rights of UK citizens living in the EU, EEA or Switzerland, including continuing to uprate UK state pensions and paying for publicly provided healthcare.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Immigration)

My Lords, this amendment is in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer. I do not know whether she shares my feeling when I see noble Lords leaving the Chamber that we have a challenge in making this riveting. But it is a matter that was referred to by a number of noble Lords on the first day in Committee on the Bill. They rightly drew attention to the UK’s responsibilities to British citizens who are now living and working in the EU. This amendment seeks to protect their rights to preserve after the implementation period the rights which they enjoyed immediately before the implementation period completion date.

The UK has responsibilities, and there are things that the Government can do. Not everything has to be reciprocal. There are about 1 million UK nationals in the EU, and it is for them that this amendment is proposed. Reciprocity is of course desirable, but it is not clear to me why technically it is essential over all policy areas, because it seems that there are choices for the UK.

I am a member of the European Union Justice Sub-Committee of the EU Committee of your Lordships’ House. In October, following an evidence session on this subject, the chair wrote to the Government telling them that the sub-committee had been informed that they could do more in a number of areas, with various assurances, including that the UK should continue to fund healthcare for those to whom it is liable at Brexit until new agreements are made, and should commit to uprate the pensions of UK nationals living in the EU for as long as they continue to live there. I shall quote extensively from the letter, because it says everything, very clearly, that I want to say:

“The situation means that many UK citizens have lived in a state of anxiety and uncertainty for some time. Many moved to the EU decades ago with a reasonable expectation that the rights to which they were then entitled would not be removed without due notice and consultation.”

The committee had heard evidence that

“the consequences of some of the actions of the UK Government may be actively counter-productive. For example, a failure to uprate pensions after 2023”— the Government have committed to uprating them for three years—

“could result in UK nationals … being forced to return to the UK”— and this is not what they would want to do—at expense, including expense to the UK Government, who would be,

“required to meet the costs of their future healthcare, any welfare benefits,” and so on.

“Many pensioners may wish to return to the UK but may realise insufficient funds and be forced to seek public sector housing.”

So the questions arising from this are: what assessment have the Government made of the potential costs to the UK taxpayer of such returns, and what analysis have they conducted of the likelihood of this outcome, and of course the potential number of people involved?

The committee was concerned about the impact on individuals and UK businesses, particularly those that have offices in the EU. The committee heard how social security rights, for example, are currently protected when workers move through the EU, but that after Brexit they will no longer be able to aggregate contributions and build up entitlements to pensions if they move between EU countries for work. So, again, there are questions about the work that the Government have done to assess the problem and seek solutions.

The point goes wider than the UK state pension and healthcare, but those are the points on which we have particularly asked for assurances. There are about 180,000 British-born pensioners living in the EU. They, like us, will have worked, or will work, paying contributions and taxes in the UK. When they left the UK, the right to pension increases for life was guaranteed. I suspect that we have all been made aware through direct representations over the years of the position of pensioners in, for instance, Australia and South Africa, whose pensions have not been uprated. Are we prepared to put many more people in the same position?

As for healthcare, I do not think that I need to stress the importance for both working and retired people. As I have said, there is a danger of the Government’s actions, or inactions, being counterproductive. These are urgent matters. The individuals need to take decisions, but they should not have to. When they moved, they believed—and, no doubt, relied on the fact—that there would be no change to their situations as a result of their move.

On Tuesday the Committee debated an amendment that would have ensured that any changes relating to the co-ordination of social security systems after two years, though other possible periods were suggested, should be through primary legislation. The Minister argued then that the power to tweak via the use of regulations was

“essential to give the Government the flexibility that we need to provide legal certainty to individuals subject to these rules as the EU social security co-ordination regulations evolve over time.”

He also made remarks, which I found deeply worrying, about the lack of legislative capacity in Parliament. I am not sure that I have yet quite understood what he was saying, but he also said that

“the priority is to demonstrate commitment and security to those millions of people today who will look to the Government to make a commitment to deliver those in years to come.”—[Official Report, 14/1/20; cols. 606-07.]

Our amendment seeks to make that commitment legislatively—if that is a word—certain because there is considerable anxiety among people who chose to move within the EU, understanding that their entitlements were secure, but now finding that they may be standing not on a cliff edge but on the brink of a chasm. I look forward to hearing what the Government are doing so that UK citizens are reassured and can be confident that they can continue on the course that they have chosen. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Shipley Lord Shipley Liberal Democrat 12:00, 16 January 2020

My Lords, I strongly support the amendment. Around 1.2 million British pensioners live abroad. Just over half have annual uprating of their pensions as they would if they still lived in the UK. They are in one of the 48 countries where the UK Government apply an annual uprating, and over half those countries are in the EU.

In September the Department for Work and Pensions made an announcement on the extension of uprating for a further three years to those pensioners in the EU. I quote from its press release:

“Nearly half a million people living in the EU will continue to have their UK State Pension increased every year for the next 3 years in the event of a no deal exit from the EU”.

There is no explanation of why it is three years as opposed to permanently, or any other figure. It goes on to say:

“During this 3-year period the UK government plans to negotiate a new arrangement with the EU to ensure that uprating continues.”

I stress “plans to negotiate”. The question arises as to what happens if those negotiations fail. Along with the question of why the figure of three years was selected, there is a possibility that the negotiations will fail. There is also no explanation of why the uprating should not apply to all the pensions affected for those pensioners’ lifetimes.

My noble friend Lady Hamwee has mentioned the fact that if all those pensioners returned to the UK there would be substantial costs for public services, not least the NHS. I hope that when the Government calculate costs they also include the benefit that accrues to the Treasury from UK pensioners living outside the UK who do not directly use those services.

There is of course a question about those UK pensioners who move into EU countries after 1 February, because at present it would appear that they do not have a right to an uprated pension. I seek the Minister’s assurance on that point. UK expatriate pensioners need and deserve greater certainty when they are living outside the UK in the EU. I very much hope that the Minister will be able to confirm that it is government policy to uprate their pensions permanently once the three-year period is over.

Photo of Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I put my name to this amendment and I remind noble Lords of my interests in that I spend a considerable amount of time in France. I should add that I have health cover in France, so when I speak on health, I do not have an interest in being covered by the UK.

First, I ask the Minister if he still agrees with his noble and learned friend Lord Keen of Elie who, when summing up at Second Reading on Monday, said:

“Reference was made by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, and the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, to the status of UK citizens in the EU. However, that is … not a matter of domestic law and is therefore not a matter for the Bill”.—[Official Report, 13/1/20; col. 552.]

The fact is that the Government have chosen not to include in the Bill either the pensions upgrade or anything about health cover; it is a choice. The Bill could encompass the rights of UK citizens should the Government choose or should we, for example, win this amendment. At the moment, it is the Government’s choice to exclude any cover for UK citizens from the Bill, rather than a matter of fact.

Secondly, I want to speak about health. Many UK citizens working abroad in the EU will have health cover by virtue of their occupation or if they are a dependant of somebody in an occupation that qualifies, so they are fine. The problem is for those who are not covered by that either because they have not yet qualified for settled status but hope to—for example, those who have been in a country for less than the qualifying period; in France that would be five years, so perhaps someone has been there for three years not five—or because their financial status is questionable because of low income. What cover from the UK can those UK citizens expect? Some are likely to have ongoing conditions such as cancer and some will develop illnesses between now and the period in which they would qualify, and certainly by the end of December.

Up until now, the S1 provision has dealt with this for a significant number of people; can the Minister say how many people are actually covered by it? If only 1% of UK citizens in the EU are thus adversely affected, that is still 10,000 people with enormous worries about their health cover. For some, this is bound to mean that they will have to return to the UK, where their healthcare will be 100% covered by the NHS. When the Minister replies, could he outline just what provisional arrangements will be in place until the arrangements in whichever EU state those UK nationals are in finally take effect because they have their settled status?

The last point I want to make is that I do not think that, at the moment, the Government have done nearly enough to publicise the fact that UK citizens living in the EU will not be able to access NHS services for free when visiting the UK after this, unless they have a UK-issued S1 form. The problem is that the Government have not done nearly enough to publicise what will happen, country by country. I accept that the embassies have done some outreach work and have embassy pages, but in many cases those are pretty generic and the situation alters very much country by country. Again, at Second Reading, I asked if the Government would provide information on where reciprocal arrangements were in place with the EU states—for example, for qualifications. The Minister made no reference to that in his summing up. The absolute least the Government could do for UK citizens in Europe is to provide a comprehensive country-by-country guide covering all the issues that concern UK citizens abroad.

Photo of Lord Steel of Aikwood Lord Steel of Aikwood Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I have not yet spoken on the Bill, preferring to leave it to the experts —of whom there appears to be quite a lot on these Benches—but I want to speak in support of these two amendments which my noble friends have tabled.

I have a holiday house in Languedoc—not the fashionable part of France. Every time I have gone there during the last three years since the referendum, the people who live and work there, as my noble friends have described, have said to me, “Come on, you’re a Member of Parliament, even in the upper House. Can you tell us what is going on? What are our rights?” I have given them a truthful answer: “I’m sorry. I haven’t a clue and, what is more, neither have the Government”. That is the position we have arrived at today. They have all made the point that during the last three years we have had no fewer than three different Cabinet Ministers responsible for exiting the EU. That was their job, but never, in the whole time of our membership of the European Union, have we ever had a Cabinet Minister whose sole responsibility was to stay within the EU and to make sure it developed in such a way that it improved our relationship with it and that its terms and condition and its new regulations were those that we found acceptable. That was an extraordinary omission that we made during that time.

Some of the people whom I have met are thinking, as one of my noble friends said, taking out French citizenship. If they have lived there for more than five years, they can do that. Another one has found an Irish grandparent and is thinking of taking out Irish citizenship. It is a tragedy that we are possibly losing these people and losing them from the citizenship of our country. It is not desirable at all. A lot of them are aware that I took an active part in the 1975 referendum. I keep pointing out to them that I am sorry because there was a huge difference between the two referenda. In 1975, there were huge public meetings in every town and city in the land; there were huge arguments about our role in Europe, and about the reasons why we were having European unity and the European Economic Community as it then was. This time, it was all about a grubby figure on the side of a bus. It was a very different atmosphere, and one they found very difficult to understand. These people have been treated rather shabbily, and I hope that the Minister, in his reply, will be able to give them some words of comfort.

Photo of Baroness Altmann Baroness Altmann Conservative

My Lords, I shall speak particularly to the pensions aspect of Amendment 37, and I draw the House’s attention to my register of interests. I say to my noble friend on the Front Bench that I understand the dilemma faced by the Government on this issue. There are more than half a million pensioners around the world who have frozen pensions. There has been a sustained and impressive campaign by the International Consortium of British Pensioners to try to persuade the Government to uprate the state pensions of people who live in the 150 countries, of the 200 countries around the world, in which there are not reciprocal arrangements to uprate state pensions and therefore their pensions are frozen. So this issue goes much wider, and I applaud the Government for at least agreeing to uprate the pensions of those citizens who live in the EU, regardless of reciprocation in the meantime. I would encourage my noble friend, and the Government, to consider this in the context of the overall uprating issues for people with frozen pensions around the world. If you live in the US, Mauritius or Jamaica, your British state pension is uprated; if you live in places such as Canada, Australia, the Falkland Islands or Antigua, you do not receive any pensions uprating.

The important issues here are, first, to look at it in the context of the overall policy. That is why I understand the Government’s position in not having committed to uprating at this point. Secondly, it should be borne in mind that these EU citizens—at the very least, those who already live abroad or are over pension age—will have made a decision to relocate on the understanding that their pension would be uprated. They could not possibly imagine a position in which it would not. I hope that the Government, in their future negotiations on and considerations of this issue, will bear that in mind, but I understand the position that my noble friend on the Front Bench is in.

Photo of Lord Teverson Lord Teverson Chair, EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee, Chair, EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee 12:15, 16 January 2020

My Lords, I very much support Amendment 37, tabled by my noble friends, but I want to talk to Amendment 44, which is in my name and in this group. It concerns retaining European citizenship for UK nationals. I do not expect this provision to appear in the final version of the Bill when it becomes an Act, as in a way this is a probing amendment, but it is of huge importance and something that many people feel strongly about.

I remind the House of the privileges that come with European citizenship. We know about the freedom of movement, which is often discussed, but there is also the freedom to establish a business. There is the freedom to carry on your education in the whole of the European Union, and there is the freedom of being able to buy property without permit within the European Union. On the health side, we have our European health cards. We also have consular protection from other EU member states, should we need it. We have visa-free travel in 153 other nations. We have no customs queues as we come into the then-to-be 27 member states and, of course, we have voting rights in a number of elections. Those are fundamental rights that we have had as European citizens and that we will lose as UK citizens once we leave the European Union, which we will do on 31 January.

By an accident of birth in the 19th century, I am able to retain my European citizenship, as I think a number of Members of the House are through various other historic reasons. But that ability is entirely random and not available to the vast majority of our citizens who wish to do that. I recognise entirely, as the constitutionalists will say, that it is generally agreed that it would require a treaty change for full European citizenship to be bestowed upon UK citizens once we are a third country. However, there are perhaps alternatives to that, such as associate citizenship, and there is a will among certain European institutions to allow it or to find a way for it to move forward over time, once we have left.

I thank the Government in that, when I have raised this in the past, they have been very open and said, “It’s not within our power as such, but if that offer came to the United Kingdom then we would not necessarily shy away from it”. I congratulate the Government on that quite brave statement, and I hope that they will continue to have that attitude in future. I also think, perhaps strangely and counterintuitively, that if a way were to be found for some form of associate citizenship, it could be one way in which the country could come back together again, because it would clearly not be compulsory. Those who do not want their European citizenship—I recognise that, for many years, many people have treated that status with disdain and have said they do not want it—can keep that “non-citizenship”. Only those who want to volunteer for this citizen status need take up the offer.

This is perhaps a way forward; it is one method by which the country could come together, so that people feel that they have not lost all of those rights that are so important to them. Yet those people who feel strongly, and who were the majority in the referendum who wanted to exit their citizenship, will indeed still be in that position. I would like to hear from the Minister that this is something on which the Government will keep their mind open, should such an approach ever come from the European institutions—many of us may continue to encourage that.

Photo of Baroness Buscombe Baroness Buscombe Conservative

Before the noble Lord sits down, can he tell me: do you have to pay tax in any EU country in order to obtain EU citizenship?

Photo of Lord Teverson Lord Teverson Chair, EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee, Chair, EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee

Well, at the moment, you are automatically a European citizen if you are a national citizen of one of the member states, so your tax position is no different to your position as a national. You are subject as an individual to the treaties and the book of law of the EU and its member states, so I do not see that it makes any difference. If you become an associate citizen, then clearly it will depend on the details of that associate citizenship.

Photo of Baroness Buscombe Baroness Buscombe Conservative

So the answer is that you do not necessarily have to pay tax in any EU country in order to obtain that citizenship. You could be claiming benefits in—or, in other words, not contributing to—any one of those countries.

Photo of Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Conservative

I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, on shining a light on this particular difficult policy area. I follow on from the remarks made by my noble friend Lady Altmann, but on a slightly different question, regarding a case study with which I am all too familiar because it concerns my own pension, so I hope that noble Lords will forgive me for raising this.

One area of EU law that has long concerned me is the free movement of pensions and that the pension to which one contributes while living and earning money in another EU member state should be recognised when one returns to the UK. In my case, I remember only too well that I contributed on two occasions, once as an employee and once as a self-employed independent lawyer. On one of those occasions, my contribution was taken and has simply not been recognised. I am sure that this is a common problem; I cannot believe that it applies only to me.

I am in a privileged position as regards my pension, other than the fact that I am told I cannot take my state pension until a slightly later year than I was expecting. When summing up on this small group of amendments, can my noble friend give the House assurance that, where an individual of whatever nationality —British, in my particular case—has contributed to a pension scheme in, for example, Belgium, France, Germany or Denmark and at some future date wishes to return to the United Kingdom, there is a guarantee that their pension will be recognised and will be paid as part of either a private or occupational or state pension at the time of retirement?

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Labour

My Lords, I had not intended to speak on this amendment: indeed, I did not speak at Second Reading and have concentrated in my own amendments on some fairly technocratic issues. However, my noble friend Lord Teverson—or, rather, the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, who on occasion is my friend—has provoked me. One reason I did not speak at Second Reading is that I now recognise that Brexit is going to happen on 31 January and I am feeling emotionally negative about it. I shall not be joining any celebrations, even if they raise the money for Big Ben to bong.

Photo of Lord Steel of Aikwood Lord Steel of Aikwood Liberal Democrat

Does the noble Lord agree that the slogan, “Get Brexit Done” is completely wrong? What is happening on 31 January is that we will get Brexit started.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Labour

That is absolutely true and I believe that it is gradually being realised by large sections of British society, business and individuals. Nevertheless, 31 January is a symbolic date in that we leave the political institutions of Europe, and that upsets me as it does the noble Lord, Lord Steel. I was very positive in the 1975 referendum, although my party was of a rather different view, and I have remained a committed European since. Sometimes I got fed up with Europe, but one of the issues referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, that of EU citizenship, is making me seriously emotional because it concerns my grandchildren.

My grandchildren were born into European citizenship. They are too young to have voted in referenda or general elections, but we are depriving them of all the benefits of European citizenship that the noble Lord spelled out. There must be a way of their being able to reassert their birthright at some future date, through arrangements between ourselves and the institutions of the European Union. I therefore very much support the intent of the noble Lord’s amendment. How it is actually worked out has yet to be made clear to me, but I hope that Ministers will at least take on board that, whatever view we took of Brexit, we are depriving some people of rights through a decision over which they had no say. That is one of the things I will be thinking about on 31 January, and it could be resolved in the long term by future arrangements between ourselves and the European Union.

Photo of Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Crossbench

My Lords, I support the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and I use that as an excuse to ask the Minister what the status is, from 1 February, of the EHIC card. I had assumed it would remain valid until the end of the year, but I have seen suggestions in the press in the last few days that it will be invalid from 31 January.

On the point made by the noble Lords, Lord Teverson and Lord Whitty, of course my heart is with them, but as the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, said, this is a matter of treaty amendment and it does not seem likely to me that it will go very far. It is of course driven by good will in the European Parliament, created in part, no doubt, by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, during his time there. Reading the debates in the European Parliament, it strikes me as significant that the arrangements we have in this country for obtaining settled or pre-settled status are not seen as satisfactory. There are a number of reports in the continental press from which I draw one common factor: it is the absence of any documentary proof of one’s status that is particularly worrying for EU nationals living in this country.

My last point concerns an area in which I am very supportive of what the Government are trying to do and I urge them to go on trying to do it. For UK nationals resident in continental Europe, the absence of any continuing right of onward movement, even if their status in an individual member state is secure, is a very serious defect. I encourage the Government—I know this is their aim—to go on seeking to have that defect remedied.

Photo of Lord McNicol of West Kilbride Lord McNicol of West Kilbride Opposition Whip (Lords)

My Lords, I declare an interest—unfortunately, it is not a house in France or Italy. My uncle, Neil McNicol, is an expat who lives in Spain and if these amendments were to go through, it would affect him.

Amendment 37, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, would require the Government to take steps to preserve the rights of UK citizens living in the EU, EEA or Switzerland. Proposed new subsection (2) cites the uprating of pensions and the continued availability of public healthcare as priorities, but importantly, there would be flexibility for Ministers to act in additional areas.

In an earlier group of amendments, I expressed regret that the Government had waited so long to make a unilateral guarantee to EU citizens living in the UK. The main justification given for this delay—even if it was later dispensed with—was that the issue of citizens’ rights depended on reciprocity. However, as we heard in the opening remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, reciprocity is desirable but not necessary. During the passage of the Article 50 Bill, my colleagues argued that by offering a unilateral guarantee for EU citizens here, the UK would generate good will and swiftly secure reciprocity from the EU 27. There is still quite a bit of work to be done in that area. However, the sad reality, as we have heard in this debate, is that the failure of the Government’s approach has left UK citizens who live in certain EU countries fearing for their future rights, especially as our formal exit from the EU draws near.

Amendment 44, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, returns to a topic covered during the passage of the original European Union (Withdrawal) Act: associate citizenship of the EU. While some figures in the EU suggest that this may be an option, it has always been clear that the Government have no interest in pursuing this line of inquiry. It is regrettable that the Government have not been more open-minded. In responding to the amendments, I hope that the Minister will focus on the substantive—that is, people’s sense of belonging and their genuine concerns about the future—rather than just the technicalities.

To touch on the final point of the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, in yesterday’s debate we discussed hard-copy documentary evidence. I hope that we can make progress on that as well.

Photo of Lord Bethell Lord Bethell Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip) 12:30, 16 January 2020

My Lords, I am enormously grateful for the opportunity to respond to the noble Baronesses, Lady Hamwee and Lady Miller, and to all noble Lords who have contributed to this debate on Amendments 37 and 44.

Amendment 37 refers to UK nationals in the EEA and Switzerland and protections to their state pensions and healthcare. I hope that the debate will provide a valuable opportunity to give some reassurances on some of the key and important points made by the noble Baronesses, Lady Hamwee and Lady Miller, and the noble Lords, Lord Shipley, Lord Steel, Lord Kerr, Lord Whitty, and other noble Lords.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, is quite right to state that confidence in the system is absolutely essential. This has been a difficult period for those who have felt, at times, that their benefits and arrangements might have been in jeopardy. The noble Lord, Lord McNicol, spoke movingly about the concerns of UK nationals in the EU, and EU citizens in the UK, who have cross-border lives and who are seeking reassurance that those healthcare and state pension rights will be protected. I reassure the House that that protection has been a high priority for the Government.

We have delivered certainty for the 1 million UK nationals that the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, referred to, and to the 3 million EU citizens in the UK, via the withdrawal agreement which we have reached with the EU. We have also reached a separate agreement on citizens’ rights which, in great detail, protects the rights of EEA, EFTA and Swiss nationals in the UK, and UK nationals living in those states.

Certainly, it is absolutely critical that people should feel at ease about their futures—the noble Lord, Lord Steel, touched on that point movingly. I will offer the crumb of comfort that he asked for. These agreements give citizens the certainty that they need about their rights going forward and ensure that they can continue to live their lives as they do now. That includes, importantly, the right to live, work, study and access healthcare; to receive an uprated UK state pension in the EEA and Switzerland, in line with the triple lock; and to access valued benefits.

I will tackle the question of the three-year period. I reassure the House that the uprated pension in these areas is not just for three years; that was a proposal floated under a possible no-deal arrangement. This is an uprated benefit for life. These are the key components of what I believe the noble Baroness is trying to achieve in her amendment. I make it clear to the House that these are already protected.

The Government have also gone further than the withdrawal agreement and the proposed new clause require, protecting the rights of UK nationals in the EU where it is unilaterally possible to do so. In April last year, the Government published a policy paper, Citizens’ Rights—UK Nationals in the EU, which supplemented the rights contained in the withdrawal agreement for UK nationals resident in the EU at the implementation period. I will give a few examples. In respect of family reunification when UK nationals return to the UK, there is an additional seven-year period from the end of the implementation period for UK nationals living in the EU to access higher and further education in the UK under home fee status, and with support from student finance. This offer on education has also been applied by the devolved Administrations.

I will address the proposed new clause in Amendment 37 and the specific arrangements referred to by the noble Baronesses, Lady Hamwee and Lady Miller. I reassure the House that the citizens’ rights provisions in the agreement already ensure that those who have made their lives in or plan to retire to the EU by the end of the implementation period will receive an uprated UK state pension in the EU and any associated reciprocal cover while they have the right of residence in that member state. The provisions of the agreement will protect approximately 500,000 state pensioners already in receipt of a UK state pension and approximately 190,000 UK state pensioners and their dependants for reciprocal healthcare cover across the EU, EEA, EFTA states and Switzerland.

The current arrangements go further than the amendment itself. The proposed new clause in Amendment 37 falls short of the protections offered by the agreements. That is because they ensure the protection of not only UK nationals currently in receipt of a UK state pension in the EU, but UK nationals resident in the EU who are not yet of state pension age but who might be considering retiring in the country in which they live: for example, someone who has retired early to the EU once they reach UK state pension age. I reassure those who, like the noble Lord, Lord Steel, are concerned about our EU friends. The agreements will also protect reciprocal healthcare for all those in scope of the agreements, regardless of whether they are UK nationals.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, asked about the aggregation of pensions and benefits. I reassure the House that all contributions today, made from whatever country in the EU or EFTA, and Switzerland, will be protected by the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Kerr, referred to ongoing negotiations about those who look to make onward movements beyond the implementation period. I reassure the House that those negotiations are being carried out with energy and enthusiasm. I also reassure him that his EHIC card will be valid until the end of the year—as it will be for the Bethell family, including my four children, on our forthcoming holidays.

Photo of Lord McNicol of West Kilbride Lord McNicol of West Kilbride Opposition Whip (Lords)

The Minister said that UK pensions will be uprated “while they have the right to reside in that state”—I think I quote him correctly. But what if they move to another EU state?

Photo of Lord Bethell Lord Bethell Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

Those parts of the pension that are already in the bag, as it were, will continue to be uprated, depending on where they move to. If they move to another area where there is a treaty arrangement, they will continue to benefit from the uprating arrangements relevant to the country to which they move. However, as my noble friend Lady Altmann referred to—a point I shall move on to—if they move to an area which does not have a treaty arrangement, their future contributions to the pot will be relevant to that country’s arrangements.

Photo of Lord Shipley Lord Shipley Liberal Democrat

Can the Minister clarify something that I think he said? He referred to UK citizens who are not yet of retirement age but become entitled to a UK state pension and then move to one of the 27 countries of the EU. Will their pensions be uprated?

Photo of Lord Bethell Lord Bethell Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

I am not sure that I completely understand the question. If they have qualified for the UK state pension while still in the UK, of course they will take their pension with them. If they are currently living in the EU but contemplating retiring in that country, the arrangement that we have had means that their benefits will continue while they are in that country. I hope that answers the question.

Photo of Lord Shipley Lord Shipley Liberal Democrat

My question was whether, if someone who is currently working and then retires, receives the UK state pension outside the European Union after 1 February but then moves to an EU country after that date, their pension will be uprated in that country. Is that what the Minister said?

Photo of Lord Bethell Lord Bethell Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

That is a question of sufficient complexity that I am reluctant to commit to an answer at the Dispatch Box, but I will be glad to come back to the noble Lord with a detailed response.

The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, made a good suggestion when referring to the concerns of EU citizens living in the UK about their arrangements. I reassure those citizens that the arrangements in place will preserve their current situation, so they should feel confident and reassured. Her suggestion of a country-by-country guide is a good one, which I welcome, and I will pass it on to the department as a recommendation.

My noble friend Lady McIntosh talked about the fair recognition of pension payments in the round. I cannot comment on the precise arrangements for her pensions, but I reassure her that everything that is contributed to pension pots in any EU country before the end of the implementation period will be recognised as contributions to the pension.

Lastly, my noble friend Lady Altmann talked movingly about the uprating of pensions for those who live in countries with no suitable treaty. That is way beyond the scope of this agreement. I have sympathy for those people who live in countries where there is no pensions treaty, but as she quite rightly explained, they did make that move knowing what the arrangement was. Bringing in uprating for such people would add an enormous cost to the Treasury of around £600 million a year, but it is something that remains on the Government’s radar screen.

The new clause proposed by Amendment 37 is well intentioned and is entirely supported in spirit by the Government, and that is why we have put in place the arrangements set out in the Bill. However, it is unnecessary as the agreements that the Bill will implement safeguard both healthcare and state pension rights for UK nationals living in the EU, and therefore I will ask the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, to withdraw it.

Before I do so, I will address the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, on his amendment. I thank him, the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, and others who also spoke to it. The proposed new clause is a well-intentioned and creative move. I acknowledge that there are some people in the EU, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, who would like such a measure to be enacted. But I want to be really clear with the Committee: EU treaty provisions on this matter are very straightforward. Only the nationals of EU member states are able to hold EU citizenship. When the UK ceases to be a member of the EU on 31 January, UK nationals will no longer be able to hold EU citizenship. For those who have dual nationality with another EU member state—I would guess that the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, is in this group—it will be different. However, those with only British citizenship will not be EU citizens.

We have worked hard to ensure that the effect on people’s lives will be minimised. The withdrawal agreement we have reached is a fair and reciprocal agreement with the EU on citizens’ rights. It provides certainty and a means for all UK citizens living in the EU and EU citizens resident here in the UK at the end of the implementation period to be able to continue to live their lives broadly as they do now. These rights as provided by the withdrawal agreement will take the status of international law, having a direct effect in EU member states under EU law and in the UK under Clause 5 of the Bill. These provisions are meaningful and give people who are concerned about this the security that they need.

Will the attitude to citizenship ever change? The British Government will of course always listen to the EU about benefits that might come to UK nationals. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, alluded to, to date, associate citizenship has not been formally proposed to the UK in the negotiations as we leave the EU and I do not believe that it is our place to propose new policies that would require making changes to fundamental and significant EU legal principles such as EU citizenship. But we always keep an open mind to suggestions from our EU partners and I reassure the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, that that open mind remains.

Finally, it is worth repeating a point that has been made several times in Committee. It is vital that we restore the traditional division between government and Parliament to ensure that the negotiations ahead can be carried out with flexibility. With that in mind, I ask the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, to withdraw her amendment.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Immigration) 12:45, 16 January 2020

My Lords, I knew that once we got going on this subject it would reel in Members from the across the Committee, and I am grateful for their observations and contributions, as well as to the Minister, of course. He started his response by referring to confidence in the system being essential and finished it by referring to the need for flexibility. I am not sure that those two notions can live together very comfortably.

On the issue of uprating for life, the Minister said that that is being protected where it is unilaterally possible to do so while the person remains in an EU state. That raised the question that the noble Lord, Lord McNicol, intervened on, which is: what if the individual moves? At the moment the protection would be in place. He also used the phrase “in scope” but I am not sure what that means in this context. But perhaps most importantly, he talked about the protections broadly remaining the same, which is the terminology used on the government website, which refers to, “broadly the same entitlements”. What is also apparent when one looks at the website more closely, and certainly as I understand the position, is that the withdrawal agreement protections are dependent on there being a deal. I end by echoing my noble friend’s plea made for the Government to make detailed information much more widely available and comprehensible. These are technical issues and I accept that finding the right language is a problem, but if there was no problem, we would not have been receiving representations about the issue. If all that comes out of today is better communications, that will actually be a good deal of progress. Leaving the Minister with that plea—it is more than a request—I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 37 withdrawn.

House resumed.