Amendment 1

European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill - Report (1st Day) – in the House of Lords at 3:21 pm on 20 January 2020.

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Votes in this debate

Lord Oates:

Moved by Lord Oates

1: Clause 7, leave out Clause 7 and insert the following new Clause—“Rights related to residence (1) The Secretary of State must by regulations make provision implementing—(a) Article 18(4) of the withdrawal agreement (right of eligible citizens to receive a residence document),(b) Article 17(4) of the EEA EFTA separation agreement (right of eligible citizens to receive a residence document), and(c) 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.(2) Subsection (1) applies in the same way to—(a) persons within the personal scope of the withdrawal agreement having the right to reside in the United Kingdom, and(b) persons to whom the provisions in paragraph (a) do not apply but who are eligible for—(i) indefinite leave to enter or remain, or(ii) limited leave to enter or remain,by virtue of residence scheme immigration rules (see section 17).”Member’s explanatory statementThis amendment removes the Bill’s references to a constitutive system and instead makes clear it will implement the Withdrawal Agreement via a declaratory registration system that ensures EU citizens can receive a physical document to prove their right of residence in the UK.

Photo of Lord Oates Lord Oates Liberal Democrat

My Lords, Amendment 1 is in my name and those of the noble Lords, Lord Warner, Lord Kerslake and Lord McNicol of West Kilbride. It seeks to achieve two things. First, it would provide citizens covered by the settled status scheme with a right to a physical form of proof of status; at present, only a digital proof is available. Secondly, it would shift the settled status scheme from a constitutive application scheme to a declaratory basis, meaning that rights were based on eligibility and not forfeit as a result of not meeting an arbitrary deadline.

I want to be clear at the outset. This amendment is not a partisan matter. It is not in any way an attempt to challenge Brexit, frustrate this Bill or change the substance of the rights established under the settled status scheme and in the withdrawal agreement. It simply seeks to ensure that the scheme will work effectively; that a plethora of problems that will, on the current basis, be encountered inevitably by the Government and EU citizens after the registration cut-off period are avoided; and that EU citizens have the option to have physical proof of their status should they wish it.

As noble Lords will recall, in June 2016, the current Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, the current Home Secretary, Priti Patel, and the current Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Michael Gove, made the following, unequivocal statement:

“there will be no change for EU citizens already lawfully resident in the UK. These EU citizens will automatically be granted indefinite leave to remain in the UK and will be treated no less favourably than they are at present.”

Sadly, although a great deal of progress has been made with the settled status scheme, these commitments have not been honoured.

First, the settled status scheme is not the automatic route to indefinite leave to remain that was promised. It is an application-based system with a finite cut-off date of 30 June 2021. The only thing automatic about it is that after midnight on that date, any person who has not applied will be criminalised—deemed to be unlawfully in the United Kingdom, whether or not they would otherwise have been eligible for permanent residence under the scheme—and subject to deportation. We know that despite its best efforts the Home Office will inevitably not be able to reach, and grant settled status to, every one of the 3.6 million-plus eligible EEA and Swiss citizens resident in the UK. As a result, possibly tens 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 on people by the Home Office in the Windrush scandal, but it will do nothing of the sort. The cut-off date will simply empower the Home Office lawfully to inflict such injustice. Under the settled status scheme, there will be no hope of redress, as there was for at least some of the Windrush victims, because after June 2021 EU citizens will have automatically lost their lawful immigration status by virtue of having failed to meet the cut-off date, regardless of being otherwise fully eligible under the scheme. That cannot be right, and it is not what the Prime Minister and the current Home Secretary promised.

A second issue with the settled status scheme is that, unlike the system of indefinite leave to remain for non-EU, EEA and Swiss citizens, 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 on the relevant website by whoever requires proof of their immigration status. The group the3million, which represents EU citizens in the UK, has published today the largest survey undertaken so far of settled status scheme applicants. It finds that 89% of EEA and Swiss citizens surveyed wanted physical proof of their right to reside because they are afraid of the difficulties that a lack of physical proof will inevitably cause. Interactions with landlords, airline staff or other officials obliged to check immigration status will become fraught with anxiety for them, dependent on the frailty of an internet connection and the resilience of a government IT system.

I have seen at first hand how these problems can arise, even before the settled status scheme comes into force. Some months ago, I was travelling back from Kenya to London with a colleague who is a German citizen and permanently resident in the UK. At the airline check-in desk, the official wanted proof of her right to residence in the UK because with all that was going on about Brexit, that was how he understood the situation. She explained that she did not need any proof; she was an EU citizen and, as such, had the right of entry to the UK. But we can imagine many circumstances in which people trying to travel will find themselves asked to provide physical proof but be unable to do so. Given that physical proof is provided to other people, such as non-EU citizens who have permanent leave to remain, this will inevitably cause confusion to officials around the world.

Your Lordships can see that if you are to tell people that you do not have physical proof but do have a number that an official must look up, on many occasions you would just be looked on with incredulity. If the internet is down or there is a problem with the Government’s IT system—I understand that it happens on occasion—then what predicament will that airline traveller be in? Will they be carried by the airline concerned but be unsure of their status? Will the carrier be liable if they allow that passenger to board?

As the noble Lord, Lord Warner, said in Committee, we must live in the real world. In the real world, in respect of permanent residence, proof of immigration status is in physical documentation; that is what people are used to. Those expected to comply with immigration rules will expect physical proof, and EU citizens will be severely disadvantaged if they do not have it.

The amendment does not seek to change the settled status scheme; it seeks to build on it and improve it. It would protect the Government from the severe difficulties that would otherwise occur after the registration cut-off date by establishing a declaratory system which protected the rights of those eligible under the scheme after that date and alleviate the practical difficulties that EEA and Swiss nationals would otherwise face by providing for physical documentation alongside the digital register, just as is the case for any non-EEA citizens who receive indefinite leave to remain in this country.

This is not a debate about technicalities, constitutional principles or partisan differences; it is a debate about people’s lives, about the deep and genuine concerns of EU citizens about the scheme as it currently operates, about their confidence that they will be able to travel to and from the country that they have made their home without let or hindrance, and about whether their interactions with landlords, airline staff and others who are required to comply with the immigration system become fraught with difficulty and whether they will face discrimination as a consequence of being treated differently from other permanent residents in this country. It is also about whether the rights of the most vulnerable of those EU citizens remain protected after June 2021.

It is in the hands of the Government to allay such concerns by accepting this amendment. I appeal to them to do so, to try to walk a little in the shoes of those subject to the scheme who have indicated their deep concerns and, in doing so, to show some flexibility and good sense. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Warner Lord Warner Crossbench 3:30, 20 January 2020

My Lords, I support the amendment, to which I have added my name. I want to make just a couple of points in support of the very elegant speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Oates.

This is also a matter of government competence. We made it clear in Committee that there were doubts in all parts of the House about whether people going about their business who were legitimately here and had been given leave to remain and settle here would face challenges to that right on a regular basis. That was because there was no guarantee that they would have some physical manifestation to demonstrate to people whom they had to convince that they were indeed entitled to be here. We cited many of the circumstances; the noble Lord, Lord Oates, cited more today. There are landlords; there are schools; there are GPs; there are airlines; there are many things which we all take it for granted that we can do in our daily lives where other people may have to prove that they are entitled to be here in order to do them.

I do not think that the Government convinced many of us in Committee that they really understood this issue. They were still touchingly attached to their idea of giving people a code to get into the Home Office computer, which the person who had to be convinced would then use to see that they could be here. Just spelling that out suggests that there may be some doubts in the Government about their ability to understand how today’s world really works.

There is also the issue of whether the Government could rely on the Home Office computer systems to be working reliably 24/7 for 365 days of the year. I do not know what others’ experience has been but, in the real world, things sometimes go a little awry in the Home Office and not everything works as smoothly as we would like.

My noble friend Lord Oates made the point very well about the risks that now await many of these people in about 18 months’ time. As I recall, in the Conservative Party manifesto there were concerns about the way the criminal justice was struggling, and a need for an independent review of that system. Does it really make a lot of sense to take the risk that, in 18 months’ time, we will criminalise another large number of people who may have to go through that system, which is creaking at the seams? That is the risk that the Government are taking in the way they are going about this exercise.

This amendment does not call into doubt the Government’s right to have new rules on immigration as a result of Brexit. It is about whether the scheme itself will do that effectively and efficiently. It is about whether a lot of people who have proved their right to be here will be put to a great deal of trouble to prove that they have the right to go about their legitimate day-to-day business. I strongly support the amendment.

Photo of Lord Kerslake Lord Kerslake Crossbench

My Lords, I will speak in support of the amendment, and add my voice to those of other noble Lords who have spoken so well on it. I am sorry that I was not able to be here when the amendment was debated in Committee, which clashed with another public meeting that I had agreed to chair. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Warner for stepping in and speaking on my behalf. I have, of course, read the report of that debate.

I think that we can agree on two things here. The first is that EU citizens are innocent bystanders in the Brexit battle; this is not a fight of their making. They have made a big contribution to the economic and social well-being of this country. It follows, therefore, that we must take every reasonable step to ensure that they are not disadvantaged by our departure from the European Union. Secondly, the way forward on this issue is entirely in the UK Government’s hands. Agreeing the amendment need not delay Brexit, nor does it require changes to the withdrawal agreement. It is our choice to make.

I fully appreciate that good progress has been made on the application process, but it is a long way from complete and almost certainly it will never be so. In Committee, the Minister said that the Government will take a pragmatic approach to providing a further opportunity to apply for those who have reasonable grounds for missing the deadline. I have no doubt of the Minister’s sincerity on this. However, as the Windrush scandal has shown, pragmatism, good judgment and fairness have not always been strong features of our immigration system—and, as we also know from Windrush, the consequences for those on the wrong side of our system are very serious.

The two changes proposed in the amendment—adopting the declaratory system and providing physical proof—are simple safeguards that do not, as the Government suggest, in any way undermine the applications process that is now under way. They just provide more reassurance and safeguards to those affected.

In the conclusion of Amelia Gentleman’s brilliant book on the Windrush experience, which ought to be required reading for anyone interested in these issues, she talks about her shame, on hearing of the experiences of those affected, that we could treat our citizens so badly. She expresses the hope that the memory of the Windrush scandal will linger and ensure that such extremes of institutional cruelty are never allowed to be repeated. Approving this amendment today is one way that we can act to reduce that possibility.

Photo of Lord Anderson of Swansea Lord Anderson of Swansea Labour

My Lords, I adopt the wise words of the noble Lords, Lord Oates, Lord Warner and Lord Kerslake, and echo what they said about the danger of rerunning Windrush and about the fallibility of government computer systems, which we have seen in many cases.

I will add only one further point. I had the honour to serve, during the last Session, on your Lordships’ EU Justice Sub-Committee, ably chaired by my noble friend Lady Kennedy of The Shaws. It was a friendly committee and we worked in a consensual way. The committee examined EU citizens’ rights after Brexit, and one of the key concerns that we expressed was precisely that the EU citizen in the UK, for reassurance, needed some physical proof of the fact that they could remain in the UK. Certainly, some of us thought that Ministers, in seeking to justify their position—not pragmatically—seemed just a little uneasy. The committee heard much evidence, both oral and written, from a number of representatives of EU citizens, travelled to two parts of the UK and, importantly, met representatives of all the EU embassies on two occasions. They were able to represent the concerns of their citizens—so it was not, therefore, a capricious conclusion that we reached, but one based very firmly on evidence.

We tried to put ourselves in the shoes of those EU citizens in the UK. Of course, they would be used to ID cards, but some might have a certain hesitation about authorities and would certainly need an assurance, as the Government have said on a number of occasions. Have they had adequate protection? Not in my judgment, because a physical document is necessary to give those citizens confidence. In passing, it would also show that the Government do listen to one of their committees that has researched the project quite thoroughly.

Photo of Viscount Waverley Viscount Waverley Crossbench

My point, following the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, is that there does need to be supporting digital, because, for example, a government agency from the UK has on occasion questioned the validity of a Portuguese residency card—I have first-hand experience, being resident in Portugal—as being either fraudulently obtained or else open to counterfeit.

Photo of Lord Carlile of Berriew Lord Carlile of Berriew Crossbench

My Lords, I venture to suggest to your Lordships that it is sometimes wise to address and solve problems before they occur and to avoid the distress that otherwise would occur. In my nine and a quarter years as Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, I often stood at border posts, airports and sea ports, watching people being stopped, sometimes for absolutely no reason. But, whether there was a reason or no reason, one saw the shades of emotion of the people who were stopped, ranging from real distress to quiet acquiescence. The advantage of the simple measure suggested in this amendment would avoid the distress; it would mean that speeding through the border post really was quick, and we would solve a problem that is bound to occur if we do not resolve it now.

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

My Lords, I am glad to follow the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, on that point. In Committee, the Minister thought that I was advocating two separate systems: a digital one and an analogue paper system, if you like. I was not, and neither is my noble friend Lord Oates; he used the term “alongside”.

The Minister was also concerned that a physical document would be forgeable. There are many documents in use which are sensitive and important. Yesterday, I fished out from my office my Disclosure and Barring Service enhanced criminal record certificate. That is on watermarked paper; so is my copy of my birth certificate, a certified copy which is watermarked, though I discovered—I had not realised this—that the seal on it is not actually impressed. So why not have a physical document?

As has been said, computer systems are immune neither to those who wish to interfere with and distort them nor to simple failure. I do not suppose that I am the only Member of this House who has stood in an airport looking at all the screens which say “No internet access”. It is a bit disconcerting.

I get the feeling that the Government have got themselves into a position where they think that they will lose face if they tweak the system in the really quite small way which your Lordships are asking for. This would not stop Brexit. It would not change the rights other than as my noble friend has said. If it is a declaratory system, there would not be that change in the middle of 2021. However, it would be a recognition of what the noble Lord, Lord Warner, has called the “real world”.

When we first discussed the issue of citizens’ rights in this Chamber, some noble Lords said that there should be complete reciprocity in every detail of how EU states deal with UK citizens. Others of us pointed to the advantage of doing the right thing, which a declaratory system would be. My noble friend’s proposal is the right thing.

Photo of Lord Cromwell Lord Cromwell Crossbench 3:45, 20 January 2020

My Lords, there seems to be a slight pantomime element to this. Many from the3million say, “We need physical proof”; the Government simply reply, “No you don’t”, and so it goes round and round. We are going to have to rebuild relationships with many of these people, who have been bruised by the lack of clarity, by being referred to as “bargaining chips” and by other unkindnesses. My point is simply this: the Government can have their cake and eat it. This is not two parallel systems. You can provide physical evidence which will bear that identity number, which anybody who needs to can be obligated to look up. They are not two systems. I support this amendment.

Photo of Viscount Ridley Viscount Ridley Conservative

My Lords, I have a reservation about this amendment, based on a possible unintended consequence of physical proof of identity. The noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Swansea, mentioned identity cards. It is not impossible that, if there was physical identity documentation in existence, we would get to a situation, whether intended or not, where people would be asked to produce proof in this form. An identity card required of EU citizens but not of UK citizens would come in by the backdoor. That would be a worrying development. It might be a remote possibility, but it is one we should take into account.

Photo of Lord Campbell of Pittenweem Lord Campbell of Pittenweem Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I flew down from Edinburgh today. I was asked to prove my identity before I was allowed on to the aeroplane. It is a common request. I may be missing something here, but, if I want to be able to drive a motor vehicle in this country, I make an application; it is recorded somewhere, I have no doubt, that I have been granted a licence, and I am given a document. It is perhaps a modern form of document, but it makes it clear any time I am stopped by a policeman that I have a legitimate licence. What is wrong with applying that system to the circumstances we are describing here?

Photo of Lord Cashman Lord Cashman Non-affiliated

My Lords, as in Committee, I speak in support of this amendment. I previously served on the EU Justice Sub-Committee, where we undertook a long inquiry into this very issue. We were reassured neither by the then Home Secretary nor by the officials from the Home Office. It seems absolutely clear that the two systems are complementary: we have nothing to lose by running them together and everything to gain by doing the right thing and leading on this issue, and making people feel that after 31 January—bongs or not—they belong in our country.

Photo of Baroness Deech Baroness Deech Crossbench

My Lords, like several previous speakers, I too have been a member of the EU Justice Sub-Committee. We questioned Ministers on this, and their answers about there being no need for physical proof have been very unconvincing. They show a touching belief in the power of digital and wi-fi, yet all of us know that, at moments of stress, and in places such as airports, schools and hospitals, it is extremely unlikely that the internet will work properly. I cannot see why a simple piece of paper or a little card should not be issued to everyone who has successfully applied.

As for the point made by the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, in fact we all have ID cards of one sort or another, as has been pointed out—it is just that the 3 million EU citizens are slightly less likely than the rest of us to have driving licences, national health cards and so on, and therefore are all the more in need of a small piece of paper or card to prove that they are entitled to be here. I therefore support this amendment.

Photo of Baroness Altmann Baroness Altmann Conservative

My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend in the Government on their statement that there will be pragmatism in applying this system. However, what contingency plans are there or could there be in place should there be a major IT failure which prevents somebody, for example, who wants to rent a flat, being able to prove digitally that they have indefinite leave to remain? Maybe the department could consider that further.

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

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for their comments in the debate.

The amendment to Clause 7, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Oates, and supported by myself and other noble Lords, is a variant of that tabled in Committee. As the noble Lord, Lord Oates, previously outlined, we are far from convinced by the responses we have heard from government—I think the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, said that the Government were “unconvincing”.

Indeed, there have even been a number of contradictory statements from No. 10 in response to Friday’s comments by the European Parliament’s Brexit lead, Guy Verhofstadt. He claimed that the Secretary of State had provided assurances over the provision of physical documentation, as well as confirming a policy of no forced deportations if individuals fail to apply for settled status by the June 2021 deadline. However, the newspapers carried a contradictory quote from a government official, who said of the meeting:

“They discussed their respective position on physical documents. There weren’t any offers or changes from yesterday’s meeting.”

A statement from the Home Office later added:

“There is no change to our digital approach. It has always been the case that people could print a copy of their confirmation letter, but this can’t be used as evidence of status.”

The noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, said that this could lead to ID cards. The response to that is that people will be asked for physical documentation that proves their status now—as I will come on to, people are already being asked for it. If the Government could make this small change, we would be able to move on.

We should look at the last statement from the Home Office. When we travel abroad and hire a car on the continent, before we go we can print out a document from the DVLA which is proof that we are legally able to hire a vehicle and that the driving licence is covered. While the DVLA holds that documentation on computer, we can get physical documentation that proves the position. Again, it would be fantastic if we could see a little movement by the Government on this.

Under the evidence, we are not satisfied that the Government will provide assurances on physical documents, although I hope they will, or that they will verify the policy of no forced deportations for those who do not apply for settled status by the deadline. As the noble Lord, Lord Oates, touched on, a new poll of EU citizens living in the UK found that an overwhelming majority of 70% would favour physical documentation. These are people who have chosen to make the UK their home and to live, work and play in and thus be part of our countries and our society. On this evidence, the Government are going against good practice and the wishes of EU citizens currently living in the UK.

I shall go back to the point made by the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley. As many as 11% say that they have already been asked for proof of their status, and there have been warnings from private landlords that the new system could introduce the risk of discrimination.

Why would the Government implement a system that puts people who contribute greatly to our society at the risk of facing discrimination? Are they saying that the current proposal for a digital-only system is risk free? The arguments on documentation and deportation at the end of non-registration or non-agreement to pre-settled or settled status were well rehearsed in Committee and we have heard a number of contributions to that effect today, so I will leave it there. We recognise that the Government have provided some comfort as regards the appeals procedure, but there is too much uncertainty about other aspects of EU citizens’ rights. A representative of the3million campaign group has rightly pointed out that far from providing certainty, the current system is best described as giving an “unsettled status”.

We continue to believe that the declaratory system is the best way forward and that EU citizens should enjoy the same rights as many UK citizens living on the continent. Negotiations have already started and hopefully further talks will secure the position as we go forward. If the Minister is unable to promise to table a suitable government amendment at Third Reading and if the noble Lord, Lord Oates, chooses to push his amendment to a vote, we will support stronger protections for the millions of EU citizens who have made this country their home.

I shall touch briefly on the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Kerslake. He said that the Government should take every reasonable step to ensure that EU citizens who choose to make the UK their home are treated fairly, and the simple safeguards set out in the amendment would achieve that.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department, Minister for Equalities (Department for International Development)

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Oates, for his explanation of the amendment, but he will not be surprised to learn that we reject it. The amendment would require the Government to establish a declaratory system for those eligible for residence rights under the withdrawal agreement, the EEA EFTA separation agreement or the Swiss citizens’ rights agreement, which for the sake of brevity I shall call from here on in the agreements. References to EU citizens should likewise be taken to include EEA, EFTA and Swiss nationals and their family members.

The noble Lord has continued to press for this change in the belief that it will reassure EU citizens already resident here. The Government have already provided this certainty through the EU settlement scheme—not as a proposal, as the noble Lord, Lord McNicol, has suggested, but as something that is up and running and which the noble Lord, Lord Kerslake, acknowledges is working well.

Fundamentally changing a system that is working well would have the opposite effect to that which I believe the noble Lord is trying to achieve. Amendment 1 would create a declaratory system under EU law, whereby EU citizens may apply for a document confirming their residence status if they wish but do not have to do so. The Government do not agree that this is the right way to secure the status of EU citizens resident in the UK at the end of the implementation period.

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 that 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 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 this. A declaratory system under which individuals automatically acquire an immigration status would significantly reduce the incentive to obtain evidence of that status. That risks creating confusion among employers and service providers and would inevitably impede EU citizens’ access to the benefits and services to which they are entitled. Such an approach could also lead to EU citizens who had not applied for documentation suffering inadvertent discrimination compared with those who had. It is something that my noble friend—

Photo of Viscount Ridley Viscount Ridley Conservative 4:00, 20 January 2020

I apologise for interrupting. On that very point, I was not reassured by what the noble Lord, Lord McNicol, said. It seems to me that if landlords or other authorities are already beginning to ask for proof of settled status, this would get worse if there were known to be a system where they could produce a card. It would then de facto become a card that they had to produce.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department, Minister for Equalities (Department for International Development)

I totally agree with my noble friend Lord Ridley. His point about ID card creep is also part of this point. It 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 and entitlements in the UK.

The approach suggested in the amendment is also unnecessary. Managing the end of free movement in the UK and providing certainty for resident EU citizens during that transition has been an absolute priority. We firmly believe that the current, constitutive approach under the EU settlement scheme is the right one. According to the latest internal figures, more than 2.8 million applications have been received and 2.5 million grants of status have already been made. The Home Office, as I said the other day, is processing up to 20,000 applications a day.

We are working with communities up and down the country to raise awareness of the scheme and keep up this momentum. It already allows EU citizens who would be protected by the agreements and other people the Government have chosen to protect, such as many non-working spouses and primary carers not covered by the agreements, to obtain a UK immigration status, enabling them to remain here permanently after the end of the implementation period. This status will mean that their rights and entitlements under the agreements are guaranteed. However, the new clause would interrupt the flow of a system that is well under way, already working well and achieving precisely what it was designed and implemented to do: providing certainty to those who have made their lives here.

EU citizens resident in the UK before the end of the implementation period will have different, enhanced rights compared with those who arrive afterwards. It is therefore essential that these citizens have the evidence they need to demonstrate their rights in the UK. This is also why we are seeing many other EU member states planning to take exactly the same approach and establish a constitutive system for UK nationals living there.

The EU settlement scheme means that those who have built their lives here will not find themselves struggling to evidence their rights in the UK, or have to carry around multiple bits of paper to evidence their previous UK residence. We are legally required to issue all successful applicants under the EU settlement scheme with a written notification of their UK immigration status, and all successful applicants are given a letter confirming their status. The status can be viewed online and shared securely with others, but as noble Lords have said it is not proof but confirmation.

Access to the online status service is via secure two-factor authentication using the document, such as a passport or national ID card, which the individual used to prove their identity and their date of birth. The user is then required to input a one-time use code, sent to their mobile number or email address. This ensures that no one else can access the individual’s information without their permission. Once in the service, users can view their information and update their details, and can choose to share their status information with third parties. This might be with employers, to prove their right to work, or with other service providers, to prove their right to access public services, benefits or the NHS.

When an individual chooses to share their information, they share only the content that is specific and relevant to the checks in question, as I went through the other day. This will include their name, their image and any information that is relevant to that particular purpose. This supports data minimisation, ensuring that only the information required is made available, which is not possible with a single physical document.

All our digital services are designed and developed to be robust and reliable, with extensive internal and user testing before launch to ensure that they perform as expected. We will monitor services to ensure that any issues are identified and acted upon. Mechanisms are already in place for users to report any technical issues with the service. We continue to refine and improve these processes, and all data will be treated in compliance with data protection law.

We do not want to go back to issuing physical documents, which, as we know, can be lost, stolen or tampered with. Our vision for the future is a digital status and service for all migrants. The continuation of a declaratory system would force employers, banks and other service providers to wade through various documents to establish for themselves whether the person is indeed protected by the agreements. Such an approach would be burdensome, for the citizens and others, and for the very systems we have committed to protect.

I will pick up a number of questions which noble Lords asked. Several noble Lords talked about airports. The noble Lord, Lord Oates, gave the example of a friend who was questioned at the airport, and the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, talked about the border, too. What happens at the border is proof of identity to cross the border, as opposed to proof of status to be in the UK.

The noble Lord, Lord McNicol, talked about hiring a car abroad. In doing so, he inadvertently proved the point that, with the dispensing of the paper part of the licence, all one needs when abroad is a code to prove that you can hire a car. You do not need the physical document, you need only the code—as I learned to my peril when I did not realise that that was what you had to do.

Photo of Baroness Kramer Baroness Kramer Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Treasury and Economy)

I must correct the Minister. Having had great faith and gone abroad with my code, on attempting to rent a car in the United States and Spain, I found on both occasions that the process failed miserably. Only the fact that I had a piece of paper with me enabled me to rent the car. I hope the Minister will reply to the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, who asked what the back-up is when it goes wrong or there is a cyberattack.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department, Minister for Equalities (Department for International Development)

I will of course respond to my noble friend, and to other noble Lords who raised that point, but the point I was trying to make is that we have not had a paper part of the licence for some years. Whether it worked for the noble Baroness or not, to hire a car one gets a code from the DVLA. We do not have a paper part of the licence.

Photo of Lord Cromwell Lord Cromwell Crossbench

There appears to be a certain amount of confusion and a lot of people are gesturing to show that they have a plastic card in their hand. I think we have plastic driving licences; we have not done away with them.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department, Minister for Equalities (Department for International Development)

That is not the point that I was making. We used to have paper accompaniments to the licence and we no longer have them. We used to have a paper part of the licence and it was phased out, but to hire a car you need a code.

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

The noble Baroness is correct that the paper part of the licence has been phased out, but when you go abroad you need proof for the insurance to hire a car. The noble Baroness might well be correct that you can just use a code but, as we have heard, if you go with just a code there is no proof with it. I, many other noble Lords and many other people would print out proper documentation and proof that you have that code with the DVLA’s name at the top of it. That is what we are saying: it does not just show it when you hire a car, but proves it.

Photo of Viscount Waverley Viscount Waverley Crossbench

My Lords, while the noble Baroness is still sitting down, would it be possible, or is it anticipated, for government agencies in the EU 27 countries concerned to have access to our official databases so that they can look up and access data to confirm all these relevant issues, whether for borders or for whatever reason?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department, Minister for Equalities (Department for International Development)

The point I was trying to make was that any agency that has access to information about proof of digital status has access only to the information for the purpose it is required to prove, such as right to work or right to rent. Data is given only for the purpose for which it is required.

The noble Lord, Lord Oates, talked about deportation and criminality for those failing to apply by the deadline. I explained in Committee that EU citizens who failed to apply to the scheme by the deadline will not be acting unlawfully in the same way as illegal entrants or overstayers and will not be subject to automatic deportation—they will not have knowingly entered the UK in breach of the Immigration Acts or overstayed their leave. Once free movement has ended, they will need leave to remain in the UK. That is why we set up the EU settlement scheme. As the noble Lord, Lord Kerslake, and my noble friend Lady Altmann said, we have been clear that we will take a pragmatic approach. In line with the agreements, those with reasonable grounds for missing the deadline will be given further opportunities to apply.

On the reliability of IT systems, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Cromwell, and my noble friend Lady Altmann that immigration decisions have been securely recorded and stored digitally since the turn of the century, so this is nothing new. I ask the noble Lord not to press his amendment.

Photo of Lord Oates Lord Oates Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate. I thank the Minister for her response, but I must say that I am utterly bewildered by it. This really is not a complicated issue. Millions of EU, EEA and Swiss national citizens are desperately concerned and asking for physical proof.

In Committee, the Minister said that to provide them with physical proof would be confusing and create a two-tier system. We have a system of permanent residence in this country for non-EU citizens; my husband is one of them. In his passport is a Home Office sticker, a nice colourful thing with watermarks and all sorts of anti-fraud protection, which gives him permanent leave to remain. It is physical proof. Doubtless it is also recorded on some Home Office computer system—I certainly hope so. There is no complication about this; we can do it. We just need the same scheme. The complication with a system where there is no physical proof is that landlords, employers or others who may be used to having physical proof may not accept, or find it difficult to deal with, people who do not have it.

Let me pick up on a few points. The Minister talked about the driving licence issue. We have a physical driving licence. The Minister is indicating that I have missed her argument but the licence is proof of my right to drive. All these people are asking for is physical proof of their right to residence, which the Government are not providing. The Minister also said that there was a danger of ID-card creep; I do not think there is any danger of that. Again, we already have a system for permanent residence in which physical proof is provided.

The Minister said that the system is working well because a large number of applications have already been made. I will say two things about that. First, the argument that we have always made about why we need a declaratory system is to do not with the number of people who have applied by now but with the number of people who will not have applied by the cut-off date. That is what concerns us. Secondly, the Minister says that the system is working well, but I refer her to the information provided by the Public Law Project from freedom of information requests. It shows that 90% of those decisions to give people pre-settled status under the scheme—rather than settled status when they have come under administrative review, at a charge of £80 to the people applying for it—have been found to be wrong.

In summary, people having the right to physical proof is a critical issue. It is absolutely essential that the Government honour the commitments that the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary made at the time of the referendum. In view of how important this issue is, I beg leave to test the opinion of the House.

Ayes 269, Noes 229.

Division number 1 European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill - Report (1st Day) — Amendment 1

Aye: 267 Members of the House of Lords

No: 227 Members of the House of Lords

Aye: A-Z by last name


No: A-Z by last name


Amendment 1 agreed.

Clause 15: Independent Monitoring Authority for the Citizens' Rights Agreements