My Lords, the proposed new clause in Amendment 60, which has cross-party support and is sponsored by the noble Baronesses, Lady Fookes, Lady Garden of Frognal, and Lady Morris of Yardley, is largely self-explanatory. If accepted, it would continue allowing minors to travel from the European Union, other European Economic Area states and Switzerland to the UK on identity cards rather than passports beyond
Large numbers of junior nationals from these jurisdictions travel to the UK every year for school exchange visits, English language courses, adventure holidays and a range of sporting and cultural activities. Last year over 150,000 European Economic Area juniors travelled to the UK for English language courses alone, many of them travelling in groups for study programmes that lasted for less than two weeks. This is an invaluable cultural and educational exchange that builds friendships and fosters good will between the UK and other nations. Most of these students currently travel on identity cards. Many do not own passports but travel freely on identity cards throughout the EU and EEA states with no need for passports.
A survey last year by English UK, the trade association for English schools, showed that, in 2019, 90% of under-18 EU students who came to this country did so on an identity card to study at colleges accredited by the British Council, an organisation on which I served as a deputy chair for six years. The parents of these under-18s do not want to go through additional bureaucracy or incur the cost of getting a passport, having saved for the cost of the trip itself. Furthermore, if just one junior due to travel in a school exchange group is without a passport, the viability of the whole visit could be put in jeopardy. If this travel on identity cards ceases, the UK will lose out to other countries and its position as a popular destination could decline. This new clause would help to rectify the situation and sustain the UK’s position as a popular destination. I emphasise that the proposed extension of identity card-based entry for under-18s coming to the UK for a single stay of no longer than 30 days in any calendar year means that this concession would be available only to those presenting little or no border security issues or risk of abuse.
Some may object that allowing the continuation of ID card travel presents the UK with an unacceptable security risk. EU citizens with settled status will be allowed to continue to travel on ID cards, so why not children coming for short-stay trips, largely travelling in large managed groups?
Furthermore, the EU passed a regulation last year to increase the security of ID cards issued in EU states. The regulation requires that within two years of June 2019, all new ID cards need to be machine-readable biometric cards. Existing cards will be phased out by 2023 if they are not machine readable. This will bring the security features of ID cards into line with those of passports.
As this small exception would be a continuation of an existing procedure, I do not believe it will be very complex to administer. If the clause is accepted, it will be welcomed by our European partners as a significant gesture of good will. It is also worth noting that Iceland, Norway and Switzerland allow travel for EU nationals on an ID card, so I urge the Government to accept this amendment.