My Lords, I regret that I was deterred from joining the crowded ranks for the Second Reading of the Bill. I support all the amendments in the group and I shall speak to Amendment 46, to which I have added my name. The noble Lord, Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth, has asked me to reiterate his support for it, as he cannot be here today.
As we have heard, Amendment 46 concerns the retrospective requirement for comprehensive sickness insurance to have been taken out before settled status is granted throughout any period of self-sufficiency or as a student. This requirement has borne disproportionately hard on Roma people, with consequent unjust refusals of applications for naturalisation. This has been brought to my attention by the Roma Support Group, since it has particularly affected Roma women who have been looking after children full time, and thus are self-sufficient—neither employed nor self-employed—and who have applied for settled status using such documentation as they had, such as rental agreements or council tax bills, which were of course deemed insufficient. The requirement also prejudices the children of parents who have settled status but who did not acquire comprehensive sickness insurance themselves. The fees are usually out of their reach.
In answer to my Question HL6271 on this matter last July, the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, said that having comprehensive sickness insurance
“has always been a requirement” under EEA regulations, implying that students and self-sufficient people should have known about the requirement and ensured that they had the insurance. In fact, the CSI requirement results from the Home Office’s specific interpretation of EU regulations, which the European Commission considers to be in breach of EU law. I quote the European Commission’s own text:
“Under the Free Movement Directive, EU citizens who settle in another EU country but do not work there may be required to have sufficient resources and sickness insurance. The United Kingdom, however, does not consider entitlement to treatment by the UK public healthcare scheme (NHS) as sufficient. This breaches EU law.”
Secondly, the noble Baroness’s reference in her Answer to customer guidance and the implication that students and self-sufficient people should have known about the requirement also causes difficulties. Before the comprehensive sickness insurance scandal broke in early 2017, CSI was largely unheard of by anyone who had not had dealings with the Home Office, including the vast majority of EU citizens. It was never required in daily life or requested when accessing the National Health Service. Because of the surge of EU citizens applying for proof of permanent residence under EU rules after Brexit, it transpired that about 28% of applicants were being refused proof of long-term residence in the UK, mostly because of the CSI requirement. In October 2017, Theresa May publicly promised EU citizens that she would scrap the unfair requirement for the new EU settlement scheme. Why has this promise not been fulfilled?
Furthermore, the UK Government decided not to require proof of exercising treaty rights via the CSI requirement from applicants when granting settled status under the EU scheme. Now the Home Office is saying that anyone not exercising treaty rights was here unlawfully and is in fact introducing a two-tier system of access to citizenship for different groups of settled status holders. This will be a continuing issue of fairness and injustice.
Finally, in her Answer to my Question, the noble Baroness said that discretion could be exercised in such cases. It is not being so exercised. The guidance does not offer sufficient assistance, and, in any case, the earlier undertaking was not fulfilled. The Bill needs to put matters right through an amendment such as this.