Amendment 44

Part of Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill - Committee (3rd Day) – in the House of Lords at 5:45 pm on 14th September 2020.

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Photo of Baroness Smith of Newnham Baroness Smith of Newnham Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Defence) 5:45 pm, 14th September 2020

My Lords, I essentially support all the amendments in this group, but in particular it is crucial to think about the EU nationals resident here for maybe five years or more who expected to get settled status and then were given pre-settled status. As my noble friend Lady Hamwee so eloquently outlined in her opening remarks, 41% of those EU nationals seeking status of some sort have so far been given pre-settled status.

Maybe members of Her Majesty’s Government are always fully on top of every detail of every document they are ever required to look at, sign or agree. Whenever they get a piece of paper—assuming they even get a piece of paper and it is not some digital communication—they presumably know where they put it and they will know that on some future date, perhaps 23 July 2023, they will have to say, “Now I’m due to have my settled status. Oh Government, please, what do I do now?”

Every Minister might be able to do this, but I suspect that many of the 1.4 million people with pre-settled status might be more like the rest of us: they would know at the back of their minds that they needed to do something. It is a bit like doing a tax return, but at least with an annual self-assessment, one is reminded of it constantly—not just by emails from HMRC but by regular newspaper and television advertisements telling people the date by which they have to do their annual self-assessment tax return. People with pre-settled status are not going to have a single date: each of them will have a different point at which their five-year residence is up and needs to be turned into settled status. Amendment 45 is therefore absolutely crucial.

The Minister may argue that each individual should take responsibility for themselves—this may be the government view. I am sure that everyone who has sought settled status and has so far been told that they can have only pre-settled status is trying to take responsibility for themselves, but there may be all sorts of reasons why they do not necessarily remember the precise date by which they need to regularise things. It could be because of individual specific circumstances. As the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, mentioned, it could be because of the Covid crisis. There are all sorts of reasons people may not be able to deal with paperwork in the way they would normally be able to do. There may be a family bereavement—there could be a whole set of reasons why people have not thought through what paperwork is required.

There is, however, something to be said for the Government sending appropriate reminders. Surely one of the lessons of Windrush is that it is hugely important not only for individuals to have details of their own status but for the Government to have them too. If the Government are moving so much towards digitisation—so that all settled status documentation will be digital, unless the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Oates is passed—it ought not to be beyond the wit of the Government to have a mechanism for alerting people, six months out, to what they need to do to convert their status. If the Minister is minded to demonstrate Her Majesty’s Government’s compassionate and flexible approach—not something we very often see from the Home Office—that would be one way of going about it.

The amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, requesting information about what would count as appropriate for a late application is most valuable. EU nationals who have used their rights of free movement in recent years would be fully aware of the requirement to seek settled status. But people who have lived in the United Kingdom for many years—who were maybe born here, to parents who are not British but who had the right to be here because of some other European citizenship—may not think to apply. Maybe they have lived all their lives in the United Kingdom and never stopped to realise that they did not have the rights of residency that settled status would give them, without which they may not even be permitted to be in this country. Unless the Government has an effective way of identifying a whole range of people eligible for settled status but who did not realise that they needed it, some flexibility is required. A tolerant country would surely allow these people to apply late when their status becomes clear.