My Lords, this is the first time that I have spoken in this Committee. I intended to speak last week but I was not feeling too well, so I did not and did not come. I apologise for that, although there may be members of the Committee who think an apology is not appropriate and who were quite pleased about it. I declare something of an interest. I have a close in-law who, I am pleased to say, has just achieved settled status, although it took him a long time to bring himself to even apply for it. I support the amendments in this group and all the speeches that have been made.
This group should be put in its context. Among a lot of European citizens living in this country, large numbers of whom now have settled or pre-settled status, there remains an acute sense of concern. A lot of people are still fearful and worried; some are still scared. They are worried particularly about family relationships. Jobs are a different thing, in a sense. People are worried about their jobs but somebody who has got a good job and skills can go and get another one. A lot of people are still wondering what to do. How long might they stay here; will they stay here for the rest of their lives as many intended to do? People keep saying to me: “Yes, we have got settled status and that is fine, but how do we know that they won’t change what it means?” This week, one person said: “Look, it’s part of the withdrawal agreement and an international treaty, but we have a Government who do not seem to care too much about that.” Whether or not that is true is a different matter; it is the impression that is being given, so they are asking what it means.
How long will it be before people come along and say, “Yes, but you are European citizens and we will change the basis on which you live in, work in, or have the right to return to this country”? It may be in small ways; it may be in the detail of complicated legislation. So much of what the Committee is talking about is exactly that. I do not think that this is something that the Government can give reassurance on. They have tried, but they cannot guarantee what a future sovereign Parliament may allow—or force—a Government to do. We talk about the hostile environment: a lot of people still believe that the way in which they are being treated and regarded by many British residents of this country is undesirably different from what it was before the referendum.
That is all history; we know what is happening. It would, however, help if the Government, instead of concentrating on what they are now calling the need to be compliant, and pursuing that kind of thing, came out with some positive spin: propaganda or publicity about the value of European citizens and how important they are to this country. The end of this year—the end of the transition period—would be a good opportunity to do that, because that still gives six months, and it could be tied to a renewed government campaign to pick up the people who have not yet applied for settled status.
My noble friend Lady Hamwee, in her brilliant introduction to this group, suggested that the number of people who might be caught at the end of June by not having applied and not fitting into whatever guidance the Government finally come up with—they have given some indications but they are not very comprehensive and the guidance will not come out before we have dealt with this Bill—might be huge. It does not matter whether it is a huge number or not; it might be a few hundred or a few thousand, although it is likely to be rather more than that. We do not know how many there will be, but for those individuals it is no more or less important if it is 10,000, 20,000 or 200,000. Many people think that it is going to be rather more than a few thousand, given the comparison between the number of people who have applied so far and estimates of how many European citizens there are in this country.
These amendments are very important. I will not repeat all the reasons why people may not have applied for settled status by June next year, or indeed why they have been given pre-settled status, except that it is fairly clear that in the majority, probably, of pre-settled status cases it is simply that people have not been living here long enough. That is fair enough: they can continue to live here and will then qualify. Anecdotal evidence—of which there is a lot—suggests, however, that much of it is error by the Home Office, or the inability or failure to provide some detail, often a quite trivial detail. The anecdotal evidence comes from two groups of people. The first group is those who have appealed; the rate of success among them is, I understand, quite high. That suggests that many other people have not appealed and have said, “Well, I am only going to live here another two, three or four years”, or, “Well, we will get it all sorted out in three or four years’ time”. They are the sort of people who will get caught by the system. We have no idea how many of them there are; we know, however, that in relation to the 40% or so who have status—the people the Government are so proud about—it is temporary status.
Why should the Government make an effort to tell people about the scheme? My noble friends went through a lot of reasons. One of them—a perfectly legitimate and acceptable reason—is that people change their minds. People who think that they will be here only another two or three years may experience a change in their circumstances. They might get married, have children, get a new job; they might do all sorts of things. When their circumstances change, they may just change their mind and decide that they would like to stay. They will then, however, have to reapply. Can the Minister give the House an absolute assurance that when, in due course, people who have been turned down for settled status but have pre-settled status apply for settled status, the Home Office will not revisit their original application, find errors in it and use that as an excuse for not giving them settled status? That is a fundamental point. Will the Minister give that assurance?
There is one more point that I had not picked up on earlier; it occurred to me when I was listening to the eloquent contribution from my noble friend Lady Smith of Newnham. If somebody’s pre-settled status runs out in, say, two years’ time—because they have already been here three years, and after two they are entitled to apply for settled status—will they then have the whole of the three years between that point and the five-year period following the end of June next year? I hope that I have made myself understood. Will they have the whole of that three years to go back and apply for settled status, or will there be a time limit within which they have to turn their pre-settled status into settled status? In other words, for somebody who has been here for two years and gets their pre-settled status now, does that last for five years regardless, or end at some stage when they are entitled to apply for settled status? I would like an answer to that.