Moved by Lord Oates
49: After Clause 4, insert the following new Clause—“EU Settlement Scheme: physical documented proof(1) The Secretary of State must issue physical proof confirming pre-settled status or settled status to all EEA and Swiss nationals and their families who have been granted such status under the EU Settlement Scheme and who request such proof.(2) No fee may be charged for issuing physical proof under this section.”Member’s explanatory statementThis new Clause seeks to provide physical proof of settled and pre-settled status to those who make a successful application through the scheme, providing physical evidence of their migration status.
My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 49, to which the noble Lords, Lord Polak, Lord Kerslake and Lord McNicol of West Kilbride, have added their name. The noble Lords, Lord McNicol and Lord Kerslake, have asked me to pass on their apologies for not being able to participate in the debate—the noble Lord, Lord McNicol, cannot do so for obvious reasons—and to make my remarks on their behalf also.
I pay tribute to the3million for its tireless advocacy on behalf of EU citizens in the UK, as well as to British in Europe and the other country-specific groups that represent UK citizens in the EU and work so hard on their behalf.
The amendment’s importance is underlined by the fact that it not only commands cross-party support but is backed both by people, like me, who passionately wanted us to remain in the European Union and by those who, like the noble Lord, Lord Polak, were equal in their passion to leave. This amendment is not about refighting the battles of Brexit. It is simply about ensuring that EU citizens feel secure in their new status and do not face discrimination in the provision of services or the right to employment. It might even be described—properly, on this occasion—as specific and limited in its nature.
The amendment would require the Government to provide physical proof confirming settled or pre-settled status to all EEA and Swiss nationals and their families who have been granted such status and who request it. It would also require that the document be provided free of charge. The only way in which it appears to diverge from Amendment 51 in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Rosser and Lord Kennedy of Southwark, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, is that physical documents would be provided on request rather than automatically, so that those who did not feel the need for a physical residence card would not get one but those who did would be guaranteed one.
If the Government are correct that the system of verification and cloud-based proof of status will prove simple to use and will run smoothly, there may be little demand for such documents. But if, as I suspect, those granted settled status find that the digital system does not work effectively or is not understood by the service providers they must interact with—or if they simply want the physical surety that I would certainly desire were I permanently resident in another country—it will be available to them as it should be.
The arguments for the Government’s position are a little hard to follow but they seem principally to be these: first, that it would be confusing to people to have a digital system as well as a physical proof of status; secondly, that a digital proof is better than a physical proof because a digital proof cannot be lost; thirdly, that the Government intend to move to a wholly digital system in future and that it therefore makes sense for this new settled status scheme to adopt a wholly digital model from the outset.
On the first point, it is not clear why the Government think that having both physical proof and digital proof would be confusing, as this is exactly the system that exists for non-EEA citizens. They can access a digital proof of status and have a physical document. Landlords, employers and others who are expected to check for immigration status already operate under this system.
Within the settled status scheme itself, there are two different categories. Astonishingly, non-EEA nationals who are family members of EEA nationals—and who therefore acquire settled status through their family relationship—have the right to a physical document, while the EEA family member through whom they gain their status does not. Can the Minister explain to the House the logic behind this very curious arrangement and how it can possibly be said to provide clarity to anyone?
Secondly, when we discussed these matters, the Minister argued that digital proof is better than physical proof because it cannot be lost. I will be very clear to the Government and the Minister that this amendment would ensure that a physical document complements digital proof and would not replace it.
Thirdly, the Government have argued that it makes sense to adopt a digital model as this is the direction of travel of the Government as a whole. However, if a wholly digital system is to be introduced, it should be extensively piloted first with British citizens who are secure in their immigration status. We should not conduct an experiment with the lives of millions of people who are in receipt of an entirely new status, whose rights are not even underpinned in primary legislation and who are, understandably, extremely nervous about the situation in which they find themselves. It is, quite simply, wrong, especially when we already know the problems it will lead to. In 2018, the Government trialled their digital right-to-work scheme with non-EU citizens who have the backup of a physical residence card. Their own internal assessment stated the following:
“There is a clearly identified user need for the physical card at present, and without strong evidence that this need can be mitigated for vulnerable, low-digital skill users, it should be retained.”
In her response, can the Minister explain to the House what has changed since the Government made that assessment?
I hope that, during this evening’s debate, the Minister will be able to put her brief aside and try to walk in the shoes of the people who will be subject to this new system. I hope she will consider the anxiety and distress that they will be caused by the fact that, of the 70 million people living in Britain, they alone will be refused physical proof of their right to do so. I hope she will consider the fact that this anxiety and distress will be particularly acute among the elderly, the vulnerable and those lacking digital literacy.
I have tried to imagine what it would be like if I had an elderly relative who was an EU citizen and I had to explain to them that the whole proof of their continuing right to live in the UK existed only somewhere in the cloud, dependent on the resilience of government IT systems, the integrity of the data within them and the vagaries of an internet connection. I can imagine the distress and disbelief with which that relative would receive this information, and I wonder how I would explain to them why the Government were unwilling to do a simple thing and provide them with the reassurance of a physical document: something they could hold in their hand and show, themselves, to whoever in authority required it. This is something that will be provided to all UK citizens resident in the EU. I do not know whether the Minister or any of her colleagues in government have really thought about how those conversations will go and the distress that will be caused. However, if they have not, I hope they will now think about it and the position they have taken.
We still await the policy equality statement on the settlement scheme, which was originally promised in the spring. On July 28 this year, the Minister for Future Borders and Immigration, Kevin Foster, stated that it would be published shortly. Can the Minister confirm that the equality statement exists, that it will be published and when it will be published? Does she recognise that the failure to provide such information before we debate legislation makes it very hard to make parliamentary accountability effective?
While the most vulnerable will inevitably suffer the most, all those with settled status are likely to be impacted by the absence of physical documents. Briefing from the3million group provides illustrative examples of the problems that people will encounter under the new system, which could have a severe impact on their ability to work, rent a property or access medical and other services. They are instructive illustrations and I hope the Government will look at them—and the issues they give rise to—carefully.
As the briefing tells us, research conducted by the Residential Landlords Association found that 20% of landlords are less likely to consider renting to EU or EEA nationals as a consequence of their lack of physical documentation. The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants conducted 150 mystery shopping enquiries and found that 85% of prospective tenants who asked landlords to conduct an online check received no response at all. Of those landlords who did reply, only three said explicitly they would carry out such checks.
The situation is little better when it comes to employment. A poll of 500 employers conducted on behalf of the3million found that only 36% of employers knew that an online verification system would be applicable to EU citizens after the end of the grace period. This fell to just 17% among small businesses with a turnover of under £500,000, which means that four out of five such employers are not aware how right-to-work checks will operate under the new system.
What is the likely outcome of such confusion? It is that landlords and employers, who face unlimited fines and potential imprisonment if they employ or rent to someone who does not have the right to work or rent in the UK, will play it safe. As a result, EU citizens will be discriminated against compared with those who can show a physical document indicating their right to live or work in the UK. This is the real world, and these are the real effects on people’s lives, which could be corrected so easily by this amendment.
I hope that in the face of this compelling evidence of the clear harm that this discriminatory system will impose on millions of EU citizens, and in accordance with the promises made by senior members of the Government during the referendum campaign, the Government will think again, show themselves to have empathy and compassion and agree to this simple amendment, which would prevent so many unnecessary problems and so much unnecessary hardship from arising.
I beg to move.
My Lords, I am pleased to have added my name to this amendment, and I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Oates, for his excellent and thoughtful introduction.
Non-EU citizens are given physical proof of their settled status. Can it really be that EU citizens will be the only group without physical proof of status? The immigration system should treat people fairly and justly. People who have come to the UK and live here lawfully should not struggle to demonstrate their rights. A physical document, such as a biometric residence permit like those issued to non-EU citizens, will give that peace of mind.
I am entirely at one with the Government and specifically the Home Office’s ambition to digitalise. Of course, it is the way forward. But we are not there yet and, as the noble Lord, Lord Oates, said, the lack of physical proof will be of great concern to those who may not be digitally literate—specifically, some older people. So I was happy to support this amendment once it was agreed to add the requirement that the Government provide the physical proof if requested, thus alleviating the strain on the department.
As the noble Lord, Lord Oates, began, this amendment is neither political nor a repeat of arguments. It is simply a practical and sensible option to give some people comfort. I hope that my noble friend the Minister will agree with me that it is just the right thing to do.
My Lords, I am the first person who signed Amendment 51 to speak on this group. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Oates, for providing such a clear introduction to both the need for a physical document and the difference between these two amendments. Amendment 51, which I signed with the noble Lords, Lord Rosser and Lord Kennedy of Southwark, calls for the automatic provision of the document, as the noble Lord, Lord Oates said, and Amendment 49 would provide one on request. I would argue that Amendment 51 is stronger because “on request” requires people seeing into the future and predicting when things might not work. It would be simpler and easier for the department to administer, but either one of these amendments would be a significant improvement on the situation we have now.
As the noble Lord, Lord Oates, said, both the3million and Britons in Europe have done a great deal of work to spread the information about the need for this document. I was at a briefing earlier with the Children’s Society and the3million, focusing on the situation of the 260,000 children who have acquired settled status and the 150,000 who now have pre-settled status. If we think about the situation where—in about 10 or 15 years’ hence—one of those young children has to suddenly prove their status, recovering all the emails, the phone numbers and all the other information they might need to do that is likely to be far from simple.
I also want to address the situation for adults. Can the Minister confirm my understanding of what the process would be? My understanding is, for example, if someone wants to prove their right to work—as we were discussing in an earlier amendment—they will need to access their status via a website, providing the passport or ID card they applied with and their date of birth; they will then have a choice of getting a code with either email or phone; that code will need to be entered on the website; if that is successful, their status will appear on the screen and there will be an option to prove their status. They will then have to fill in the employer’s email address; the system will attempt to email a code to the employer, who will then need to find the correct website, enter the code along with some security information and finally see a screen with a photograph and proof that the person has the right to work. Does the Minister acknowledge that this has many moving parts? If any one of these fails, then it all fails.
We were talking before about landlords being reluctant to go through the extra hassle. We can also imagine plenty of employers who might be similarly reluctant—if they are choosing between two nearly equal applicants—and thinking, “Well, let’s just go for the simpler option.” We saw research from the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants that showed that only three in 150 landlords said they were prepared to do those digital checks. Perhaps employers might not be quite so prepared—if they are concerned about discrimination legislation—to talk about their reluctance to do it, but you have to wonder if it would be there.
Of course, as other speakers have already said, this is really very frightening; it makes people feel very insecure. It is estimated that 22% of people do not have the essential digital skills to complete this process. It might be that they rely on someone else—such as the small child that I started off by talking about—but what happens when that person is no longer accessible or available to them or in contact with them? Physical back-up would provide people with certainty and security. It would be good if everyone had it, but either way it should certainly be available. Therefore, I commend both of these amendments, but particularly Amendment 51, to your Lordships.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to support Amendments 49 and 51. I listened carefully to what the noble Lord, Lord Oates, said in introducing them so cogently and reasonably, and I had the advantage of being able to have had a conversation with him last week where he explained the generalities of the amendments to me. I thought the arguments were compelling; the noble Lord, Lord Polak, put it well when he said this was a practical and sensible option. All three speeches that we have heard so far have underlined why this is not one of those ragged political debates that require us to take positions; it is something about which we can do something useful this evening in Committee.
I will turn, if I may, from the generalities to something specific, a particular case of people who will be especially disadvantaged by the impact of digital-only status: the Roma community. On
Now, 76 years later, Roma people still face discrimination and liquidation. I especially commend the work of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Roma in ensuring that Parliament understands the horrors that this community has experienced and the special circumstances and challenges which it faces today.
In debates like this, I miss the voice of Lord Avebury, a good and long-standing friend and the author of the Caravan Sites Act 1968. At the memorial event celebrating his life, Damian Le Bas, a Roma who wrote The Stopping Places: A Journey Through Gypsy Britain—a remarkable insight into the world of Travelling people—spoke powerfully about how parliamentarians such as Lord Avebury can act to ensure that the UK’s 200,000 Roma can lead lives of dignity.
Lord Avebury would have been the first on his feet to support these amendments, pointing to the lack of awareness within the Roma community of digital immigration status and the way in which digital exclusion simply builds on the other exclusions which Roma historically have experienced. The Roma Support Group says that only 3% of Roma are able independently to complete online applications such as those required by the European Union settlement scheme. Very little data exists about how many Roma have applied to the EUSS so far and been given settled or pre-settled status. As the debate proceeds, I will hand the Minister a copy of the Roma Support Group’s briefing on this so that she can read some of the cases illustrating this point. I would be grateful if the Minister could say how this problem can be addressed, especially as the Home Office data does not include a breakdown of ethnicity.
Enabling those who need it to receive physical evidence of their status in the UK would certainly be a start, and enabling programmes to be developed which could address the issue of digital exclusion, on which this debate has helped us to focus, would be a very good outcome.
My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Alton, that we all cherish the memory of the much-missed Lord Avebury, who was a champion for human rights globally.
I will speak to Amendments 49 and 51 on the need for documented proof of settled status, and commend the noble Lord, Lord Oates, for his compelling speech, and the crisp speech—notably from the Government Benches—from the noble Lord, Lord Polak. The ending of free movement, which this Bill implements, is nothing less than a tragedy. We should not be severing our links with our nearest neighbours, with whom we have the most in common. This seismic change in our freedom impacts all UK citizens, as we will lose our rights to live, work and study in the EU and EEA countries. For EU nationals living here—many of whom are our family members, friends and colleagues—and for UK citizens living in EU member states, the changes will also be profound, bringing a potential loss of security and life choices in the future.
The aim of the Government’s Brexit project of ending free movement to and from the EU and replacing it with the future global points-based immigration system was supposedly to deliver on their aim of reducing net migration. This policy is not supported by the evidence. In 2019, despite free movement, net migration from the EU fell to less than 50,000, but net migration from outside the EU, where there is no free movement, increased to its highest level for 45 years, above 280,000. Is this what “taking back control” was supposed to be about?
Those EU nationals who for whatever reason do not acquire settled status by the deadline of the end of June 2021 will move from an immigration system that currently works to the same unreformed system that currently applies to non-EU nationals, which is inhumane, dysfunctional and, frankly, chaotic. Even those who succeed in registering under the EU settled status scheme will receive no physical documentation as proof of their status; their rights will not be guaranteed in primary legislation and will potentially be subject to alteration by Ministers under the very considerable Henry VIII powers that this Bill bestows on them.
The Financial Times reported in July that the number of EU migrants who have applied for the right to stay in the UK after Brexit already considerably exceeds official estimates of the Europeans who are eligible to remain, raising further questions over the effectiveness of the Government’s scheme. Home Office statistics up to July show that 3.8 million applications have been made, far more than the official estimate of 3.4 million EU citizens living in the UK that was produced by the Office for National Statistics. In fact, the Financial Times survey of EU embassies discovered that the UK Government might have underestimated the EU-born population of the UK by more than half a million people. By the end of July more than 3.5 million grants of status had been made. However, around 40% of those applicants had been granted only pre-settled status, leaving them in a kind of limbo with their status still unresolved for the long term, while many more applications are still anticipated.
Experts warn that the confusion over the real number of EU citizens living in the UK will make it almost impossible to assess how many eligible people will fail to secure settled status by the time the process closes on
The groups most affected are likely to include many from the age groups under 18 years and over 65 years, who have had worryingly low application rates. For example, there are 9,000 eligible children and young people in the care system in the UK, for whom only 500 applications have so far been made by local authorities. Non-EU-national family members of EU nationals, rural farm workers, those in isolated communities, those with limited English-language skills, those who are homeless, victims of domestic abuse, those without relevant or up-to-date documents and those who are not digitally literate—often the elderly—are all potentially at risk. That last problem has been exacerbated by the pandemic as the support services normally available to such groups have been forced to move online.
For those groups and others, such as full-time students, full-time parents and those who have previously left the UK temporarily for more than six months, providing the required proof of continuous residence for five years to the Home Office can be very challenging, if not impossible. This means that people with a rightful claim to British residence may lose their legal status overnight. It is another Windrush in the making.
The other main impact of the Bill is of course that, as a direct consequence of the abolition of EEA free movement for UK citizens, we, our children and our grandchildren will from January 2021 lose our rights to live, work and study in the 27 member states of the EU plus the three EEA countries and Switzerland—the biggest diminution in value of a country’s citizenship in history. Therefore, at the same time as the UK Government are opening up higher-paid jobs in the UK to the whole world under the points-based system, the brightest and best UK citizens seeking international career opportunities in the biggest, richest market on our doorstep, the EU, will be second-class citizens in their own country.
In addition, the multiple impacts of the Bill on the estimated 1.5 million UK citizens already resident in European Union member states, who will also become second-class citizens within the EU, should not be forgotten. For example, those with non-British spouses and family members will not have an automatic right to return to the UK with their family after
My Lords, I support the eminently sensible Amendment 49, so well argued by my noble friend Lord Oates and supported by the noble Lord, Lord Polak.
The Minister will get rather bored with me, I am afraid, but we are back to right to rent, which is the gift that keeps on giving. As I mentioned at Second Reading and when addressing previous groups, when it comes to renting to EEA, Swiss and B5JSSK nationals —that is, citizens of Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea and the United States of America—who come to the UK under six-month visa-free entry and can use e-passport gates at UK airports, landlords are told that they must rely on physical proof of immigration status. Not only must EEA and Swiss nationals, who enter the UK without a visa, produce their passport, they must produce a ticket, boarding pass or travel booking to the landlord to prove that they entered the UK within the past six months.
The Government keep claiming that physical proof of settled or pre-settled status will not be provided because all proof of immigration status will be digital. That is simply not true. Can the Minister please confirm on the record that this is the case?
Something the noble Lord, Lord Polak, said struck a chord with me. I recently lost my driving licence and when I applied to have a replacement the system said that I could continue to drive even though I was not in possession of a physical driving licence. I felt very vulnerable about driving without a physical document in my possession, so that if I was stopped by the police, for example, I would be able to prove that I was driving lawfully. Can the Minister explain when the UK Government plan to phase out physical driving licences and allow drivers to rely simply on a digital system?
My Lords, I must admit that I originally found the Government’s arguments quite persuasive in the briefing the Minister provided for us, but I have changed my mind, having heard from the 3 million representatives about the many potential pitfalls and just how anxious many of those affected are at the prospect of not having physical proof. I have also seen evidence from the Roma community, the European Children’s Rights Unit and the Roma Support Group, the last arguing that this group experiences a combination of digital exclusion and a lack of digital skills. That is true of many marginalised groups. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, has spoken very movingly about this group already.
The noble Lord, Lord Oates, referred to a promised policy equality statement that still has not appeared. This is really important, because we know that digital-only policies are likely to have a differential impact on groups with protected characteristics, as the example of the Roma community indicates. We know from universal credit the problems that digital by default can create for those who lack digital access and digital skills.
I am puzzled because the Minister’s response to many other amendments has been to complain that they would create a two-tier system, but it seems that this is creating a two-tier system that the Government are very happy with. Perhaps the Minister could explain that contradiction. I hope that the Government will not oppose this amendment. Amendment 49, in particular, is extremely modest, and I just hope that the Government will acknowledge the contradiction and ensure that they are not creating their own two-tier system here.
My Lords, it is a privilege to follow so many very clear and excellent speeches, starting with my noble friend Lord Oates and including my old friends, the noble Lords, Lord Alton of Liverpool and Lord Hain. I listened to both of them and thought, “They got some good training when they were kids, didn’t they?”
It is interesting that, of all the things that people such as the3million group and lots of other European citizens who are concerned about settled status and so on do not like, this is the one thing that they are almost all united in thinking ought to be changed. A lot of them put it at the top of their list of priorities, partly because it is such a simple and obvious thing for the Government to do.
I have been in this place for 20 years—I have to pinch myself but it is true—and I have noticed over the years that sensible Governments do not just lie down and do everything that your Lordships’ House wants them to do, although we have the debate and they listen. Occasionally they say, “Yes. There’s sense in this. We’ll take it away and sort it, and will come back.” I think that this is one of those issues. The great advantage that Governments have of doing that here and not in the House of Commons is that the Opposition do not then start shouting “U-turn” and so on at them; they say, “We thank the Government for their sensible thoughts and actions on this. Good for them.” This is one issue where the Minister, who has a reasonable amount of clout in her department and in the Government—not as much as some people but a reasonable amount—
There are shadowy figures who get appointed and seem to run things but never appear in this or any other House, but I am sure that the Minister could do it if she wanted to. I think that this is a single thing that the Government could do.
Various people have talked about it being a two-tier system. My noble friend Lord Paddick said it would mean that people with settled status would be in a position different from that of other people. They would be, and they would sometimes be worse off in some respects compared with some citizens of the European Union. For example, those who come here to work after the end of June next year will need a work visa. As I understand it, they will have a passport and the work visa will be stamped in it. They will be okay. They will say, “Look, I can work”, whereas those with settled status will have to go through the long and complex system that has been described to us by the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett.
My other question concerns transactions, whether relating to employment, housing or other things—odd jobs and so on, with people doing work for others. If the European Union person with settled status, who might be on either side of the transaction, is the provider of the facilities or services, will they have to show that they are entitled to be here and to provide those services to their customers or whoever they are providing them to? That is a question for the Minister.
It seems a bit ridiculous in some cases, such as odd-job men. Somebody comes around—they may be a traveller or just an ordinary odd-job man—and says they will mend your roof by putting the tiles back on or will set up a window-cleaning round. If you employ them to work for you, and pay them to do it, but they are not entitled to work in this country, will you be breaking the law in some way—or is it all on the side of the person providing the service?
I have been trying to get my mind around the worst-case scenarios. If you want to rent a new flat and you are leasing it from a big landlord, who is highly reputable and provides high-quality accommodation, you will be okay. They will have all the computer systems, will know how to do it and be used to it. It will just go through. But you may be renting an attic from an old lady who has lived in the house all her life but does not know what a computer looks like or how to operate that kind of system. She does not work through an agent or anybody like that; she just does it. You may be a lodger or a tenant. Under those circumstances, you need a physical document.
I can think of loads of others. Think of the gig economy. Lots of it is highly organised and computerised, and will easily be able to cope—driving for Uber, running webinars or whatever it is. But a lot of the gig economy is short-term jobs, such as working at a bar, doing delivery rounds, music gigs or all sorts of things, as we all know. We should not expect this system to work under circumstances where people do not have a physical document. It is simply not going to happen; it is not going to work.
Then there is the question of self-employed people—your classic Polish plumber, or whoever it is, whatever they are doing. As I suggested before, they may have come to mend your roof or sort out your heating. This is a self-employed person, a sole trader. They may or may not be operating properly within the tax system, but there are loads of such people. How will they cope with this? Some of them have devices with them, but lots will not want to worry about computers. If you are employing these people, as I said before, is it your responsibility to check that their settled status is bona fide?
The more I think about, the more circumstances there are where it will simply not work. It might work in 90% of cases, but there are lots where it will not. Simply having a physical document means that the system can work. It does not mean it will, but it means that it can, so that people on all sides of the transactions can cope. I return to what I said before: this is simple. I cannot understand why the Government will not do it. They should go away, design a scheme, come back and tell us what they are doing, and we will cheer them to the rooftops.
My Lords, I too speak in support of Amendment 49. Like other noble Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Oates, on his comprehensive introduction and on continuing to press this important issue. Equality of access and opportunity should be at the heart of every government policy, yet denying EU citizens this physical back-up to prove their status opens avenues for the exact opposite. It raises barriers that may unfairly hamper their ability to lead fulfilling lives and to carry out basic tasks, such as seeking job opportunities—as we have heard— finding a place to live, opening a bank account, getting medical treatment or safely returning home after travelling abroad.
The noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, raised the important issue of the discriminatory impact of the denial of physical proof on the Roma community. I want to draw attention to the potential impact on two additional groups; people who would be similarly affected by a system that requires access to the mobile number, the email account and the password used to claim the status in the first place—a system that requires digital literacy and competence.
First, I want to speak to potential issues for people in abusive and coercive relationships. Coercive control is now a criminal offence in the UK. It is defined by the Government as behaviour
“designed to make a person subordinate and/or dependent by … depriving them of the means needed for independence, resistance and escape and regulating their everyday behaviour.”
In England and Wales, the police recorded 17,616 offences of coercive control in the year to March 2019.
An analysis of the types of behaviour in coercive control cases has found that a common strategy is precisely to deprive the victim of access to phone and internet usage. If a person escapes a relationship with a coercive partner, in which the partner has managed the process of claiming settled status, how will they be able to prove their status in the future without reinstigating contact with a partner they will have struggled so very hard to leave?
My second concern is for people with impaired mental capacity. The proposed system is based on the assumption that people have full control of their email accounts and telephone contracts. However, people with impaired capacity will almost certainly require someone else to complete their application and help them navigate the complexities of the digital status regime. They may lack the mental capacity to enter into a mobile or internet contract. Given the fluidity of workers in the social care system, there is no guarantee that a person with impaired mental capacity will still be connected with the carer or caseworker who provided assistance at a later point in life when they try to apply for a job or to rent a property.
Accepting this amendment would represent a very small concession by the Government. It would not mean scrapping the digital scheme, as some have claimed, but simply providing, in the words of the noble Lord, Lord Polak, the option of a physical back-up—it is quite literally just a piece of paper. By equalising the situation between EU and non-EU citizens, the Government would avoid the risk articulated by this House’s European Union Committee of creating a situation similar to the shameful Windrush scandal. It would also show that this Government are committed to upholding principles of non-discrimination that are crucial not only for the establishment of a fair and just immigration system but for a better society.
At the end of the discussion on Amendment 48, the Minister rebuked me severely for something I had said. I would just like to put in her mind the following numbers: Germany, 130,000; France, 90,000; Greece, 80,000; and the United Kingdom, 40,000.
I was extremely grateful to the Minister for seeing some of us during the recess to discuss the Bill. She will remember that the issue most discussed then was this question of physical proof of status. Most of us seemed to find it difficult to understand the Government’s reluctance to issue the physical proof that is so badly wanted by so many of those granted settled or pre-settled status. I still have difficulty understanding it.
Yes, the Government want us all to go online but, as the noble Lord, Lord Oates, explained so powerfully, there are still many in the country who cannot—particularly older people and those with poor digital or linguistic skills. Probably, in the community that we are talking about of those seeking settled status, there is a rather higher proportion of such people than in the community at large. I cannot prove it, but it sounds likely. Yes, one can tell the potential landlord or employer to check one’s status on the Home Office website, but some of them cannot do that either. Many might prefer to skip the house or rent to somebody else, or employ someone else, as the noble Lord, Lord Oates, explained. Yes, lots of people now bank online, but I doubt whether very many of them choose not to have a bank card. As the noble Lord, Lord Oates, said, we are not trying to replace the digital system; we are trying to complement it.
The most powerful point tonight was the one made by the noble Lord, Lord Polak. People may be wrong to want the reassurance of physical proof, but the fact is that they do want it. Since it is cost free, what is wrong with giving them what they want? It is called democracy.
I support Amendment 49 or Amendment 51—I support both of them. If the Government still resist and still cannot produce a convincing explanation, I hope that a combined amendment will be put to the House on Report, and I would expect it to receive very strong support across the House.
The noble Lord, Lord Polak, said that this was a practical proposal. I think the term tonight is “pragmatic.” That seems to be the one that the Government put forward in defence of their own position on other matters. This proposal is both practical and pragmatic and, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, says, gives us the chance to do something useful. It is useful for those who argue—and we have heard arguments—persuasively and anxiously that they are denied their back-up, in the words of the3million campaign.
The digital status will not be infallible, but there are steps to it which can fail at any point. The examples given by the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, are very important ones of people who need and will value having physical documents. I add to them those who have been helped by organisations, sometimes organisations funded by the Government as part of these arrangements, who may not be able to make contact with the organisation in a few years’ time. They may not even remember which organisation it is, or the organisation may no longer be in existence. Yes, one might be able to search one’s computer to see where the information is. I cannot always remember who sent a particular email and, actually, I have my emails pretty well organised into folders and sub-folders. But then I suppose that I am “elderly”—and I would be grateful if Hansard put that in quotes.
The digital rollout is a big bang for the EU settlement scheme. Obviously, it is a matter of some pride to the Government, which is why they are so resistant; they have to hold on to this as a principle, because it is part of a rollout for the whole of the immigration arrangements. I assume that they will have some review before they continue with the rollout. One thing that I have learned during all this is that it took Australia 19 years to make everyone comfortable with purely digital arrangements, and Australia does not have the hostile environment provisions that we have in the UK. I very much support what my noble friend and others seek to do.
My Lords, Amendment 49, moved by the noble Lord, Lord Oates, inserts into the Bill a simple new clause that gives peace of mind to the individuals who request it. As the noble Lord said, it is very specific. I fully understand why someone would want physical proof that they have the right to remain here in the United Kingdom.
In his introduction, the noble Lord, Lord Oates, set out a number of examples of problems you may need to deal with. One is the whole question of being able to rent a property. You may be required to prove your status, and I can understand a landlord being reluctant. Of course, the Government have made sure that landlords will pay a heavy price if they rent out properties to people who are not entitled to rent them. I can see the same problem for employers. When you take somebody on, you need to check and confirm that they have the right to work here. Again, I can see an employer being worried that they could take somebody on and then find that they themselves have potentially committed an offence. There are real issues here.
The problem is that it probably will not happen next week but in 10 or 20 years when we are no longer involved, all the officials have moved on and God knows where the records are. That is part of the problem. If I was in this situation, I would want to have some physical proof that I could keep safe and that, if necessary, would protect me in future if my status were at some point questioned. The noble Lord, Lord Oates, said we have to understand the stress and anxiety of people not having that physical document that they can put away, knowing they have this proof. With the Windrush scandal we have already seen cases of documents not being around and people who have lived in this country for many years, often coming here as children, really struggling to provide proof. I also support the call for it to be free of charge.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bull, made a powerful argument about people who flee abusive relationships, which are all about control. If you do not have control of yourself—being able to rent that property or to get another job—you are almost forced to get back in contact with the person you have already left, fearing for your safety. It cannot be right that the Government are creating conditions that cause those problems for people.
Amendment 51, in my name and those of my noble friend Lord Rosser and the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, seeks to do the same thing with slightly different wording. It says “must make provision”, whereas the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Oates, says proof must be available on request, but it is basically the same issue.
While sitting here, I was thinking about some of the things I do. I do not know whether other noble Lords have ever done a citizenship ceremony. It is very interesting. I have done hundreds of these ceremonies and spoken to hundreds of people who have been given citizenship. What happens is that you go into the council chamber in Lewisham Town Hall, I walk in, and then the official—normally one of the registration officers—explains carefully to the new citizens what it means to be a British citizen. They then have to swear or affirm an oath and we sing the national anthem. The final part of it is that they walk up and I hand them a certificate signed by the Home Secretary. I have handed them out signed by Theresa May, Amber Rudd and Sajid Javid. The official tells them that this is a really important document and says, “Before you leave, please check that your name and those of your children are correct. It’s your right to be a British citizen”. Then we have our photograph taken. There are hundreds of photographs all over Lewisham of me handing out certificates to new citizens.
We have this situation in which if you are a British citizen you get a certificate, but if you have settled status you cannot have one. That is utterly ridiculous. I hope the Minister will see how nonsensical that is, go away and deal with this and come back on Report.
My Lords, I thank you all, including the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, who made a rousing speech, but I fear we will go over old ground here. However, I thank the noble Lords, Lord Oates and Lord Rosser, for providing the House with the chance to discuss the amendments on physical documents. I do not think they are necessary. I would like to reassure noble Lords that we already provide people who are granted settled or pre-settled status with a formal written notification of their leave. It is sent in the form of a letter, by post, or a PDF, by email, and sets out their immigration status in the UK. They can retain the letter, or print it, or electronically store the PDF and keep it as confirmation of their status for their own records and use it if they wish when contacting the Home Office about their status. I must say, it is not proof; it is confirmation. This should reassure individuals about their status when dealing with the Home Office in the future, but it should not be necessary because they will always have online access to information about their status, stored electronically by the Home Office.
Other countries, including Australia, as the noble Lady, Lady Hamwee, mentioned, issue physical documents in the form of biometric cards as they can otherwise be lost, stolen or tampered with.
On the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, about how the EU settlement application works, I had a session on this with noble Lords and I am happy to share that presentation with her. We are developing an immigration system whereby all migrants can demonstrate their immigration status via an online service, which they can access securely via the view and prove service on GOV.UK. It is accessible to them at any time and it allows them to share relevant information with third parties who need to check their status, such as employers and landlords, as noble Lords have mentioned. If necessary, EEA citizens can show third parties their written confirmation of status, so the person checking is made aware that there is an online service. Where there is a checked status, written confirmation must not be accepted by third parties as evidence of immigration status.
We are also developing services to make the relevant immigration status information available automatically through system-to-system checks at the point at which the person seeks access to public services such as healthcare and benefits. This will reduce the number of occasions when individuals need to prove their rights or need a document to do so.
In moving to a digital system, we recognise there are people who cannot access online services and will need additional support. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, cited cases and others were cited, such as the Roma community or indeed another category of people altogether. The noble Baroness, Lady Bull, spoke about those in coercive or abusive relationships. We are committed to delivering a service that reflects the diverse needs of all users. Help on how to use the online services and share status information is available through our contact centre, and we provide a free assisted digital service where applicants to the EUSS or others making online applications in the UK are unable to get support. The assistance is tailored to an individual’s circumstances.
We provide a telephone helpline for landlords and employers in order to provide guidance on conducting right-to-work and right-to-rent checks. We are exploring additional support for those using our online services to ensure they can demonstrate their rights in the UK.
We will require EEA citizens to use their online evidence of immigration status only after
The full package of measures that I have described will be available before EEA passports and national identity cards cease to be valid for proving rights in the UK after
Right-to-rent and right-to-work checks are not new. I have double-checked and right-to-work checks have been law since 2007. That is 13 years since they were introduced—14 by the time that online evidence of immigration is mandatory in June 2021—albeit they will now be in an online format. This move to become digital is not new. The UK public has learned to access many government services online, from applying for a UK passport to paying their vehicle excise duty. In July this year, 87% of vehicle tax renewals were made using the digital service, dispensing with the need for a physical disc on your car. The feedback from users indicates high satisfaction. UK driving licence holders are able to share online with third parties, such as car rental companies, whether they have driving-related convictions.
Employers are able to conduct right-to-work checks on foreign national employees remotely, without the need for physical documents to be handed over. Holders of biometric residence cards or biometric residence permits have already been able to prove their right to work to an employer by using an online service, instead of using their card, since January last year—the first step in our journey to make evidence of immigration status accessible online. The “view and prove” service is popular with users. In the last reporting period, from April to June this year, there have been over 400,000 views on the service by migrants. In the same period, there have been over 100,000 views of EU settlement status by organisations checking status. The average user satisfaction is very high, at a positive 88%.
It is hard to imagine how a country would have coped during Covid without the digital technologies which have enabled so many of us to work from home, shop and obtain government services remotely. We have seen a sharp uptake in digital provision by service providers and digital adaptation by the general public. Most visa applications are made online. Providing immigration status information online has enabled us to simplify and standardise the system of checks for employers, by providing information about an individual’s status in a format that is easy to understand and accessible to all users, removing the need for employers and others to interpret myriad physical documents, complex legal terminology or confusing abbreviations.
The EU settlement scheme has been at the forefront of the transition from biometric residence cards to secure online access to immigration status information. The online system is operating in parallel with existing document checks of passports or identity documents. This approach is helping employers, landlords and EEA citizens to transition from using physical documents to online services. Ultimately, all migrants coming to the UK, whether from other European countries or the rest of the world, will have access to online services which will enable them to show their immigration status without needing a document or biometric card.
On resilience, digital services are designed to be highly resilient, with rigorous testing to build assurance before services are seen by a user. Multiple security controls are in place to protect against cyberattacks and we have employed third-party organisations to conduct vulnerability and penetration testing to provide additional assurance that our online services cannot be compromised.
I shall not detain the House much further, other than to say that we will always send a formal written notification of the individual’s immigration status by email, in the form of a printable PDF document, or by post where a paper application has been made. As set out previously, I can assure noble Lords that we are committed to delivering an online service that reflects the diverse needs of all users. We recognise there are vulnerable people, such as the victim of domestic abuse and coercive control that the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, talked about or others in the Roma community that the noble Lord, Lord Alton, talked about, who may need additional support to use our online service to share their status.
Finally, on the policy equality statement that the noble Lord, Lord Oates, asked about—I think the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, mentioned it as well—I am very sorry to say that I cannot add to other Ministers’ comments. The statement will be published shortly as outlined by them.
I hope that with those comments the noble Lord will feel happy to withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for her explanation. She started and ended by talking about the letter that is sent to people about their status, which can be saved on their computer as a PDF. The Government have said, time and again, that, as proof of the recipient’s immigration status, these letters are not worth the paper they are printed on. It is disingenuous of the Minister to pray in aid these letters in answer to these amendments.
I know the Minister is going to write to me regarding previous amendments. Perhaps she could add whether or not, at any stage in the future, the Government intend to provide digital proof that an EEA or Swiss national who is on a six-month visa-free visit to the UK is here legally.
Finally, the Minister talked about vehicle excise licences going digital and said that no physical disc is now necessary. Can she tell the House what the increase in evasion of vehicle excise licences has been as a result of going completely digital?
I think the noble Lord knows very well that I cannot give him that figure. However, I take his point that the letter is a confirmation and not a proof—I think I said that in my remarks. The digital proof is a very good way of sharing specific information with people such as employers or landlords as proof of status, but I conclude that we will not agree on this one.
My Lords, I do not think that anyone in this debate spoke out against the digital rollout or suggested that it was somehow new to require people to provide evidence of their right to rent a property or to work. What is new is that European citizens living here will be required to provide that evidence very shortly.
The Minister did not address at all my points about the staggering inconsistency of the Government. They issue certificates to all British citizens at citizenship ceremonies —hard, paper-copy certificates signed by the Home Secretary. Everyone has them handed out; I have handed out many. At the same time, the same Government and department will not issue any paper certificates to people with settled or pre-settled status. Will the Minister please go away and find out why the Government are acting so inconsistently? If she could write to me I would be happy to receive that letter, but it is ludicrous that there are those two things from the same department at the same time.
My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. They all made important contributions and have provided consistent support on these issues over the extended period we have been discussing them. In view of the time, I will not go through all the contributions but I want to thank my noble colleague, if I may call him that, the noble Lord, Lord Polak, for his support and for the clear and eloquent way in which he spoke in support of the amendment. As he said, this is not a partisan issue; in reality, it is a practical and simple measure.
When I spoke earlier, I asked the Minister to consider putting aside her brief and walking in the shoes of the people who will have to work the system. I am afraid that she absolutely did not do that, and I am deeply disappointed. She said of physical documents, “I do not think they are necessary”. With respect, what matters is not what the Minister thinks but what the people who will have to live under this system think. They think they are necessary, and I do not blame them, because if I were a permanent resident in another country, I would want physical proof of my status. I suspect that many people in the Government would too. On previous groups, the Minister spoke at great length about discrimination between EEA citizens and non-EEA citizens, but that is exactly what the government scheme proposes and would do. She talked about how physical documents could be lost, stolen or tampered with. Then why on earth are the Government issuing such documents under the settled status scheme to non-EEA citizens who gain their rights through family relationships?
I asked the Minister what had changed since her own Government’s assessment of the digital right-to-work scheme found, as I said, that:
“There is a clearly identified user need for the physical card … and without strong evidence that this need can be mitigated for vulnerable, low-digital skill users, it should be retained.”
She did not enlighten the House. We heard instead much about the Home Office’s apparent plans to digitise the whole system. My noble friend Lord Paddick asked the Minister whether the Government intend, for example, to abolish the physical driving licence. I do not think he got an answer but I wondered about the status of the famous blue passport, which has caused such excitement in some quarters recently. Do the Government really intend to abolish it in favour of a digital status? If so, I would not fancy being the Minister who has to explain that to the Daily Mail.
However, there is a really serious point here. The Minister read out a brief that addresses none of the important questions that were raised. She referred to the important point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, about those who may be fleeing domestic abuse and whose partner may have been the person who controlled the email address and applied for the settled status scheme. I do not know whether the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, got an answer but I did not hear what it was.
When Michael Gove appeared before the European Union Select Committee of this House in May, in answer to a question from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris of Aberavon, about documentary proof for EU citizens in the UK, he told us that
“the moral and social case for it remains as strong as ever, and I shall reinforce that argument.”
Amendment 49 withdrawn.
Amendments 50 to 52 not moved.