Amendment 27A

Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill - Report (3rd Day) – in the House of Lords at 5:37 pm on 6th October 2020.

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Baroness Hamwee:

Moved by Baroness Hamwee

27A: After Clause 4, insert the following new Clause—“Rights and applications after the commencement of this Act(1) In the event that a person with settled status granted pursuant to the Scheme applies for British citizenship, the period of residence in the United Kingdom which was the qualification for settled status must be treated as not being in breach of any provisions referred to in subsection (6).(2) A person resident in the United Kingdom on or before 30 June 2021 shall be treated as not being in breach of any provisions referred to in subsection (6) if he or she is in scope of eligibility for leave to remain under the Scheme.(3) The Secretary of State may not refuse an application by a person for settled status or pre-settled status under the Scheme made during the period ending on 30 June 2021 on the basis that he or she does not hold or has not held comprehensive sickness insurance.(4) The Secretary of State may not refuse an application for settled status under the Scheme made after 30 June 2021 by a person with pre-settled status on the basis that he or she does not hold or has not held comprehensive sickness insurance.(5) “The Scheme” means the scheme known as the EU Settlement Scheme for settled status or pre-settled status under Appendix EU of the Immigration Rules and the terms “settled status” and “pre-settled status” are interpreted accordingly.(6) The provisions referred to in this subsection are all provisions applicable to the person’s residence including the Immigration Acts and the Immigration Rules.”

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Immigration)

My Lords, the amendment was written with the aid of anti-migraine tablets after some perhaps slightly unfocused exchanges in the previous stage and on the first day of Report about the grace period for the EU settlement scheme and comprehensive sickness insurance. I will not be seeking the opinion of the House.

I have tried to note situations that are giving cause for concern. I am aware that we now have a statutory instrument, and I hope that today’s debate can contribute to our consideration of that. As I said last week, those who know the subject were still poring over the SI, and I do not know whether they have yet come up for air.

I am seeking assurances, through this debate, that the propositions set out in the amendment accurately reflect, and are reflected by, the statutory instrument—I suppose it should be the latter. If what I am asking for cannot be put on the record today, a letter would be very welcome.

The first assurance I seek is that once someone has settled status he can be confident that he will be treated as not having been in breach of immigration provisions during the qualifying period; in other words, that nothing will come back to bite him—not the sort of language one uses in legislation. The second is that a person resident in the UK before the end of the grace period, and eligible for leave to remain, will be treated as not being in breach of those provisions. The third is that an application for status, whether settled or pre-settled status, may not be refused because the applicant does not, or has not had, comprehensive sickness insurance. I acknowledge that there could be another basis for refusal. Fourthly, I would like an assurance that the lack of CSI may not be a reason for refusing settled status after the same date to someone who holds pre-settled status.

I do not for a moment believe that the amendment is perfectly drafted but I hope that my objective is clear. It would be helpful if the Minister’s response is as jargon-free as possible and in the sorts of terms I have used.

On 16 September, the Minister said:

“The grace period statutory instrument does not change the eligibility criteria for the EU settlement scheme and those criteria do not include CSI.”—[Official Report, 16/9/20; col. 1340.]

Later, however, she said that the grace period maintains CSI as a requirement for lawful residence during the grace period, for students and people who are self-sufficient, and that

EEA citizens’ rights to live and work in the UK will not change during the grace period, nor does the grace period SI change the eligibility criteria for the EU settlement scheme. Therefore, there is no change to the Government’s policy that comprehensive sickness insurance is not required to obtain status under the EU settlement scheme.”—[Official Report, 30/9/20; col. 244.]

My amendment is directed at what that means in practice because, with regard to the scope of the regulations, the Minister went on to say:

“People need to exercise free movement rights to benefit from the savings in the grace period SI. We are not inventing rights of residence to save them, because that is not what the withdrawal agreement says.”—[Official Report, 30/9/20; col. 244.]

What the withdrawal agreement does say in Article 18(3) is this:

“Pending a final decision”,

and I stress that phrase,

“by the competent authorities on any application referred to in paragraph 1”— in the case of the UK this relates to applications to the EUSS—

“and pending a final judgment handed down in case of judicial redress sought against any rejection of such application by the competent administrative authorities”,

and I stress the next bit as well,

“all rights provided for in this Part”,

which are residents’ rights and all related equal treatment rights in the agreement,

“shall be deemed to apply to the applicant, including Article 21 on safeguards and right of appeal, subject to the conditions set out in Article 20(4).”

On the first day of Report, the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, explained the concern raised with both of us by the3million that:

“In their current form, the regulations appear to exclude a large cohort of people from having a legal basis to live in the UK during the grace period and whilst their application is pending. The regulations limit a legal basis to live in the UK to those who were ‘exercising treaty rights’ in accordance with existing EEA regulations by the end of the transition period.”—[Official Report, 30/9/20; cols. 240-41.]

The organisation amplified this by saying:

“Crucially, there will be people who are eligible for status via the EUSS who will not have a legal basis to live in the UK during the grace period. Furthermore, anyone who has … submitted an application to the EUSS before the end of the transition period … is pending a decision after the transition period ends … Will have to demonstrate they fall within the scope of the regulations to have the benefit of its protection.”

Generally, those protected by the regulations will be economically active at the end of the transition period, and they will have the benefit of legal protections during the grace period and while their application is pending. However, that is not the case for those who are not economically active by the end of the transition period, such as an EU citizen dependent on a British spouse and without private health insurance. As my noble friend Lady Ludford said, the technical term is comprehensive sickness insurance, but really in this country we know it as private health insurance, which fulfils what is meant by comprehensive sickness insurance.

Another example would be an EU citizen unable to take employment because of disability, for instance, or a victim of slavery—we have just been debating that—or non-EU parents of EU children. The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, also mentioned the impact of the pandemic and its effect on the jobs market and the prospect—or non-prospect—of finding a job by the end of the year.

The regulations set out the rights that applicants to the EUSS have beyond the grace period and could allow the Home Office to remove people not within the scope of the regulations despite a pending application in the UK during the grace period. Therefore, there will be implications for eligibility for NHS treatment and, as another example, for employers, given the laws about illegal working. Obviously, this should not be the case, and the Government have acknowledged this, including during the passage of the 2020 Act, when it was made clear that those eligible for EUSS status would be protected, as the article that I have quoted provides.

However, before the regulations become law, it is important for everyone to be really clear as to the practical implications for those who do not fall within their scope. One of my questions is whether there will be further regulations to cover those eligible for settled status but not within the scope of the regulations. If the regulations need amending, then I hope the Government will understand that in this very complicated area nobody would suggest—I certainly would not encourage anyone to—that the Government are losing face by making the changes. I simply say that this is part of scrutiny and consultation working as it should, trying to find whether the concerns are justified and, if they are, addressing them. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Whitaker Baroness Whitaker Labour 5:45 pm, 6th October 2020

My Lords, I have little to add to the magisterial introduction made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, to Amendment 27A, but I will emphasise the deficit of the Bill as it stands especially with regard to Roma women with settled status who look after their children full-time and who apply for British citizenship. The underlying problem—in real life rather than in Home Office rules—is that while their children are little, the mothers have a weak connection to the labour market, like other full-time mothers. I am surprised that this Government should prejudice mothers in this way.

So, because they cannot prove they were exercising treaty rights—according to the Home Office, which does not accord with the European Commission’s interpretation—by showing that they have comprehensive sickness insurance, their application fails. I remind your Lordships that Theresa May, as Home Secretary, recognised this injustice and promised to do away with the requirement for CSI in these cases. So it is very odd that updated Home Office guidance in 2020 changed the application process to direct caseworkers to check whether such applicants had CSI. An undefined power of discretion has not proved much use in rectifying the injustices to full-time mothers. It is shocking that the Government have not honoured the earlier commitment.

In her letter to us of 29 September, the Minister said that the Government’s policy is that CSI is not required to obtain status under the EUSS. Nevertheless, the grace period SI maintains CSI as a requirement for lawful residence during the grace period as a student or self-sufficient person, such as a full-time mother, under the saved EEA regulations because, according to the Home Office, this is consistent with EU law. This is not the European Commission’s view, and it is not right or just that applications are turned down because there is no CSI.

Photo of Baroness Ludford Baroness Ludford Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Exiting the European Union)

My Lords, I will go over very similar ground to that raised by my noble friend Lady Hamwee.

The background is that, under the withdrawal agreement, the UK is obliged to create a grace period following the end of the transition period. During this grace period, EEA citizens have the opportunity to apply by a deadline for a new immigration status through the EU settlement scheme, as it is called in the UK.

As EU rights will end on 31 December, the Government need to create an interim status for those who have yet to acquire their new status via the EU settlement scheme—hence the grace period SI. As we know, it sets the deadline for applications to the settlement scheme as 30 June next year, but the Minister said last Wednesday, on the first day of Report, that it would also

“protect the existing rights of resident EEA citizens and their family members during the grace period.”

What does “existing” mean? A fact sheet published in July also used that adjective when it said that the power in Section 7 of the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020 would be used—as has now happened with this grace period SI—to make regulations

“to protect the existing rights of those individuals who are eligible to apply to the EU settlement scheme”.

As the noble Lord, Lord Parkinson, did in Committee on 16 September, the Minister said last Wednesday that she could reassure us—here, I repeat a quotation given by my noble friend—that

“EEA citizens’ rights to live and work in the UK will not change during the grace period, nor does the grace period SI change the eligibility criteria for the EU settlement scheme. Therefore, there is no change to the Government’s policy”,

which, as we have learned, was set by Theresa May,

“that comprehensive sickness insurance is not required to obtain status under the EU settlement scheme.”

Therefore, so far we have established two government statements: first, that the existing rights of those eligible to apply to the EU settlement scheme will be protected; and, secondly, that acquiring settled status will not involve a requirement for CSI. So far, so good. Ministerial assurances seemed to accord with Article 18(3) of the withdrawal agreement, which provides that, pending a final decision, all rights provided for in the citizens’ rights section of that agreement shall be deemed to apply to the applicant. That means residence rights and all related equal treatment rights.

However, things then get somewhat murkier. Last Wednesday, the Minister added a caveat—again, quoted by my noble friend—when she said:

“People need to exercise free movement rights to benefit from the savings in the grace period SI. We are not inventing rights of residence to save them, because that is not what the withdrawal agreement says.”—[Official Report, 30/9/20; cols. 243-4.]

When I checked back, I saw that the noble Lord, Lord Parkinson, had explicitly said on 16 September in Committee:

“The grace period SI maintains” comprehensive sickness insurance

“as a requirement for lawful residence during the grace period for a student or self-sufficient person under the saved EEA regulations, as is consistent with EU law.”—[Official Report, 16/9/20; col. 1340.]

I will not go round all the houses again, but I beg to differ with that last comment, as I believe that the Commission is pursuing infringement proceedings—it is taking a while; it launched them in 2012—over the Government’s wrong interpretation of CSI as meaning private health insurance. In this country, it should mean accessing the National Health Service. However, for current purposes, I will just concentrate on the first part of the noble Lord’s statement: namely, the proposal that during the grace period students and self-sufficient persons will have to show that they have CSI—that is, private insurance—in order to qualify as lawfully resident.

The remarks confirm that in their current form, limiting a legal basis to live in the UK to those who were “exercising treaty rights” in accordance with existing EEA regulations by the end of the transition period, the regulations appear, as my noble friend said, to exclude a large cohort of people from having a legal basis to live in the UK during the grace period and while their application is pending. In general, a worker and someone who is self-employed will benefit from legal protections, but those not economically active by the end of the transition period will likely be unable to do so, with the consequences that my noble friend enumerated—possible removal, the denial of NHS treatment, being put out of a job, or whatever.

Even where someone successfully lodges an application with the EU settlement scheme, if they are awaiting a decision beyond the end of the grace period and are not in scope of the regulations, they will not have the legal protections it offers. Therefore, someone with a complex EUSS case could be without a legal basis to remain in the UK for many months beyond the grace period.

As a taste of things to come, a case has been brought to my attention where parents seeking to renew their five year-old son’s British passport were told that the EU citizen father had to supply evidence of having had CSI—I repeat: private health insurance—when he was a student many years ago.

To recap where I think we are, we have three government statements: first, that the existing rights of those eligible to apply to the settlement scheme will be protected in the grace period; secondly, that CSI is not a requirement for acquiring settled status; and, thirdly, that CSI is a requirement for some people to have lawful residence in the grace period. We can add in a fourth, given in the course of this Bill: that discretion will be exercised—we have not heard how—in regard to the absence of CSI in assessing eligibility for citizenship.

I am struggling to make sense of how those four statements fit together and to understand how the Government really intend to treat people. So far as I can see, it leaves matters as clear as mud and full of contradictions and obstacles. It seems that the Government are set on making a person cross a crocodile-infested river of legal uncertainty over residence before they can reach the safe shore of settled status.

Therefore, I back up the questions that my noble friend asked the Minister about the practical implications for people who do not fall within the scope of the regulations. Will there be further regulations to cover those eligible for settled status but not in scope of the regulations? When they apply for settled status, will they be told, “Oh no, we don’t need to ask you for CSI, but in the meantime, under the grace period SI, you need CSI”. It is like being on a chessboard, although I can think of some other analogy.

I have one last question. Are the Government willing to consider changing the draft regulation from stating a requirement to have been “lawfully resident”—which, as we know, according to the Government’s interpretation is an extremely loaded term—to a requirement simply to have been “resident”? Given that this definition operates for only six months, save in cases where a settled status application has been made, this might be a simple, workable solution that could save a lot of people a lot of anxiety. This sounds like an awfully complicated and arcane situation. It is, and in the real world a lot of people are affected by it. They are represented by the the3million group, which, again, is doing sterling work, although, as far as I know, even it has not got its head round it, so I do not know what hope there is for someone like me.

I hope the Minister can bring some coherence to this situation, or display a willingness to look again at the regulations under the grace period SI to see if the Government are creating unnecessary hurdles for people who were told they would not need CSI or settled status when perhaps applying later for citizenship. It seems to be creating an awful lot of unnecessary hassle.

Photo of Lord Rosser Lord Rosser Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Transport) 6:00 pm, 6th October 2020

The grace period regulations limit a legal basis to live in the UK to those who were “exercising treaty rights” in accordance with existing EEA regulations by the end of the transition period. This must mean that such citizens who are not exercising their treaty rights fall outside the protection of having a legal basis to live in the UK. This appears to cover a potentially significant number of people, including those who have not held comprehensive sickness insurance.

Amendment 27A ensures EU nationals cannot have an application denied for citizenship, settled status, or pre-settled status on the basis they have not held comprehensive sickness insurance. It is clear from the debate there is considerable confusion—which I share—about the actual position. Surely, any doubts, confusion or uncertainty would be removed by the Government accepting this amendment or returning with their own amendment at Third Reading. That would help clarify the situation.

I conclude by simply saying this, as I do not want to repeat all the valid points that have been made. If Government will not do that, could the Minister spell out the circumstances in which an EU national would have an application denied for citizenship, settled status or pre-settled status on the basis they have not held comprehensive sickness insurance?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate, particularly the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, who has tabled Amendment 27A. I hope I can provide clarification.

The new clause has three main purposes. First, it seeks reassurance that comprehensive sickness insurance is not, nor will be in future, an eligibility criterion for applications to the EU settlement scheme. Secondly, it seeks to provide that if someone is eligible to apply to the scheme, their previous residence should be deemed lawful, whether or not that was the case under the EEA regulations. Thirdly, the new clause seeks to remove the lawful residence requirement from British citizenship applications by those who hold settled status under the EU settlement scheme.

Let me address the noble Baroness’s concern about comprehensive sickness insurance, which has been raised several times during consideration of the Bill. Subsections (3) and (4) of her proposed new clause concern eligibility to apply to the EU settlement scheme. I can assure the noble Baroness that currently, there is no requirement for comprehensive sickness insurance or previous lawful residence under the EEA regulations in order to be eligible to apply under the scheme. This will not change for applications made after the transition period, nor after the grace period. I can reassure the House that an application made before or after the deadline of 30 June 2021 will not be refused for failure to hold comprehensive sickness insurance. Accordingly, the amendment is not necessary.

I turn to proposed new subsection (2), which seeks to provide that the previous residence of anyone who is eligible to apply to the EU settlement scheme by the deadline of next June will be deemed to have been lawful whether or not it in fact was. In doing so, the intention is to support applications for citizenship, which I will come to shortly. However, the effect of this amendment is wider. It would create new residence rights for those who do not have them at the end of the transition period, as they are not complying with free movement law and have yet to apply to the EU settlement scheme. Those who are currently here without residence rights will continue to have no residence rights until they apply to the EU settlement scheme; that is why we are encouraging them to apply to the scheme.

In line with the withdrawal agreement, the Government are using secondary legislation under the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020—the so-called “grace period SI”—to save the existing rights of those EEA citizens and their family members who are lawfully resident in the UK at the end of the transition period under 2016 EEA regulations. The noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, asked me to set out the existing rights; they are pre-settled or, indeed, settled status. This means that an EEA citizen, or their family member, who is resident in the UK at the end of the transition period but is not exercising free movement rights will still be able to apply to the EU settlement scheme by the deadline of 30 June next year. However, they will not have any residence rights under free movement law protected during the grace period. This is for the simple reason that they do not possess these rights at the end of the transition period. This reflects the current situation, as set out in the free movement directive and the EEA regulations.

The noble Baroness’s amendment seeks to create new EU rights of residence beyond those saved by the grace period SI once free movement has ended. That cannot be right, nor accepted by the Government. Having an EU “right to reside” provides other rights beyond the right to stay in the UK, as it can confer access to social security benefits. I am sure noble Lords would agree that, at this juncture, after we have left the EU, it would not be appropriate to widen EEA citizens’ benefit eligibility any further than those groups who are already entitled to it.

This brings me to the final limb of the new clause, which I think is probably its main objective, concerning how EEA and Swiss citizens who hold settled status might then proceed to naturalise and become British citizens. The noble Baroness will be aware that the power to determine naturalisation applications from all migrants—not just EEA and Swiss citizens—is set out in the British Nationality Act 1981. Under Section 6(1) of the Act, an applicant is required to show that they have sufficient residential ties here. For example, they must have resided here lawfully for at least five years and they must no longer be subject to any immigration time restrictions. Proposed new subsection (1) would require any residence before the granting of settled status to be treated as lawful, regardless of whether it actually was or the circumstances under which it occurred. That cannot be right, and I do not consider it unreasonable to ask anyone wishing to become British to have resided here lawfully.

Amendment 27A seeks to treat those with settled status under the EU settlement scheme differently from other EEA and Swiss citizens, and also non-EEA citizens. I believe the noble Baroness is most concerned about those who—as the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, outlined—are here as students or are self-sufficient. This is because free movement rules require them to hold comprehensive sickness insurance after their initial three months of residence in order to be lawfully resident. This is not a new issue. Had a student or self-sufficient person previously made an application for permanent residence documentation without holding CSI, they would have been refused.

The noble Baroness may be aware that, even where CSI has not been held by a student or self-sufficient person, it does not mean that a naturalisation application must be refused. The British Nationality Act permits the application of discretion to this requirement in the special circumstances of a particular case. Caseworkers will therefore continue to examine each application to understand why the individual did not comply with the EEA regulations, as well as any reasons which can nevertheless allow an application to be granted. This is already set out in published guidance for decision-makers. However, it is right that we assess on an individual basis, rather than having a general rule to overlook any non-compliance.

The noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, made a point which we went over in detail yesterday, about people who are applying either to the EU settlement scheme or for citizenship, which are two different things. There are a lot of voluntary organisations to help people who might need assistance through this process, but naturalisation as a British citizen is not part of the EU settlement scheme; nor is it covered by the withdrawal agreement. We welcome people who make the personal choice to become British citizens, but there is no need for any new arrangements because of our leaving the EU. The existing system already applies equally and fairly to all applicants. I hope that I have given the noble Baroness the assurance that she sought and that she is happy to withdraw her amendment.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Immigration)

My Lords, I am grateful to those who have taken part in this debate. My noble friend Lady Ludford asked whether this was a chessboard, but I think it is more like snakes and ladders: up you go, you think you are settled and then you slither downwards into what she called the “crocodile-infested” waters of CSI.

When the Minister referred to “lawful residence” under the British Nationality Act I wrote a question to myself about whether this meant treaty rights—which you would need to have had CSI to exercise—to which I think the answer is yes. She then mentioned discretion. One always has a concern about discretion because the law should provide, not leave things to caseworkers, but the situation that we have posed is not unusual.

I do not intend a pun here, but the issue is not settled. I am glad that we have had this exchange. I do not pretend to know whether I am comforted. I think I am not, as noble Lords will understand from my last remarks, but much better that I leave the experts to use what the Minister has shared with us when they are considering the regulations. I thank her and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 27A withdrawn.

Photo of Baroness Morris of Bolton Baroness Morris of Bolton Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, we now come to the group consisting of Amendment 28. I remind noble Lords that Members others than the mover and the Minister may speak only once, and that short questions of elucidation are discouraged. Anyone wishing to press this amendment to a Division should make that clear in debate.

Clause 5: Power to modify retained direct EU legislation relating to social security co-ordination