Moved by Lord Flight
28: Clause 5, page 4, line 2, at end insert—“(2A) The power to make regulations under subsection (1) does not include power to make provision inconsistent with the withdrawal agreement as defined by section 39 of the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020 (interpretation).”Member’s explanatory statementThis amendment would ensure that the power to make regulations under subsection (1) can only be used in ways consistent with the UK’s obligations under the EU Withdrawal Agreement.
My Lords, I am sorry that I must participate by telephone, but Zoom did not work for me today. Amendment 28 would ensure that the power created by the Bill could be used only in ways which are consistent with the UK’s obligations under the UK-EU withdrawal agreement.
The retained direct EU legislation set out in Clause 5(2) is the full gamut of EU legislation on social security co-ordination. Under the withdrawal agreement, the UK is committed to apply this legislation to all those within the scope of Part 2 of the agreement —“Citizens’ Rights”— and to some others. It seems strange that essentially financial matters to do with pensions are mixed with other social matters here.
The legislation covers, inter alia, the aggregation of social security contributions made in different countries, mutual healthcare arrangements, the payment of pensions and pension increases to pensioners living in different countries, and the regulation of other cross-border benefits. The most important aspects of this legislation, in practical terms to British citizens, covered by the withdrawal agreement, are: first, the continued right of UK state pensioners living in the EU to receive their pensions and pension increases; secondly, the continued right of pensioners to healthcare under the S1 scheme, which enables a pensioner residing in a country that is not responsible for their pension to receive healthcare in their country of residence at the expense of the country where they paid their pension contributions, and it is mutual so applies to UK pensioners living in the EU and EU pensioners living in the UK; and thirdly, the continuation of the scheme whereby those who have worked in the UK and one or more EU countries have their contributions aggregated so as not to fall foul of the national rules on minimum contribution periods. Within this scheme, many who have contributed for a full working life but moved several times would end up, otherwise, with no pension at all.
Unless this amendment is made, it would be possible for a Government, by regulation alone, to modify these vital provisions in breach of the withdrawal agreement. This amendment is essential to protect these social security provisions. Moreover, whatever the Government’s present intentions, enabling legislation should never be drafted in such broad terms that this would happen. Where proposed legislation might be seen as a breach of the withdrawal agreement, the decision of whether it is should be a matter for Parliament to consider properly. Given the complexity of the social security legislation in question, unless the amendment is made, it is also possible that a regulation may be entirely and unwittingly in breach of the agreement but that inconsistency is not spotted.
There appears to be no downside risk to the amendment. It does no more than ensure that the withdrawal agreement is honoured, but I question whether this is the right approach to sorting out these essentially financial arrangements between EU countries. I invite the Government to advise on their views here, but I beg to withdraw my amendment when we get to that stage.
My Lords, on the first day of Report, on an equivalent amendment to Clause 4, the Minister gave an assurance that the Government have absolutely no intention of acting incompatibly with the citizens’ rights provisions in the withdrawal agreement. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Flight, has said, that is not the point. He set out very carefully the social security provisions which are the issue here. The concern is that the use of regulations, or secondary legislation, to modify the primary legislation that is the basis of the various benefits could wittingly or unwittingly modify them—“modify” is a polite legislative word for “cause a lot of people a lot of problems”. If this amendment were part of the Bill, it would protect against this.
Last week, the noble Lord referred to the establishment under the 2020 Act of the Independent Monitoring Authority, and I was grateful for that. I share a rather wry smile with noble Lords because provided for in the authority’s powers is that it may make applications for judicial review—we all know the Government’s expressed position on activists and lawyers using applications for judicial review and generally not liking frequent resort being made to them. There is of course a review of the use of judicial review going on at the moment. So I thank the noble Lord for that moment of amusement in this complicated area. I support the amendment.
My Lords, as we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Flight, this amendment would prevent regulations made under Clause 5 including any provisions that could be inconsistent with the withdrawal agreement. I presume that the aim is to avoid any action that might serve to undermine the rights of UK citizens in the EU and EU citizens here that were guaranteed under the withdrawal agreement.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said, we have had this debate at earlier stages and on Clause 4. On the basis of those past debates, I think there is a decent chance that the Minister will say that this amendment is unnecessary. But as the noble Lord, Lord Flight, pointed out: what is the downside? Given the uncertainty caused by statements elsewhere about the nature of the withdrawal agreement and the extent to which the UK is committed to it, the Minister will understand why some noble Lords are nervous and want the kind of assurances that one would hope she should be able to give without difficulty.
The noble Lord, Lord Flight, explained the terribly important issues that are covered by Clause 5. This will be our only engagement on Report with the subtle joys of this clause. I raised many of the issues about social security co-ordination at Second Reading and in Committee, and felt that I did not get satisfactory answers in Committee. However, I have now received a letter from the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman- Scott, which has provided more information. In the light of that, I do not intend to move Amendment 29 in my name in the next group.
I remain very concerned about the implications for too many people of the loss of reciprocal arrangements for social security co-ordination, but I recognise that we will not get anything more at this stage of the Bill. I hope that the letter I mentioned will be placed in both Libraries. Because it contains information about new developments which were not reflected in the draft regulations shared with us in Committee, it would be helpful if the letter were displayed as soon as possible in the relevant place under the “will write” section of Bills before Parliament, so that its contents are readily accessible to those who are interested.
These are very important issues. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Flight, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, for speaking to this amendment. The Government have given written assurances in every Bill document throughout the passage of the Bill on this point; I have reiterated those assurances in Committee, and I will do so again here.
I can assure the House that Clause 5 does not enable the Government to alter the rights guaranteed to those in scope of the withdrawal agreement. The entitlements of this cohort are guaranteed by Sections 7A and 7B of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, as amended by the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020. The power at Clause 5 will not and cannot affect those provisions. Rather, it allows for EU law retained by Section 3 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 to be modified. The rights under the withdrawal agreement are therefore provided by a distinct and separate legal mechanism in relation to that of retained EU law, and this power will not affect the rights of those within the scope of the agreement. This includes those examples given by the noble Lord, Lord Flight, such as state pension uprating, the S1 scheme and the aggregation of contributions. It is therefore the Government’s view that Amendment 28 is unnecessary, on the grounds I have set out.
I note the request of the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, for my letter to her to be placed under the “will write” section—I am so pleased that that makes sense—of Bills before Parliament.
I reiterate that it is the Government’s view that Amendment 28 is unnecessary, on the grounds I have set out. I hope that with this explanation, the noble Lord, Lord Flight, will withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, this amendment addresses the aggregation of social security contributions across the EU, mutual healthcare and, in particular, the payment of pensions and pension increases to pensioners living in different EU countries. It is important that citizens’ positions are protected. The noble Baroness, Lady Stedman-Scott, has given a satisfactory undertaking that these areas cannot be affected by the clause in question and that this amendment is therefore not necessary. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 28 withdrawn.
Amendments 29 and 30 not moved.
Clause 8: Commencement