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.