Motion E1 (as an amendment to Motion E)

Part of Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill - Commons Reasons – in the House of Lords at 5:30 pm on 21st October 2020.

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Photo of Lord Cormack Lord Cormack Conservative 5:30 pm, 21st October 2020

My Lords, here we go again on this one. I have not been persuaded any more by my noble friend—whom I hold in very high regard—this evening. She regurgitated the brief from last time, with a few little gildings, and did not convince me at all.

We are dealing with EU citizens. As my noble friend Lord Polak said very forcefully, they are being discriminated against in comparison with other foreign citizens resident in this country. This amendment asks for an option. If there was a weak point in the argument of the noble Lord, Lord Oates, in the previous debate and a strong one from my noble friend on the Front Bench, it was over the issue of cost. The noble Lord has dropped that, and he is wise to do so. Frankly, people who want this physical proof will, I am sure, be glad to pay for it, whether it is £28 or, to take my noble friend’s figure, £75. There are ways and means of ensuring that those who cannot afford £75 are able to do it.

We must not stumble on this particularly weak, faulty argument of the Government. I say “of the Government” because I like to think that my noble friend the Minister, who is held in genuine high regard in this House, is, as the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, said a few moments ago, a woman who has demonstrated that she does care. She has not been given a kind brief. She is acting as a mouthpiece for a government department that does not have a history of great humanity.

Windrush was mentioned. If many of those people who suffered as a result of maladministration—and that is what it was—had had this sort of physical proof, we would not have gone through those agonising moments, and months, and years. This is common sense.

As far as the fallibility of the technology is concerned, my noble friend Lord Polak gave an up-to-the-minute example. We have heard many examples in your Lordships’ House since our last debate. One day last week, we had to adjourn for albeit not a long period, because the system had malfunctioned in some way.

We also must bear in mind that many of those about whom we are talking are of the generation that many of us in this House belong to. We are behaving in a rather arrogant way towards people who are not used to these systems. It is not a crime to be not particularly technological; if it were, I should be locked up for life. One sees the same sort of arrogance creeping in with those who say that we should have no more cash or cheques with which to pay our bills. We need to recognise that the whole of our society should be treated in a fair and equal way. What is being suggested this evening by the Government is that they should not be treated in a fair and equal way.

I appeal to my noble friend, who cannot—and does not, I know—believe in discrimination and who believes in fairness and equity, to do as I urged her to do last time: for goodness’ sake, tear up the brief and accept the argument. I know that these things are formulaic—I sat in the other place for 40 years—but the only reason the Government can dredge up is cost. Well, we have dealt with that one through the revised amendment.

Let us move forward. I will certainly vote for the revised amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Oates, as I voted for his last one. I hope that I will not need to; I hope that none of us will need to. I hope that, if we do need to and it goes back to the other place, the other place will have the guts and the gumption to realise that we are not driving a coach and horses through any party-political policy and that we are not doing anything against the Government because they are a Conservative Government—a slightly odd one, but that is another matter. We are making a plea for people who, in many cases, are extremely vulnerable; who have made a real contribution to our society; who have lived in our country and made it their own in many ways; who love the place and who have served it, many of them with great distinction.

Please, let us be sensible. Let the Government be sensible. If it is necessary, let us give the noble Lord, Lord Oates, another thumping majority tonight.