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 Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Conservative 5:30 pm, 21st October 2020

My Lords, I am tempted to support this amendment, moved by the noble Lord, Lord Oates, as we both approach the anniversary of our entry into this House, five years ago. I urge my noble friend the Minister to keep an open mind on this amendment and to agree to it.

As I reminded my noble friend, in 2014-15, the Government—at that time, it was the Defra department —tried to introduce a digital-only farm payments scheme. It was scrapped because it simply could not be delivered and the department reverted to paper-only applications. I remind the House that many of the applicants will live in rural areas—they will not all live in inner-city areas and major towns—where broadband is woeful. Many existing not-spots do not have the capability to carry this scheme. The Government acknowledged this recently and are backing down from their commitment to universal coverage by 2025, so they recognise the limitations of their digital by default-only policy.

I remind the House that on 16 October, the National Audit Office reported that broadband users in rural areas are being left behind in major network upgrades. The Home Office should recognise that there is not universal coverage of the broadband and internet technology that will be required to deliver the digital service by default. While I have the greatest regard for both my noble friends Lady Neville-Rolfe and the Minister, we have to accept that some 5% of people are living in the hardest-to-reach areas. In my view, this digital-by-default policy is being driven by an unelected adviser whose respect for the rules and the law is less than exemplary, and I think that he should join the real world with regard to some of the policies being brought forward.

The other difficulty I have with this policy is a very real one. I remind the House that my mother became a naturalised Brit, having come over to Britain from Denmark via Germany in 1948. What grieves me most about the policy that we will end up with without the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Oates, is that most of the applicants do not have English as their first language; it is not their mother tongue. In the words of my noble friend Lord Cormack, why are we seeking to discriminate against people in this way? I therefore urge my noble friend to show the big heart and affection that she has for these people and make sure either that we adopt the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Oates, in lieu of his earlier amendment for the reasons he has given, or that the Government should come forward with an amendment of their own. Digital by default in these circumstances is not going to work.