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 Meacher Baroness Meacher Crossbench 5:30 pm, 21st October 2020

My Lords, I shall speak in support of the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Oates. He has removed the only apparent government objection to his original amendment —that no fee could be charged—and, in her opening remarks, the Minister produced a few rather more minor costs. However, he undermined that argument, so perhaps she can clarify that point in her summing up.

As I understand it, this amendment will do no more than bring EEA nationals into line with all other immigrants residing in the UK. The Government have argued in relation to many amendments to this Bill that they are determined to treat EEA nationals in exactly the same way as other people who are resident in this country. Surely the Minister cannot then argue in relation to this amendment that EEA nationals should be treated differently when compared with immigrants from other countries. If she does not accept this amendment, can she explain this apparent inconsistency of approach?

The noble Lord, Lord Oates, has cogently set out the case for this amendment and his arguments need no repetition. For me, the two most powerful are first, that, as others have mentioned, IT system failures and technical faults are all too frequent, while the second is that large numbers of people have limited IT skills. The Minister responded to that point by saying, “That will not be a problem because there will be department-to-department communication.” Let us suppose that someone goes to a doctor needing medical help, but the Home Office system has gone down or some other technical problem has arisen; the doctor cannot treat them. I do not think that it is good enough to say, “Oh, do not worry, it will all be fine on the night.”

Just imagine, as an example, that we no longer had physical passports, merely an entry online to prove our UK citizenship. We could arrive at an airport and not be entirely confident that our details would be found to enable us to board an aircraft. How many of us would be comfortable with that? I certainly would not be. I wonder, when the Government talk about these things, whether they are actually planning to abandon physical passports, because that would be the logic of this situation. I will support this amendment if it is put to the vote.