Repeal of the main retained EU law relating to free movement etc

Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:25 am on 26th February 2019.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Graham Stringer Graham Stringer Labour, Blackley and Broughton

With this it will be convenient to discuss that schedule 1 be the First schedule to the Bill.

Photo of Caroline Nokes Caroline Nokes The Minister for Immigration

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer, and that of your co-Chair, Sir David Amess, who took us so ably through the evidence sessions the week before last.

At the outset, I would like to emphasise the importance of the Bill in delivering the future border and immigration system. It was clear from the EU referendum, from the many views shared on Second Reading and from the Committee’s evidence sessions that people want a fair immigration system that works for the whole United Kingdom—a system that attracts talent from around the globe and allows individuals to access the UK based on what they have to offer, not where they come from.

We heard many important views about the current and future border and immigration systems from witnesses who gave evidence before the Committee two weeks ago, as well as from organisations that provided written evidence. I am grateful to everyone who took the time to provide their opinions. The views that were put forward demonstrated a strong interest in a wide range of immigration issues, as well as in the specific design of the future system. The evidence highlighted the importance of learning lessons from the past and ensuring we get things right.

A clear message emerged about the need to create a fair and simple system, and those are key priorities for me in the design of the future system. As I have said previously, I recognise that the immigration rules need to be made simpler. That is why we have asked the Law Commission to review how the rules could be simplified. I look forward to considering its findings when they are published.

Leaving the European Union means that, for the first time in more than 40 years, we can deliver control of immigration by ending free movement. In its place, we will introduce a new system, which will level the playing field by ending preferential treatment for EU citizens. It will mean that everyone has the same opportunity to come to the UK, regardless of where they are from.

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration, Asylum and Border Control)

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way so early. She has asserted a couple of times that the new system will provide a level playing field for everybody, but the White Paper indicates that nationals of different countries will be treated in different ways. There will, I reckon, be preferential treatment for EU nationals with the one-year visa and for countries whose citizens are already non-visa nationals. Will she clarify that? Is she saying everybody is going to be treated exactly the same, or does she accept that the White Paper in fact does not set out such an arrangement?

Photo of Caroline Nokes Caroline Nokes The Minister for Immigration

The Bill certainly does set out that people will be treated in the same way, because it is a Bill simply to end free movement. The White Paper, which was published on 18 December, gives us the opportunity to discuss the future system and how people from across the globe may be treated. It gives us the opportunity to discuss whether trade deals might include treatment within our immigration system. It is important that we have a system that reflects people’s skills and what we need in our economy. This Bill, through which we are seeking to end free movement, is an opportunity to start to provide that level playing field.

Photo of Alison McGovern Alison McGovern Chair, Speaker's Advisory Committee on Works of Art

The Minister has just given the game away. The manner in which people will be treated will largely depend on what the Government see as their interest with regard to trade deals. They are telling people that there will be a level playing field, but that is a misnomer because people’s rights will be highly dependent on the Government’s whims relating to the incentives in future trade deals.

Photo of Graham Stringer Graham Stringer Labour, Blackley and Broughton

Before I call the Minister, this is a good opportunity to remind members of the Committee that interventions should be short and to the point. There will be plenty of opportunities for Members to catch my eye if they want to make a longer contribution.

Photo of Caroline Nokes Caroline Nokes The Minister for Immigration

This is an opportunity for Members to express their views about the future immigration system. Far from giving the game away, the White Paper is an opportunity, and we have said that there will be a year of engagement on it during which we will consider all views. We already have a system in which nationals from some countries require visas for visits and others do not, and we will be seeking to establish relationships. All such matters will be for future negotiation and discussion. It is absolutely right that, as a first step in the process, we listen to what we were told in the 2016 referendum and end free movement.

I want us to continue to be an open, outward-looking and welcoming country. I reiterate what I and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary have said many times: we value immigration and the contribution that people have made to our society, our culture and our economy. There are many people, including hon. Members on this Committee, who are rightly interested in the design of the future system. That is why we are engaging on the proposals set out in the White Paper, “The UK’s future skills-based immigration system”. That will include sessions that are open to all MPs to discuss specific points of interest on the proposals. In the past few weeks, I have held engagement sessions with Members on students and workers, and in the coming days there will be another one on asylum.

The purpose of the Bill is clear: we are ending free movement and providing the legal framework for the future border and immigration system. Clause 1 introduces the first schedule, which contains a list of measures to be repealed in relation to the end of free movement and related issues. The clause fulfils a purely mechanistic function to introduce the schedule. It is the bare bones of the Bill. I look forward to debating it further with hon. Members, who may address certain aspects of it in amendments that undoubtedly will be tabled to other parts of the Bill. To get matters under way, I commend clause 1 to the Committee.

Photo of Afzal Khan Afzal Khan Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Immigration)

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer.

This clause—this entire Bill, for that matter—puts the cart before the horse. Labour has been clear that our immigration policy is subordinate to our economic and trade policy. The Government’s position on Brexit, on the other hand, has been consistent in just one way: they insist on putting immigration ahead of our economic needs. We simply cannot support measures that would cause our country to be worse off.

It is a fact that freedom of movement ends when we leave the single market, but the Prime Minister herself has recognised the need for frictionless trade and has been told categorically by the EU that that cannot be maintained without a close relationship with the single market. If the Government cannot yet be clear about what the final agreement will be on our relationship with the single market, this makes no sense. Until the Government get their ducks in a row, we simply cannot vote for such a measure.

The Bill also fails to address two major questions facing Parliament. The first is how we will protect the rights of the 3.5 million people who have already moved to the UK and made their lives here. On Second Reading, the Home Secretary said,

“my message to the 3.5 million EU citizens already living here has also been very clear. I say, ‘You are an incredibly valued and an important part of our society; we want you to stay. Deal or no deal, that view will not change.’”—[Official Report, 28 January 2019; Vol. 653, c. 507.]

Yet the Government have made no provisions in the Bill to protect those citizens.

Photo of Kate Green Kate Green Chair, Committee on Standards, Chair, Committee on Privileges

Does my hon. Friend agree that the Bill would be the ideal opportunity to offer statutory reassurance to those 3.5 million people by including the details of the Government’s settled status scheme and their ongoing proposals for protecting those people’s rights?

Photo of Afzal Khan Afzal Khan Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Immigration)

I agree wholeheartedly with my hon. Friend’s comments. Labour has tabled a number of new clauses to the Bill that would put the rights of EU citizens into primary legislation. We hope that the Government accept those when we get to that point.

The second question is what our new immigration system should be doing in the future. The Bill is incredibly flimsy; it is only 16 pages long, which is extraordinary given that it will mean the biggest change to our immigration system in decades. Instead of putting forward a new immigration system that Parliament can discuss and debate, amend and improve, the Bill grants powers to Ministers to introduce whatever system they like through extensive Henry VIII powers. We were given an indication of what such a system might be like in the White Paper published by the Government in December. In fact, Ministers are under no obligation to use the powers to implement that system. If they implement the system described in the White Paper, it will spell disaster for our economy and our society.

We will go into these matters in more depth in subsequent debates, but expert witnesses at our evidence sessions criticised almost all aspects of the Government’s plans. The £30,000 threshold would be a disaster for business and public services such as the NHS. The 12-month visa would lead to exploitation. Labour has no problem with immigration that would treat all migrants the same no matter where they came from, but that is not the system the Government propose. The White Paper is explicit that there will be certain visas and conditions that will apply only to people from “low-risk countries”—a categorisation that the Government are not at all transparent about. Apart from those two glaring absences, the Bill before us fails to address a litany of problems with our immigration system, some of which we seek to remedy through our amendments.

Before I conclude, I have two questions that I would like the Minister to address. First, under what circumstances would the Government use the powers in the Bill? We have heard that this is a contingency Bill, so if there is a withdrawal agreement and thus a withdrawal and implementation Bill, will the Government use powers in that Bill to repeal free movement? Secondly, could the provisions in this Bill lead to a change in immigration law that affects non-European economic area migrants? Could the Government use the powers in the Bill to amend immigration legislation that affects non-EU citizens?

As the Minister will know, the Government are asking for extensive Henry VIII powers. During our Committee sittings, Adrian Berry, Steve Valdez-Symonds and Martin Hoare, all experts in immigration law, confirmed to me that the powers in the Bill could be used to make legislation affecting non-EU citizens. Is the Minister willing to contradict the experts? Does she agree that, if it is indeed the case that the powers in the Bill could be used to make legislation that affects non-EU citizens, its scope is much wider than the end of free movement?

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration, Asylum and Border Control)

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer. I thank the Clerks for working their way through a mountain of amendments and making them presentable in the last few days. I thank the various organisations and individuals for their help and ideas for amendments, and I thank the shadow Minister for engaging with us over the last couple of days. Any flaws in the amendments we have tabled are my responsibility alone. Finally, I thank the Minister; she has been very open to discussion, approachable and good humoured, as ever. The fact that I can’t stand the Bill and utterly oppose it should not be taken personally. Hopefully, we will still be able to have some useful and constructive debates.

I will not rehash all the points I made on Second Reading. I love free movement; my party fully supports it and I pretty much believe it is the best thing since sliced bread. I regret that it is in danger of coming to an end. It will leave the United Kingdom in an unusual position historically. This country has, for almost its entire history, allowed certain citizens to come and go, whether EU citizens, Commonwealth citizens or, before that, absolutely everybody. All the evidence is that free movement is beneficial to us, for growth, productivity and public finances. In Scotland, it has transformed our demographic outlook from a country of net immigration to a country of positive migration. The quid pro quo for all this is that we will lose our free movement rights. My family and I have benefited from free movement, as have many Members, including on this Committee. I regret that this Parliament will pull up the ladder behind it.

The challenges of free movement that are often cited will not be solved by ending free movement but by proper labour market standards and enforcement, by integration strategies and by investment in public services. Neither do the justifications for ending free movement stack up. Indeed, it was striking in the Minister’s speech and in the speeches of some Government Members on Second Reading how little free movement and the supposed justifications for ending it were addressed.

It is wrong to say that people voted to end free movement, because it was not on the ballot paper. To argue the contrary is to argue that almost 100% of leave voters were motivated by that alone. That is not the case. This is the Prime Minister’s red line, not the people’s red line. Opinion polls and studies show that if it comes to a choice between a closer trading relationship with Europe and ending free movement, a closer trading relationship wins. Simply repeating ad nauseam that we are “taking back control of our borders” is not an argument.

Now is the most bizarre moment for MPs to consider voting to end free movement. Parliament hopefully is on the verge of taking control. Who knows what trading arrangements may be secured, perhaps involving free movement. A people’s vote is even more on the cards than it was at the time of Second Reading. As the shadow Minister said, the Bill puts the cart before the horse. Let us sort out our negotiating position first, then we can decide what that means for free movement. If the public are happy enough to retain free movement for a closer trading arrangement, it is wrong for MPs to rule it out at this stage. There is no need to rush through the end of free movement, even if we do leave in a month’s time. For those reasons, my party believes that the clause should not stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Kate Green Kate Green Chair, Committee on Standards, Chair, Committee on Privileges

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer. I echo the comments of the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East in thanking the Minister for being so open to colleagues in preparing for consideration of the Bill over the next two weeks.

I, too, believe that freedom of movement has been good for our country and particularly for my constituency. We are a proud manufacturing constituency that offers many skilled jobs, and we have relied heavily over the years on the skills and talents of EEA nationals who come to work in our industries. It is clear that north-west England is destined to suffer most economically from loss of access to EEA labour under free movement rules.

I echo the hon. Gentleman’s remarks about public opinion on freedom of movement. A couple of years ago I had the pleasure to participate in a citizens’ assembly organised by the Constitution Unit of University College London. One of the questions that the participants were asked to address was what kind of immigration arrangements they wanted with the European Union after Brexit. This was a deliberative process carried out with a representative sample of over 100 individuals, exactly mirroring the demographic of the referendum electorate in terms of the vote—leave or remain—geography, ethnicity, age, background and so on.

After two weekends of extensive deliberation, the conclusion the assembly reached was that it was happy with the current free movement arrangements between EU countries, including the UK, but that it just wanted them to be properly enforced. As we heard in oral evidence a couple of weeks ago, the Government have had the opportunity over many decades to impose registration conditions, for example. We have never used them, but they could have offered greater reassurance to the public that the country has a grip on the immigration system.

I want to express some concerns about the implications of endorsing clause 1 today without knowing what we will have in its place. The Government have announced a settlement scheme for EEA nationals already resident in the UK. They can either apply for settled status, if they can demonstrate five years’ residence exercising treaty rights, or for pre-settled status, on the way to achieving that. It is good that EU nationals have already begun to register under that scheme, and many have managed to do that very straightforwardly. However, we know from the evidence we have heard and read that some have experienced difficulties. That is why I feel very strongly—we will debate this later in Committee—that if we are going to apply clause 1, we have to put something in the Bill that protects in statute the rights of all those people so that they are not left in some sort of limbo or black hole until we get to the new immigration system the Government negotiate, perhaps by 2021.

I have particular concerns about the implications of clause 1 in the event that we do not reach a deal for the transition phase; after all, we are only five weeks away from that and the situation it could leave European Union nationals in—in particular, those who arrive after Brexit day of 29 March but before we have the new immigration system in place.

We know, because the Government have announced this, that the intention is to introduce a model of European temporary leave to remain, which would be granted by way of a visa for up to 36 months from the date of application. It would apply to all EU nationals arriving after 29 March and staying for more than three months. However, the combination of clause 2 and the Government’s announcements so far on that system means that there are a number of concerns, which leave us in a legal black hole. The Minister was good enough to answer a number of written questions I posed to her about the scheme, and I received her answers on 12 February.

First, I think I am right that the European temporary leave to remain visa is non-extendable, and anyone on it will need to transfer to a new visa category when the new UK immigration system comes into effect. Given the effect of clause 1, they will be left in a very uncertain position for now as to whether they will be able to stay longer than the 36 months under the European temporary leave to remain visa, with no guarantee that they will be able to switch to a new kind of visa under the new immigration regime.

Secondly, having looked carefully at the Minister’s written answers, I am not clear whether time spent on a European temporary leave to remain visa, post clause 1 and before the new immigration system takes effect, would count towards an application for indefinite leave to remain in due course. If it does not, my understanding is that individuals working on a temporary leave to remain visa would have fewer rights than do non-EU nationals now on tier 2 visas. Will the Minister confirm my understanding and perhaps say more about the Government’s intentions?

As we heard in oral evidence, there is a particular worry about students starting courses in 2019-20 or 2020-21 where those courses are longer than three years. If this clause is passed in the next few weeks, students starting this September will not have certainty about whether they will be able to complete their courses in some cases, because a 36-month visa may not be sufficient. As colleagues from the Scottish National party will know, that covers all undergraduate degrees in Scotland. It covers medicine and dentistry courses, nearly all engineering courses, any course with an integrated masters or placement period, and most PhD programmes—we are already seeing a fall in the number of students from the EU coming to study at PhD level at our Russell Group universities. Students on the European temporary leave to remain visa would not be entitled to a period of post-study work leave on this visa, and would therefore have fewer rights than non-EU nationals on a tier 4 visa, because undergraduates on such a visa for a three-year course are granted four additional months leave after the course end date.

From the Minister’s written answer to me, we do not know exactly what fee will be charged. Most concerning of all perhaps is the position that this limbo will create for employers. It will not be possible for employers to check who is here as a European national with a right to settled status, although they have just not applied for it—after all, they have until 2021 to do so—who is here in the first three months of a visit, having arrived after 29 March; and who has been here for longer than three months and has not chosen—or not been aware that they need—to apply for a European temporary leave to remain visa. That puts employers in a difficult position.

While we have had good assurances from the Home Secretary that there is no expectation that employers should be checking EU nationals in this period, if they employ someone who is not entitled to work in this country, they would none the less potentially be at risk of committing an offence under criminal law. In oral evidence, we heard from Hilary Brown and James Porter that there is considerable confusion among employers about what they need to check, whether they will be checked and what will be looked for. Can the Minister say more about what support will be given to employers in this intervening period? In her written answer, she mentioned that guidance would be produced—I am grateful to hear that—but it would be helpful to the Committee and, more importantly, to employers and individuals if she could say more about what it will contain.

In the meantime, and in conclusion, it seems that the European temporary leave to remain visa, combined with clause 1, leaves us with a system that is not fit for purpose. It will create extra bureaucracy for the Home Office, without giving it any more grip on who is here legitimately if there is no mechanism by which employers or landlords, for example, are expected to check. It troubles me that the Home Office is adding another burden to its administration systems, which will not help it to process the settled status scheme, which we all welcome, as smoothly as possible. For that reason, I feel strongly that it would be premature to endorse clause 1 now. It causes me deep concern, and I hope the Minister will respond to the points I have raised.

Photo of Alison McGovern Alison McGovern Chair, Speaker's Advisory Committee on Works of Art 9:45 am, 26th February 2019

I join colleagues in thanking the Clerks and the team for the work they have done. I will make a few remarks, particularly about the economic arguments sometimes made for clause 1. I have no doubt that we will spend much time debating some of these points, but let us start as we mean to go on.

On the timing of the Bill, I profoundly agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston. It seems bizarre that anyone would think it acceptable to remove, with one clause of this Bill, an entire set of rights that all citizens in this country enjoy by reciprocity with the European Union, and that European Union citizens enjoy in this country, and to replace them with nothing but the promise of a White Paper. There is no set timescale for the introduction of any new immigration system, so we are saying to people, “All your current rights will be removed and will be replaced at some point in the future. We don’t know when, and we don’t know what the new rights will be, but bear with us while we sort it out.”

Photo of Nick Thomas-Symonds Nick Thomas-Symonds Shadow Solicitor General, Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Security)

Can my hon. Friend think of any realistic argument why, given that the Government say they want to guarantee the rights of EU nationals, they would not simply do so now, in clause 1?

Photo of Alison McGovern Alison McGovern Chair, Speaker's Advisory Committee on Works of Art

I can think of a reason: because they want to take decisions on these rights based on negotiating interests and the potential gain they might get for their agenda. It seems clear that that has always been the manner in which the rights of EU nationals would be treated. I am afraid warm words are not enough. It is perfectly reasonable—and something I would expect every member of the Committee to be able to do—to say that we personally feel no animus towards EU nationals and that people are welcome in this country. However, it is one thing to say those words and another to do what is necessary to guarantee that they are true. I can think of no reason why the Government would not do as my hon. Friend has suggested.

Photo of Nicholas Dakin Nicholas Dakin Opposition Whip (Commons)

Does my hon. Friend agree that the fact that this is not dealt with in the Bill as clearly as it could be is unsettling for not only EU nationals but businesses? It interrupts business continuity in a way that is not helpful to the UK economy.

Photo of Alison McGovern Alison McGovern Chair, Speaker's Advisory Committee on Works of Art

I agree with my hon. Friend, who makes a good point. I never thought I would be in Committee lecturing the Conservative party on the needs of British business, but we are where we are. My hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston made the point very well that we are creating not simplicity but an extraordinarily high level of uncertainty, and uncertainty is costly to the British economy. I am sure we will discuss the costs of the Brexit process during the Bill, but the Government could be handling the Bill better. They could have come up with the immigration White Paper long before they did, and we could have spent time in the past two and a bit years since the referendum discussing that very thing, but they have held off and postponed—and here we are now. People have no real idea what situation EU nationals will be in after the end of March. That is utterly intolerable.

Photo of Kate Green Kate Green Chair, Committee on Standards, Chair, Committee on Privileges

My hon. Friend makes an important point. Does she agree that the result is that businesses are already experiencing labour shortages, because the uncertainty means EU nationals are already choosing not to come to this country to work? I was told the other day by a food processor in my constituency that there is particular pressure now in the haulage sector.

Photo of Alison McGovern Alison McGovern Chair, Speaker's Advisory Committee on Works of Art

I hear the same evidence that my hon. Friend does. We represent constituencies in the same region, so that is not unexpected. Many people will respond that it should be fine, as there are plenty of people in Britain, and plenty of British people can do those jobs. However, unfortunately, that is to misunderstand the labour market. We have an ageing population. What, as we heard in evidence to the Committee, is the answer, according to those who want to put up the border and stop people coming here to do the decent and dignified thing by working in our country? It is to raise the pension age and ask people to work into their 70s. That is all right for people who do a desk job that is not physically taxing, but I do not really want to ask nurses whom I represent to work until they are 71 or 72. I do not think that would be appropriate. My hon. Friend made a good point.

My hon. Friend also talked about lack of simplicity in the new system. The Minister mentioned simplicity several times and the Law Commission will look into it. That is a good thing—and it is not before time. However, the fact is that free movement, like it or not, provides people with rights that are simple to understand and exercise. If we are to replace that system with a new one we had better have a good idea now—today—how we will give people an equal, or hopefully better, level of simplicity. For all the reasons that my hon. Friend mentioned, making people’s lives simpler in that way is vital. It is the best way to make sure that the economy can innovate and move forward. I find it hard to understand why the Government should move clause 1 at this point, without a guarantee of an equally simple, or even simpler and better understood system.

Photo of Kate Green Kate Green Chair, Committee on Standards, Chair, Committee on Privileges

Again, my hon. Friend makes a powerful point. This is about simplicity not just for business and our economy, but for families who will now not be clear about the basis on which family members can come to this country to live with them.

Photo of Alison McGovern Alison McGovern Chair, Speaker's Advisory Committee on Works of Art 10:00 am, 26th February 2019

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. She is right, and we have all spent time in our surgeries with distressed constituents who are dealing with complexities faced by their families. No doubt all that personal and human cost comes across the Minister’s desk, and I know she treats such cases with empathy and kindness. If we are to replace a system that is simple and straightforward for people to understand, and means that they can plan family life and get on with the things they want to do without constant interference by the Government, a better option should be on the table than the one we currently have—I never thought I would have to lecture the Tory party about the perils of a Government interfering unnecessarily in people’s personal lives, but there we are.

Some people talk about the economic impacts of immigration and say that ending free movement was what caused the referendum result. As has been said, however, that is questionable because free movement was not on the ballot paper, and we do not really know.

Photo of Gavin Newlands Gavin Newlands Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Sport), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Northern Ireland), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Wales)

Does the hon. Lady agree that there is a huge degree of confusion about freedom of movement, and that it is conflated with the rest of immigration and asylum policy? That is not helped by a lack of knowledge in this country about how the European Union works and operates, and how we approach such issues with the EU. The direct impact on people in the UK, and on their ability to travel freely across the EU to work, travel and be educated, was not known, so we cannot possibly say that the UK voted to end freedom of movement.

Photo of Alison McGovern Alison McGovern Chair, Speaker's Advisory Committee on Works of Art

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. It is entirely possible that people do not know all the ins and outs and details of the immigration system—I would not expect them to; it is quite complicated. Having stood in three general elections in a swing marginal seat, I suggest that anyone who thinks they can be involved in British politics and not get involved in conversations about immigration is kidding themselves. We must accept that immigration is an issue, and that people will seize on anecdotes and their own personal experience. That is not illegitimate either—people rely on their lived experiences, but when it comes to decisions that we take, it is a mistake to rely on anecdote and we must consider the actual evidence for what immigration has done in our labour market.

In 2015, one Bank of England study found that immigration had had a very small effect on the wages of those at the lower end of the earnings distribution, but that that effect was not significant. Often that study is seized on as evidence that immigration has somehow had this huge impact on people’s earning potential, but I simply ask people to compare that with what we know has happened to wages since the financial crash of 2008. Compared with the trend of 2% annual growth in real wages from 1980 to the early 2000s, which was pretty regular, between 2008 and 2014 people’s real wages fell significantly, with a shortfall of about 20% in what they would otherwise have expected had that real wage growth continued.

If we consider groups in our society, apart from pensioner households, no one is better off than they would have been in 2008. The significance of that impact while we have been in the European Union demonstrates that what has happened is a change in Government policy and the decisions that have been made to support people’s incomes. Real wages have been weakened by rising inflation since the 2016 referendum, which has had a huge impact. Depreciation will lead to rising costs. In the end, when considering people’s earnings potential, what matters is not the nominal figure of the amount they have coming in, but what they can buy with it.

I would say to people who worry about the impact of immigration on wages that we should definitely consider it. It is true that most of the studies that have investigated this matter have found that, at the local level, there is no statistically significant impact of immigration on the earnings of those in that local economy. However, if that is considered so important that it ignores the impact of prices and what has happened since the referendum, that is not being serious about dealing with poverty in this country. We need to understand that if we tell people that we will make the average British person better off by restricting immigration, we are offering a false promise.

Photo of Caroline Nokes Caroline Nokes The Minister for Immigration

A good number of useful and interesting points were raised by hon. Members. I just want to start by correcting one point made by the hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton who said it was a fact that free movement would end when we leave the single market. Free movement, as hon. Members know, was frozen into UK law last year, which is why we need the Bill so that we can end free movement, which will not happen automatically when we leave the EU.

Hon. Members are right to point out that there may be a gap. There could be a gap either way. It is perfectly feasible that the Bill will not gain Royal Assent until after we leave the European Union and it is certainly possible to envisage the circumstances in which the Bill might gain Royal Assent before we leave the EU. It is an important Bill and, although I have been accused of putting the cart before the horse, that is not the case. It is not premature; it is something that we must do.

Several hon. Members raised the rights of the 3.5 million EU citizens living in the UK and were absolutely right to do so. They will also know that we hope very much to address that in the withdrawal agreement Bill in the event of a deal. I am probably one of the few in the room to have voted consistently for the deal every time it has come before the House [Interruption.] Okay, they are all raising their hands now. I certainly have done. It is really important that we secure a deal and, in so doing, have the withdrawal agreement. I will have the joy of also serving on that Bill Committee and will take through the citizens’ rights principles that we are determined to secure.

I do not intend to bore hon. Members on this subject but it is one of my favourites. They will know that we opened the EU settled status scheme last year in its first trial phase. We are now into the third open beta testing phase. I am not in any way complacent about that. These large projects are opened in private beta testing first in order to iron out the bugs, problems and issues that may crop up. It is fair to say that there have been issues, but we have been able to learn from the process and react relatively quickly to iron them out. I am pleased that so far 100,000 people have gone through the process and more are applying every single day.

That does not mean that I am not alive to the challenges that are part of that. Obviously, 3.5 million is an enormous number and 100,000, although a good start when not even in the open phase of the scheme, is encouraging but I know there is a great deal more to do. I am sure hon. Members will be reassured by the fact that we will open the communications programmes very shortly.

Photo of Nicholas Dakin Nicholas Dakin Opposition Whip (Commons)

We heard quite a lot of evidence from people concerned that, if we get this wrong at this point, we could create another Windrush situation further down the line. How will that be prevented?

Photo of Caroline Nokes Caroline Nokes The Minister for Immigration

The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. If we have learned one thing from Windrush—and I sincerely hope we have learned many—it is that a declaratory system that does not give people the evidence they need to be able to affirm their right to be in the UK, to work and own property, does not work. That is why we have a scheme that I am confident will give people the evidence they need so that we can avoid a position whereby EU citizens who are here and settled are in the same situation in the future. I am conscious—Members may have heard me say this in Select Committees—that there will be children of EU citizens living in this country today who are well under the age of 16; some will be one or two years old. The hon. Member for Wirral South mentioned an ageing population and longevity, but while we in this room might be lucky to get to our late 80s, there are children who will live to 100 or 110. It is therefore important we have something that is enduring and enables them to evidence their right to be here for a century or more.

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration, Asylum and Border Control)

A new argument appeared for the first time yesterday at Home Office questions, saying the problem was caused because Windrush was what Ministers describe as a declaratory system. That was not what caused the problem; the problem was the lack of evidence. In fact, if people did not have rights under statute—as we would like to see here—they could have been removed ages ago and could not have rectified the situation. It is not right to say that a declaratory system caused the problem to the Windrush generation.

Photo of Caroline Nokes Caroline Nokes The Minister for Immigration

I disagree. If we look back to the Immigration Act 1971—I have become quite familiar with that Act over the past year in this job—it put the right of the people of the Windrush generation to be here in statute, but it did not provide them with the evidence they needed to demonstrate that. It is important we learn that lesson and make sure we do not repeat the mistake for our EU citizens.

Photo of Kate Green Kate Green Chair, Committee on Standards, Chair, Committee on Privileges

Does the Minister agree that the conclusion is that we should do both? We should have a declaratory system so that people’s legal rights are clear in statute and, at the same time, we should have a process of giving them reliable and sustainable evidence to demonstrate they have that right.

Photo of Caroline Nokes Caroline Nokes The Minister for Immigration

Through the EU settled status scheme, we have provided people with the mechanism via which to demonstrate that. I have confidence in the mechanism. I recognise the challenges, some of which we heard in the evidence session two weeks ago. I am determined we get that right and make it a system that people will engage in, take part in and be able to evidence their status.

Photo of Afzal Khan Afzal Khan Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Immigration)

On the same point, one of the issues that came through during the evidence sessions was that it would also be helpful to have a hard copy of that evidence.

Photo of Caroline Nokes Caroline Nokes The Minister for Immigration

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the Home Office is seeking to move to digital by default in many of our processes. I recognise that this is the way forward. I spent a very happy six months at the Cabinet Office as the Minister for the Government Digital Service, recognising that the delivery of services digitally is the way forward. With the digital right-to-work checks and the roll-out of the digital right-to-rent checks, we already have a system that makes sure the individual employer or landlord can see only the evidence to which they are entitled, rather than having a biometric card that lays out all a person’s details. It can be tailored so the potential employer gets to see only the evidence of the right to work. I believe that the system works well and when I showed it to the landlords’ representative panel, they engaged with and were enthused by it. It has also worked well for employers. Digital status that is backed up and can be evidence going forward, simply and easily, is much better than a document that potentially contains the risk of fraud and that might need renewing every 10 years, in the same way we have to renew our passports.

This is the Bill that will end free movement. That is not the role of the withdrawal agreement Bill, which is where we will enshrine citizens’ rights.

Photo of Paul Blomfield Paul Blomfield Shadow Minister (Exiting the European Union)

I share the comments made from this side of the Committee regarding the Minister’s approach to the Bill and, indeed, to her brief. Can she explain what consideration the Government have given to one of the single biggest national groups affected by any freedom of movement—UK nationals: the 1.2 million Brits who live and work in the European Union. If we poll young people, we find that their biggest regret about our leaving is losing their right to freedom of movement within the European Union. What assessment has she made of that issue, because reciprocity is key?

Photo of Caroline Nokes Caroline Nokes The Minister for Immigration

The hon. Gentleman is right to point out that reciprocity is key—it is crucial. Although we have it within our power to legislate to protect the rights of the 3.5 million here, we do not have the right to legislate in France, Germany or Spain. I am absolutely conscious of the very real concerns. We heard some of them in the evidence sessions, but I have also met repeatedly with representatives of those who live in EU member states, who are concerned.

We heard evidence from a lady whose name I forget about how important she felt it was to have citizens’ rights enshrined in primary legislation. I give the same answer I have given previously: the withdrawal agreement Bill will be the place for those measures. I am looking forward to taking the citizens’ rights elements through, but it is wrong to say that we have not enshrined them in legislation. We opened phases 1, 2 and 3 of the settled status scheme through the immigration rules, and it is my duty to lay the rules for opening the system fully by 30 March, so we have already enshrined those measures in legislation, albeit secondary legislation. We intend to do more through secondary legislation for when the scheme opens fully, and of course those rights will be enshrined in primary legislation through the withdrawal agreement Bill.

Photo of Kate Green Kate Green Chair, Committee on Standards, Chair, Committee on Privileges 10:15 am, 26th February 2019

It will be welcome to have citizens’ rights enshrined in primary legislation through the withdrawal agreement Bill, but of course if we do not have a withdrawal agreement, we will not have that legislation. Are there alternative plans to ensure that those rights are enshrined in primary legislation, rather than in secondary legislation, which would be subject to future change and would not receive proper parliamentary scrutiny, in the event that there is no deal?

Photo of Caroline Nokes Caroline Nokes The Minister for Immigration

Opposition Members never, I think, let me get away with anything without proper scrutiny. The hon. Lady knows that I want to see the withdrawal agreement Bill passed. That is an important step. I am most enthusiastic and keen—nay, desperate—for us to get a deal; it is crucial that we do so, but I still firmly hold that the withdrawal agreement Bill, rather than this Bill, which is a straightforward Bill to end free movement, is the place to enshrine those rights. This Bill’s powers on free movement will of course be required both in the event of a deal and in a no-deal scenario, but they will be used differently if we have a deal, in which case the withdrawal agreement Bill will provide protections for the resident population.

The power in clause 4, which we shall probably come to later today, is similar to that found in other immigration legislation, and can be used only in consequence of or in connection with part 1 of this Bill, which is about ending free movement. I therefore do not believe there is a risk that it could be used to change immigration legislation for non-EEA nationals in ways unconnected to part 1 of the Bill.

Let me say in response to the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston that we have been clear that, after our exit, there will be no change to the way that EU citizens prove their right to work. They will continue to use a passport or an ID card until the future system is in place.

I have been clear that we will engage widely on the future system, which will come in after 2021. It will be a skills-based immigration system, which enables us to move forward, absolutely accommodating the needs of our economy, I hope—I have been candid about this since my first day in the Home Office—in a much simpler way. We are confronted with 1,000 pages of immigration rules, so there is certainly the opportunity to simplify enormously. I do not pretend that I have it within my power to “do a Pickles” with the immigration rules by doing the equivalent of his tearing up 1,000 pages of planning guidance and reducing it to the national planning policy framework, but we have to move forward with a system that is far simpler and easier to understand than what we currently have.

Photo of Kate Green Kate Green Chair, Committee on Standards, Chair, Committee on Privileges

Will the Minister take the opportunity to reassure employers that, in the period until 2021, provided they have looked at an individual’s passport or identity document, they will not commit any criminal offence if it happens that that individual in practice does not have the right to work because they arrived after Brexit day and did not apply, as they needed to, for European temporary leave to remain?

Photo of Caroline Nokes Caroline Nokes The Minister for Immigration

There is a terrible phrase, which I really dislike using: “statutory excuse”. If an employer has seen evidence—an EU passport or ID card—that indicates that somebody has the right to work in the same way as they do now, that provides them with the protection that the hon. Lady seeks.

Photo of Afzal Khan Afzal Khan Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Immigration)

I ask the Minister again: could the Government use the powers in the Bill to amend immigration legislation affecting non-EU citizens?

Photo of Caroline Nokes Caroline Nokes The Minister for Immigration

I think I responded to that point a few moments ago. We do not consider there to be a risk that the power could be used to change immigration legislation for non-EU nationals in ways that are unconnected to part 1 of the Bill. Part 1 is specifically about ending free movement.

Question put, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

The Committee divided:

Ayes 10, Noes 9.

Division number 1 Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill — Repeal of the main retained EU law relating to free movement etc

Aye: 10 MPs

No: 9 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly agreed to.

Clause 1 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 1 agreed to.