Immigration Rules Advisory Committee for Immigration Rules for EEA and Swiss nationals

Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:15 pm on 16th June 2020.

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‘(1) The Secretary of State must establish an Immigration Rules Advisory Committee to consider relevant Immigration Rules.

(2) In this section “relevant Immigration Rules” mean Immigration Rules that apply to persons whose right of free movement is ended by section 1 and schedule 1 of this Act.

(3) The function of the Immigration Rules Advisory Committee shall be to give advice and assistance to the Secretary of State in connection with the discharge of his functions under this Act and in particular in relation to the making of relevant Immigration Rules.

(4) The constitution of the Immigration Rules Advisory Committee shall be set out in regulations.

(5) The Secretary of State shall furnish the Immigration Rules Advisory Committee with such information as the Committee may reasonably require for the proper discharge of its functions.

(6) No relevant Immigration Rules may be made by the Secretary of State, until the Immigration Rules Advisory Committee is established.’—

This new clause would require an advisory committee to be established in order to provide advice on immigration rules for EEA and Swiss nationals.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Graham Stringer Graham Stringer Labour, Blackley and Broughton

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

New clause 30—Procedures for amending Immigration Rules—

‘(1) The Immigration Act 1971 is amended in accordance with subsection 2.

(2) After section 3(2) insert—

“(2A) Any statement of the rules, or of any changes to the rules, which affect the rights and obligations of persons who will lose their right of freedom of movement under the provisions of the Immigration and Social Security Co-Ordination (EU Withdrawal) Act may not be made or have effect unless the Secretary of State has complied with subsections (2B) to (2F) below.

(2B) If the Secretary of State proposes to make changes to the rules under subsection (2A) above, the Secretary of State must lay before Parliament a document that—

(a) explains the proposal; and

(b) sets it out in the form of a draft order.

(2C) During the period of 60 days beginning with the day on which the document was laid under subsection (2B) (the “60-day period”), the Secretary of State may not lay before Parliament a draft order to give effect to the proposal (with or without modification).

(2D) In preparing a draft order under section (2A) above, the Secretary of State must have regard to any of the following that are made with regard to the draft order during the 60-day period—

(a) any representations; and

(b) any recommendations of a committee of either House of Parliament charged with reporting on the draft order.

(2E) When laying before Parliament a draft order to give effect to the proposal (with or without modifications), the Secretary of State must also lay a document that explains any changes made to the proposal contained in the document under subsection (2B).

(2F) In calculating the 60-day period, no account is to be taken of any time during which Parliament is dissolved or prorogued or during which either House is not adjourned for more than 4 days.”’

This new clause would amend the Immigration Act 1971 to ensure that any changes to the UK’s Immigration Rules which affect EEA or Swiss nationals must be made under the super affirmative procedure.

New clause 31—Powers to make immigration rules on specific topics—

‘(1) Powers to make Immigration Rules in relation to certain persons who have lost free movement rights under section 1 and schedule 1 must be exercised only by the relevant Secretary of State as set out in subsection (2).

(2) For the purposes of (1), the “relevant Secretary of State” is as follows—

(a) if the rules relate to students, or to family members, the Secretary of State for Education,

(b) if the rules relate to investors, workers, or the self-employed, the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.’

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

New clause 16 is about how we make immigration rules. I would like to know how many hon. Members present have ever looked at the immigration rules, at least directly for any considerable period of time, because they would drive anyone round the bend, frankly. I am not looking for raised hands but I make the point because they are vital, but we never really have an opportunity to debate their context in any holistic way or to suggest amendments to them.

Instead, hundreds of amendments to the rules are tabled each year and we barely get a look in. They contain fundamental questions about family, workers, education, business and how we run our economy, yet the Home Office keeps all of those—essentially legislation-making powers—to itself. If we look at immigration rules and immigration statutes, we find that they can be incredibly technical. Hence, we have recently seen the Law Society tasked with the job of trying to simplify them—work that will be incredibly challenging but is nevertheless essential. It is for these reasons that I have proposed new clauses 16 and 30, to change the way the rule making is done in this country, to help MPs to understand immigration law and the changes that have been made and to give them a say in what those rules are.

Last week we heard Jill Rutter from British Future refer to the work done by the Social Security Advisory Committee in providing analysis that aids MPs’ understanding of changes that have been made to social security law and flagging up things that perhaps require greater scrutiny and debate. She supported the idea of something similar operating in the field of immigration. That is why I have tabled new clause 16, as I think I did last year as well. In a similar way, a committee would analyse what the Government are doing and their proposals for changing immigration rules; it would flag up any concerns it might have and allow MPs to decide what further steps were required by way of scrutiny or challenging the Government on the proposals.

New clause 30 would allow us a debate and vote on immigration rules. I am not wedded to any particular procedure for how that happens, and I am sure the Immigration Minister will make points about how he needs to have the ability to act quickly and with a degree of flexibility in certain circumstances. By all means, we can build that into the procedures, but what I am saying is that at least a couple of times a year, we in this place should have the opportunity to look holistically at what the immigration rules are and the changes that have been made by the Government, and to have some say on the direction of travel.

I tabled new clause 31 to flag up the slightly more controversial idea that we perhaps need to go further. We need to start thinking about whether immigration policy making should be the sole preserve of the Home Office, because time after time it has got itself into a terrible mess. It is not that long ago that John Reid, the former Home Secretary, declared it “not fit for purpose”, and not long afterwards Mrs May did exactly the same thing. Both episodes prompted significant reorganisations, yet here we are with the Home Office again in significant trouble because of the Windrush fiasco and under investigation by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission. That reminds me that, during the Windrush fiasco, I think it was Amber Rudd who said that the Home Office had lost sight of the individual in all this.

That is really the nub of the matter. The Home Office tends to see migrants only as migrants and nothing more; it seems to be driven only by migration policy, and it does not seem to fully consider the significance of what migration does for the economy, for education, for families, for communities, for employers and for public services. Time and again, I speak to stakeholders in agriculture or food who say, “Well, we wanted to engage with the Home Office but we were referred to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs,” or universities that want to engage with Home Office but are told to speak to the Department for Education.

My view on education is that if the policy around student visas and post-study work was in the hands of the Department for Education, there is no doubt that the post-study work visa would never have been abolished in the first place, and it would have been reinstated years ago. Yet we are still here waiting for the Home Office to get its finger out and put that back in place. I also have little doubt that, were our transition to a new visa system being handled by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, it would not be foisting red tape and expense on small and medium-sized enterprises in double-quick time right at the height of a public health or economic crisis.

I could go on, but I think hon. Members get the point. Indeed, when I visited Dublin I was struck by the fact that there was no congregation of immigration powers in just one Department; it was the Business Department, for example, that designed work visa policy. That seems a sensible idea to me, and one that is at least worth exploring.

Photo of Kevin Foster Kevin Foster The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department 3:30 pm, 16th June 2020

I am once again grateful to the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East, and to others, for providing a further opportunity to discuss parliamentary scrutiny of the immigration rules and the powers to make them. Parliamentary scrutiny is an important issue, and one that I am aware members of the Committee are rightly very interested in. I will therefore take each new clause in turn.

I will first address new clause 31—I think I can respond pretty swiftly to this one. The UK Government work on the basis of collective responsibility. All policies are collectively agreed and reflect the views of all parts of Government. I may be the Minister for Future Borders and Immigration, and I have the good fortune to speak for the Government on matters connected with our new immigration arrangements, but I can assure the Committee that the policies I put forward are the policies of the entire Government, which were endorsed in December’s general election by the British people. No other Minister standing in this spot would advocate any different policies.

The notion of collective agreement and collective responsibility has long been a feature of the way this country is governed, which is why legislation confers powers on “the Secretary of State” generically. Incidentally, this approach also has the benefit of future-proofing our legislation in the event of machinery of Government changes.

I have the utmost respect for my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Education and for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy; both are doing excellent work in their posts and we are lucky to have them. But let me be very clear: were they to make immigration rules, they would be no different from those that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will be making, because this is a single united Government with a clear policy on these matters.

Our policies were put before and endorsed by the electorate, more detail was set out in a policy statement endorsed by the entire Government, and they represent the settled view of the Government as a whole. New clause 31 would therefore add nothing to the Bill. Having heard the explanation of how the Government system works, I hope the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East will withdraw it.

New clause 16 would require the Home Secretary to establish an immigration rules advisory committee to provide advice and assistance on any immigration rules relating to EEA citizens once free movement to the UK has ended as a result of this Bill. I have said previously that our new points-based system will be set out in the immigration rules. Those rules will be subject to parliamentary scrutiny in the usual way. The new clause seeks to add an additional layer of scrutiny, and will prevent the Home Secretary from making any immigration rules before an advisory committee is established by regulation. There is no justification for establishing a statutory advisory body to advise specifically on the rights of EEA citizens, who will be treated as other EEA citizens under the future immigration system.

Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill Conservative, Scarborough and Whitby

Does my hon. Friend agree that the Migration Advisory Committee carries out much of the work already? New clause 32 is specifically covered by the MAC.

Photo of Kevin Foster Kevin Foster The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I thank my right hon. Friend for his intervention. I will come on to new clause 32, which is about an annual report on the labour market, in a moment. We are freeing up the MAC to consider matters of interest to it and to provide recommendations on policies, although I expect it will be more nuanced when we come to reports on the labour market overall. That is more to do with the Department for Work and Pensions. We want a coherent strategy where migration is a part of that. We did not want to set it out purely in relation to EEA nationals.

Photo of Kate Green Kate Green Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

The difference between the MAC, which, as the Minister rightly says, is interested in labour market trends and developments, and the Social Security Advisory Committee, which the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East set up as an analogy for the Minister to consider, is that the SSAC looks specifically at the implementation of secondary legislation and advises on new regulations that the Government might introduce. Given the extent of immigration policy introduced in immigration rules, I would suggest that the MAC is not actually set up, and is not even likely to be set up in future, to provide advice to the House on those matters.

Photo of Kevin Foster Kevin Foster The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

The hon. Lady makes a not unreasonable point. The MAC gives advice on general policies on immigration. For example, it came up with what occupations should be on the shortage occupation list. It does not necessarily draft the legislation. However, the core of what we are driving at is there. I will continue with my speech because there have been significant changes in relation to simplification since an identical Bill was considered in the previous Parliament. Fundamentally, creating a statutory advisory body would simply delay the Government from introducing new consolidated and simplified rules by 1 January 2021, which could cause considerable confusion and ambiguity about which rules apply to EEA citizens once free movement ends.

In any event, the new clause is unnecessary. The Law Commission, in its consultation paper on simplification of the immigration rules, published in January 2019, asked whether an informal consultation or review of the drafting of immigration rules would help to reduce complexity. In its final report, published in January 2020, the Law Commission recommended that the Home Office should convene at regular intervals a committee to review the drafting of the rules in line with the principles recommended by the Law Commission. That is the more nuanced point that the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston referred to. On 25 March the Government published our response to the Law Commission report and recommendations, and we accepted that recommendation. We included in our response the terms of reference for and membership of the simplification of the rules review committee. To be clear, this covers the whole ambit of the rules, not just those as they relate to EEA nationals.

The committee is, as recommended by the Law Commission, made up of Home Office civil servants, immigration practitioners and organisations representative of non-expert users of the rules, including those representing vulnerable applicants such as children. The review committee meets monthly to advise on the Home Office’s proposals to draft simpler rules and accompanying guidance and how they can be made more accessible online.

I hope that, as we have already established a review committee and its terms of reference and membership are transparent, that will give the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East the confidence to withdraw new clause 16.

New clause 30 seeks to introduce the super-affirmative procedure for immigration rules. Typically, that procedure is used only for deregulatory orders that amend or repeal primary legislation, such as legislative reform orders or public bodies orders, or remedial orders under the Human Rights Act. In those circumstances, it is right that the highest level of scrutiny should be applied, but it is not appropriate to apply the same procedure in respect of changes to immigration rules, which obviously are not, and cannot amend, primary legislation.

Under the current, well-established procedure, the Government are able to update the immigration rules in a responsive way, to ensure that we have an immigration system that meets the UK’s needs, commands the confidence of the public and reflects the wider economic, social and political context in the UK at any time. Requiring a minimum 60-day standstill period—that would be a minimum, because if, for example, changes were laid in late June, the period would not expire until late October—would severely hamper our ability to make timely and effective changes to the rules to respond to emerging situations.

Photo of Richard Holden Richard Holden Conservative, North West Durham

In evidence at the start of Committee proceedings, we heard from Mr McTague from the Federation of Small Businesses, who picked up this point. He said:

“I think the fact that the Home Secretary is in a position to vary it and respond to changes in market conditions is better than if…we had to go through some sort of legislative process”.––[Official Report, Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Public Bill Committee, 9 June 2020; c. 14, Q28.]

That is exactly the point that we are trying to get at. Changes are much better if they are in the hands of the Home Secretary, who can then address Parliament on them, rather than having to go through statutory changes like this.

Photo of Kevin Foster Kevin Foster The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I thank my hon. Friend for reminding us of the evidence that was given. The core of the matter is that our immigration rules need to remain flexible to respond to emerging situations. For example, if the conditions around visas were in primary legislation, we would have to be putting through Acts of Parliament to alter and extend visas in relation to the current covid-19 situation, which none of us would feel was a sensible way of handling that type of thing. In addition, this process has been established for a very long time. Parliament, rightly, can oversee the immigration rules, but they can be flexible and adapt. To be clear, putting forward, effectively, an immigration rules change could not, for example, alter the provisions that we have on Irish citizens in this Bill and in the primary legislation.

Photo of Kate Green Kate Green Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

I just want to make sure that I have understood correctly—I may not have—what the Minister is saying and the provisions of the Bill. I understood him to say that the super-affirmative procedure is appropriate only in circumstances that include amending primary legislation, but is it not the case that the provisions of this Bill give the Government, in some circumstances, the opportunity to do that?

Photo of Kevin Foster Kevin Foster The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

They do, subject to the affirmative procedure, but that is—as we discussed under previous clauses and particularly in the clause 4 debate—for specified purposes. The measure does not just give us an unending power.

We could not, for example, change our international obligations and some other areas via this method, the use of which relates to the narrower areas of the Bill. It is not a carte blanche to change all primary law that affects immigration law, but applies where it is consequential to the purposes of the Bill.

I hope that those explanations have been of interest. I also hope that the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East will be genuinely pleased with the progress that we have made on the simplification agenda since the last Parliament—in which he discussed a very similar Bill—and with the establishment of the committee, which includes a range of stakeholders who welcome the opportunity to be involved in this work to reduce what I think we can all agree, as he touched on, has not been the most simple form of rule that we have created. We will get to a point where we can deliver a more concise level with which it is easier to engage.

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration, Asylum and Border Control), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Attorney General) 3:45 pm, 16th June 2020

I am grateful to the Minister for his response. New clause 31 was simply an opportunity to flag up the idea that we perhaps need to ensure that we look at immigration policy with a slightly broader perspective than simple numbers. The Minister protests perhaps slightly too much about collective responsibility and the idea that other Departments would have come to the same decisions as the Home Office in relation to certain policies, but I will leave that there.

I anticipated in my remarks about new clause 30 that the Minister would speak about the need for flexibility and the ability to act quickly. I am not calling for immigration rules in Acts of Parliament or anything like that; I am just saying that anyone who follows this area of policy closely over time knows that, in essence, Parliament has no realistic role in it whatsoever, and that has to change. It will not be changed by the Bill, but it is something that we should think about in the longer term.

On new clause 16, I absolutely agree with the Minister and totally welcome the ongoing work to simplify the immigration rules; the proof will be in the pudding. That is not an easy task, and I do not envy the folk who are undertaking it, but I wish them the very best of luck. However, new clause 16 is not just about simplifying what is already there, but about understanding the changes that the Government propose as we go along and providing detailed advice to help us in our scrutiny role. As some witnesses said last week, it is every bit as appropriate to do that in this sphere of policy as it is with social security, between which pretty good parallels can be drawn. I insist on pressing new clause 16 to a vote.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.

Division number 15 Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill — Immigration Rules Advisory Committee for Immigration Rules for EEA and Swiss nationals

Aye: 7 MPs

No: 8 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

The Committee divided: Ayes 7, Noes 8.

Question accordingly negatived.