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Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, I thank the Minister for her introduction and explanation. She had no need to apologise for the length of her speech. However, because there are so many problems with this package of regulations, there will have to be significant questions. The Minister has already acknowledged that the regulations are faulty and need amendment. Any criticisms that I have will be in a far longer speech than I would ever normally make on regulations. I bear in mind that this is not the Minister's own departmental responsibility. From the experience that this House has of the noble Baroness's work, I suspect that the matter would have been handled far better if it were.
The further enlargement of the EU takes place in eight days' time. It has been on the agenda for years. Britain's strategy for the free movement of labour that impacts on British jobs and our public services should have been clear, consistent and planned in advance. The Government simply failed to address those concerns until the 11th hour. Some of the result is before us today.
When the Minister made a Statement on these matters in February, I gave a general welcome to the proposal to ensure that those persons who qualify to come to the UK to work after 1 May should be under a duty to register their employment. We were surprised that the Government sought to follow another route rather than the tried and tested one of work permits. As the Government have found, that route has had its difficulties, but at least it is a route that is known to both those who come here and the employers who have to operate it. However, the Government chose another scheme.
I looked at the IND website today, where confusion abounds. If I were trying to find out what on earth will be going on next week, either as an employer or as a prospective employee, my heart would sink. On 23 February, we also welcomed the essential part of
I said at that stage that, despite my general welcome for the principle, I would of course need to consider all of the orders carefully. Indeed, I note that the second report of the Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee of the House makes the point in paragraph 4 that,
The regulations prevent workers from accession countries obtaining benefits next week. They are an essential part of the policy package. Indeed, the House is being asked to sign a blank cheque; we are being asked to sign up to the whole package having seen only part. The missing orders must be an important part of the package because the Prime Minister made so much of them in the interview that he gave to the BBC before the Statement. After all, he said that they give the grounds for throwing people out of the country if they do not comply with the rules. That is a very severe action to take against any person, particularly if he or she is destitute. It was a serious allegation made by the Prime Minister about the implications of the orders. We have not yet seen the proof of that.
I asked questions about the legal basis for the possible expulsion of people; I did not receive a reply. My noble friend Lord Waddington pursued that issue; he did not receive a reply about the legal basis. I am still waiting, of course, for the Government to explain what will be the expulsion rules.
I wonder whether the Department for Work and Pensions has kept the Home Office and the Minister informed on all these matters. I unashamedly nagged the Government Whip's Office on this issuemore than once a day, all weekand made a thorough, more than usual pain of myself. I wish to place on record my profound thanks to one of the officials in that office who has worked incredibly hard this week, on behalf of the whole House, in contacting the DWP and other departments. As a result, we were able to obtain draft copies of the important orders, which were placed on my desk late last night. I came in rather early this morning in order to have two or three hours in which to consider them.
Although we have to be extremely gratefulI am sure the Minister isthat we are so well served by the officials of the House, the difficulty is that the whole House has not been able to see the orders. Further, organisations outwith the House have not necessarily been able to see and consider them. Although I have made some telephone calls and visited various websites, the results have been rather limited. Will the Minister give the House an assurance today that the accompanying orders, the rest of the package, will be laid in time for the benefit rules to be legitimately in place by 1 May? I believe that it is essential the House should have that assurance.
I note that the Social Security Advisory Committee has been consulted on the Social Security (Habitual Residence) Amendment Regulations. According to its website, its consultation ended on 20 April. When I looked at that exemplary websiteas I have not been a member of that committee for seven years I can say that without being partial to itI noticed that the memorandum from the DWP to the Social Security Advisory Committee ran to 156 pages. I confess that I did not read them all"Tut, tut", says the Ministerbut, as one tends to have a quick look at the end of such documents, I looked at the last eight or so pages which summarised the accessibility to benefits for various categories of people, primarily from the A8 countries. I have to say that it reads like a mess; it will be so confusing. I find it very difficult indeed to follow.
Although this is a DWP matter, I have to ask today whether the Government are sure that the regulations which will be introduced as a result of these orders will have a good legal basis. My faint memory from seven years ago is that if the Government want to introduce an ineligibility from benefits on 1 May, they should have had the regulations in place about 21 days in advance. If they did not, they would be unable to apply that ineligibility. I am concerned about that.
I am also concerned about when we will see the report from the Social Security Advisory Committee. I make no allegation against the committeeI am sure that it has turned round the report in the fastest time possiblebut can the Minister tell the House when the SSAC reported to the Secretary of State and whether the Government know when they will be able to publish its advice more broadly so that it may be taken into account when we consider the orders, if and when they are laid?
I turn now to the details of the order. It is important that we should have clarity about the procedure for those who come to work in this country. We welcome people who come here with skills and contribute to our economy. I have made that clear before; I make it clear again. They may come here after 1 May from the new accession countries. The Minister tried very hard to give the House as much information as possible and I am grateful to her. She explained very clearly some of the more impenetrable parts of the regulations and the Explanatory Memorandum and I should like to place my gratitude on the record.
I always think of these issues in terms of, "What if it is me coming here and it is happening to me?". First, can the Minister say whether or not the team that is to put the system into effect has been recruited? Are the staff of the new unit in place so that they can process the applications for registration? Have the forms for registration already been printed and are they available? Are the guidance notes for both employers and applicants readily available? Have personnel been properly trained to issue the registration forms and take the right decisions? What kind of workload do the Government estimate will be handled by the new unit?
There has been a dispute over the numbers involved over the past few weeks. It is not so much a matter of the numbers from the point of view of whether or not we are aghast at how many people will come heredifferent people have different views, but my concern is whether the Government's unit can handle whatever the numbers may be. The Minister will know that originally the Government estimated that an additional 5,000 to 13,000 migrants a year could come to Britain from the accession countries. Is that still their view? Are they aware that estimates from embassies suggest that the figure is more likely to be 50,000 or more? But all we really need to know is whether or not the systems are in place to cope with whatever level of application is made.
The Explanatory Memorandum states that a fee of £50 will be charged for all first time applications to register with the scheme and that this will cover the administrative costs of running the scheme. Whose administrative coststhe Government's or the employers'?
Paragraph 8 refers to the procedure for applying for a registration card and registration certificate. If I, as a migrant, come here after 1 May, will the application forms be held by my employer? Where do they get them from? How long will it take them to get access to the forms if they do not stock them on site? What records will need to be kept by my employer? Will it simply be the registration card and certificate, or will he have to keep a record of the proof that I have provided to the Secretary of State that I, the new worker, have a right to be here? How much evidence does the employer have to keep?
The noble Baroness referred to the system as it affects students who come here and work. I agree with her entirelyit may well be that students will work here and contribute to the economy. Could she give us a little more information about what happens after the first year, when they have been granted a registration certificate? How will they be treated then? What if I come here and my application for registration is refused? The noble Baroness referred to a refusal notice. Does that give reasons why my application has been refused? Will there be any form of review or appeal against that refusal?
Let us assume that I have a job offer from an employer and I arrive here on 1 May to take up my post on 4 May, smartly after the bank holiday. How will I know about all this new procedure? I am coming here fresh with my skills, eager to do excellent work, perhaps in the National Health Service. What information have the Government made available overseas to those from the new accession countries to tell them of the rules, particularly the rules about ineligibility for benefits? Until the Statement on 23 February, accession countries would have expected that no restrictions would be imposed upon them.
My view overall has simply been that it is important for all concernedmigrant workers who can perform such a valuable service in this country and employers who need to be able to employ them legallythat this system is up and running in an efficient and effective manner by 1 May, in just eight days' time. The Minister's response to our questions will give us an indication of whether we can have confidence that the Government have sufficiently thought through the registration and benefits package. My reaction on seeing the shambles of the preparation for the benefits package, in particular, make me wonder whether that is the case. I do not envy either the employers or prospective employees who will have to fight their way through this new system which, at the moment, seems full of unresolved problems.
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