|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord McNally: My Lords, I remind the House that some 15 minutes ago the Minister ended her 20-minute introduction by saying that because she had been so full in her explanation, she hoped that that would do away with any reason for questions. In that masterful dissection provided by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, never has a ministerial wish been so cruelly disappointed so quickly. I advise the Minister not to forget that the Conservatives are broadly supportive of the measure that she has brought before the House, so the Lord help her when the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, opposes a Motion before the House.
I associate myself with the thanks of the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, regarding the Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee report. It is useful; these are the first tentative steps by the House to grapple with the avalanche of statutory instruments
I also welcome the Minister's reminder that enlargement has had all-party support. Some of the last-minute doubts about the implications of enlargement are a bit rum. The truth is that enlargement should bring benefits to this country, as the Minister indicated, in terms of not just our own prosperity and security but the exciting prospects, as we have seen in Portugal, Spain and Greece, of seeing new members increase their own prosperity. As we found in those examplessurprise, surprisepeople do not simply up sticks on a whim but would much prefer to nation-build in their own countries and make them prosperous, and when they do, they provide us with markets.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, indicated, the problem with these regulations and the other measures that will follow is that they are in response to what the Home Secretary said is a real challenge to make sure that we do not act as a beacon in relation to benefits, housing and social services. Our worry is about the motivation. As the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, quite rightly said, all the evidence is that these are knee-jerk, back-of-the-envelope, ill thought out and ill prepared proposals. They are a recipe for chaos, such as we have seen in the past. It does the Government no credit that they should approach matters in this way. We see it in so much of the legislation, such as the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc). Billabout the sixth Bill from the Government in seven years. I am afraid that the Home Office frequently gives the impression of pulling every lever desperately in the hope that somehow a solution will emerge.
There is also a real danger, which the regulations reflect. On "News 24" last night on the BBC, there was a discussion on the power of the tabloid press. The assembled journalists came to the conclusion that, of all Ministers, the Home Secretary was most prone to respond to tabloid campaigns by the Sun or the Daily Mail. When I heard that, I thought that he had a real rival in No. 10, but that is for another debate.
The problem is not only the very detailed criticism that the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, outlined but the indication that it is all part of a Home Office approach that either desperately pulls any lever available or responds, in a panic, to a Daily Mail editorial or a Sun headline. We deserve better of our policy-makers than this. I say that with some humility; as I have said before, I have heard the implications that it is all incompetence and wickedness on the part of the Government. Then there is a change of government and while the arguments change, the problems remain.
Immigration has been, for 40 years and more, a Rubik's cube for successive governments, appearing to deal with one problem and finding another. It is also worth reminding ourselves that in dealing with problems of immigration and our various attempts, in the main, we have remained, under successive governments, a tolerant society that has accepted, profited and benefited from the immigrant communities that joined us. It is always worth
It is not a matter of criticising the Government who are trying to grapple with very real problems, but we are worried that this is yet another panic attack in the Home Office. It is trying to deal short term with a perceived problem which has been suggested, to a great extent, by tabloid hysteria, and it is coming up with solutions that are complex and bureaucratic and, one suspectsif the past record is anything to go byit has few of the personnel and little of the machinery in place to put them into practice.
I echo other noble Lords who have said that we will not divide the House on this matter. However, I hope that the Minister does not thank me for my support, because I have received from our own excellent research department a list of about 20 unanswered questions that mirror many of those that were put so incisively by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay. As always, the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, is extremely persuasive at the Dispatch Box, but she has a bum brief today.
Lord Dholakia: My Lords, perhaps I may seek further clarification from the Minister on Regulation 4(3) which is to be found in part 2. I do so because the Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee identified the need carefully to consider the orders giving effect to the announcement to ensure that the full implications of the Government's policy were recognised.
I refer noble Lords to previous immigration legislation in this country. At one time, an immigrant was required to have £500,000 in his bank account as evidence of being a person of independent means. Regulation 4 is likely to be unhelpful for those coming to seek work in this country. It would be helpful if the Home Office were to put on record the qualifying criteria for self-sufficiency.
Lord Avebury: My Lords, the Minister said that she hoped that her long speech would answer all noble Lords' questions. My noble friend has already disabused her of that notion. I am afraid that I have a further question, which I thought that the noble Baroness would have been likely to answer; namely, the implications of the Sutton report as regards what she has just told your Lordships.
As I understand it, the debacle in Sheffieldthat is not too strong a word for what happened thereconcerned people who will be affected by the new regime, except for those who come from Bulgaria and Romania. The Sheffield office of the IND was looking at the handling of European Community Association Agreement applications, which comprised accession countries, plus Bulgaria and Romania, but not Malta or Cyprus. As the noble Baroness mentioned, the new order does not cover Malta and Cyprus. Will all the cases that would have been dealt with under that regime be covered by the statutory instrument before us now? The Minister's answer will be germane to the final question of the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay. She asked if the Government would be able to handle the numbers who will enter under this scheme and whether the systems to cope with them would be in place. Manifestly, the systems were not in place to cope with the ECAA applications. Will the people in Sheffield who failed so dismally to cope with the increase in number of ECAA applications be the same ones who deal with the applications made under this scheme? Will the Minister indicate whether we will have a separate opportunity to discuss the Sutton report? That seems to be of fundamental importance in deciding whether the Immigration and Nationality directorate is capable of coping with any new burdens that are placed on it, let alone the ones that are specified in these regulations. The Minister may snigger, but this is not a laughing matter.
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I am not sniggering. The noble Lord is not right. We have tried extremely hard to deal seriously with this matter. I was merely shaking my head in disbelief that the noble Lord, who knows so much about this issue, could possibly think that that would be our position.
Lord Avebury: My Lords, I do think that. The Sutton report raised serious issues that have not yet been addressed. The Government have been in possession of it since 31 March. I know that there will be a Question on the Order Paper next week about the Sutton report, but we have not had a debate about it. We have no idea whether all the recommendations of Kenneth Sutton have been implemented. If they have, what impact will they have on the new scheme that is now being introduced? In her intervention, the Minister did not immediately say whether the work involved in administering the scheme would be undertaken by the
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I begin by apologising for rising at the end of the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord McNally. I had unfortunately forgotten that my reply should follow all contributions and not just the first three. I apologise for that.
In accordance with his stricture, I shall not thank the noble Lord for his remarks. I shall however thank the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, for hers and for her kind remarks about me. I reassure her that the new system is not a shambles. A lot of hard work has gone into making sure that it is as clear, succinct and as practical as possible. I know that the noble Baroness has a high regard for practicality, as indeed do I. It is important to know that everything is in place for this system to work.
I hope that the noble Baroness will forgive me if I answer some of her questions in the wrong order because I wish to remind her of my comments on Regulation 9. I know that she is concerned about the way in which employers will be able to gain access to information. Employers will be able to play their part by checking within one month of employing someone whether a person is a national of one of the eight accession states and that he or she has registered under Regulation 9(2). The employer has then simply to take a copy of the application form or other document proving exemption. That would provide them with their statutory defence and authorise them to employ the person until receipt of the registration certificate. When the application has been considered, the Government are required under Regulation 8 to send the employer a copy of the registration certificate or, in the unlikely event that application is refused, a copy of the refusal notice. Under Regulation 9(1), the only time when employers would be in difficulties would be if they employed an unregistered accession state worker in breach of the rules. We have tried to make the legislation as simple as possible so that it is not too burdensome on employers.
The noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, asked what systems were in place to ensure that we can cope with the applications on 1 May. I assure the noble Baroness and the House that we have taken measures to ensure that we can cope; we have implemented a planning capability of up to 250 applications per day. If there is an early surge of applications in the first weeks, we have contingency plans in place to draft in more trained staff without impacting on other areas of the business.
In relation to records, I have said that employers should take a copy and retain it. The obligation is on the worker to register, not on the employer, and we believe that balance to be right. The noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord McNally, suggested that the regulations had been cobbled together; I assure the noble Baroness and the noble Lord that they were not. The accession treaty specifically provided for these regulations to be produced in order to set out whether and on what terms we could access our labour market. We believe that we have done that in good time.
I am assured by my noble friends and colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions that the standard consultation requirements have been fully complied with in respect of the DWP regulations. It is our understanding that the advice of the Social Services Advisory Committee will be published without undue delay. That is what we have been assured. The draft accession regulations were laid before Parliament on 25 March, as noble Lords will I hope know.
The Department for Work and Pensions made draft Social Security (Habitual Residence) Amendment Regulations 2004 available on 18 March; the Social Security Advisory Committee has consulted on those draft regulations and will produce a report. We have always made clear what we intend the regulations to do and believe that the package will come into force, as planned, on 1 May. It was decided, however, that it was inappropriate to publish details of the scheme until it was approved by Parliament. The scheme will not be operational until 1 Mayas soon as workers start a new job, on or after the 1 May, but not before. To avoid confusion, we have decided to make the application form available a week before the scheme goes live.
The noble Baroness asked, quite properly, about preparationhow people would get information about the new rules and what other countries had been told. In relation to A8 nationals, a publicity leaflet has been translated into the languages of the eight states and made available on the IND website. It is available at ports of entry to the UK, in public inquiry offices, Jobcentre Plus offices and citizens advice bureaux. The A8 embassies in the UK and the UK embassies in the accession states were also given the information. To the CBI, the TUC, the British Council and the UKCOSA, the distribution will begin on 27 April, as soon as the regulations have been approved by Parliament.
There will be posters at all ports of entry and public inquiry offices, which will advise nationals to check whether they are required to register for work. The application form and guidance on how to complete the form has been designed and drafted; that information will be available on websites and from our distribution centres on 27 April, subject, once again, to parliamentary approval. I make that point because the noble Baroness and other noble Lords will know that in the past we have been criticised for doing things before having parliamentary approval. We believe that we have behaved with propriety in that regard.
As for asylum seekers, we have written to all accession nationals supported by NASS or by a local authority under the interim provisions, informing them that support will cease on 30 April and advising them of their options. All letters terminating support for that group were sent out on 16 April.
The noble Baroness asked about numbers. We have been clear that making predictions about numbers is difficult; however, we do know that we have more than 500,000 job vacancies, for which we welcome people who want to come and work hard and contribute. We are taking that action to ensure that people cannot come and not work and try to exploit our benefits. I hope from what I have just said, the noble Baroness will see that we believe that the provisions will enable us to meet the numbers, whether they are as high as she suggested or, indeed, are significantly lower. The noble Baroness also asked about removal, but I shall deal with that slightly later, and respond to the questions that she asked about the other practical steps, as that would be very much in the flow.
Noble Lords asked about training. A dedicated project team has been set up to deliver the necessary accommodation, IT systems, staff recruitment and training required to ensure that the scheme is up and running on 1 May. A dedicated casework team of 42 staff has been recruited. Training and accommodation for the team and the IT systems are in place. Training of new staff began on 19 April. The forms have been printed and will be made available on 27 April, as I have said, as will the guidance to employers. That issue will be very much part of the training. Section 8 checks will prevent illegal working. We have designed a new bespoke IT system, which successfully completed user acceptance testing last week.
I have dealt already with the forms, and I hope that that satisfies noble Lords. The noble Baroness asked what will happen with students after 12 months working. Students who are working will be required to register as workers; we believe that to be the most transparent way in which to do things. They will have full access to the labour market when they register. That does not breach the standstill clause in the EC directive on students, as students are currently able to access the labour market for 20 hours or less in term time and full time during breaks. Students who are working, who have registered under the worker registration scheme, will therefore be in an advantageous position. That will be a considerable improvement on their current status.
Prior to accession, students from accession states were subject to immigration control and had to obtain leave to remain in the UK to study. That is a much more burdensome process than the registration scheme that we have devised. They will also be required to be self-sufficient. From 1 May, they will be able to access the labour market and accrue workers' rights as well as student rights. Under the European directive, students are required to be self-sufficient, but they will be eligible for the same in-work support as other registered workers. That means that they can get child benefit, tax credit, housing benefit and council tax benefit, if they work. When students have been registered for 12 months and have accrued their workers' rights, if they wish to work they will be required to register and will be entitled to full EEA workers' rights. I hope that noble Lords will think that that is a major advantage to them.
I have already dealt with the suggestion by the noble Lord, Lord McNally, that I have a very difficult brief and might not be able to answer these questions.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page