Power to modify retained direct EU legislation relating to social security co-ordination

Part of Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 11:45 am ar 28 Chwefror 2019.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Alok Sharma Alok Sharma The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions 11:45, 28 Chwefror 2019

Let me come on to those points. I am sure that we will have a chance to discuss them further.

On amendment 26, I note the hon. Lady’s assertion that the provisions in clause 5 could be used to remove the ability of UK and EU nationals to aggregate periods of work, insurance or residence in other member states, in order to meet domestic entitlements for contributory benefits and pensions. I reassure her that although future policy on social security co-ordination is subject to further consideration, the Government are committed to exploring options to protect past social security contributions made in the EU and the UK as part of our ongoing discussions with the EU and member states.

The Government have always been clear that protecting the rights of citizens is a priority. It is important that UK and EEA nationals in the EU who are currently receiving aggregated pensions and benefits have those payments protected. I therefore make it clear that the Government will not retrospectively remove the entitlements of UK and EU nationals living in the UK to UK contributory benefits.

I further reassure the hon. Lady that, in a deal scenario, the power in clause 5 will not be exercised to remove or reduce commitments made in relation to the individuals within the scope of the withdrawal agreement. The withdrawal agreement protects rights and entitlements, including aggregation and uprating, in accordance with EU legislation for those EU and UK nationals covered by the withdrawal agreement. The exercise of the power will be subject to further discussion with the EU—for example, in relation to a future agreement. However, it is important that the Government have the provisions in the clause to reflect the UK’s new relationship with the European Union, either if we are in a no-deal scenario or if we do not have a future agreement.

As the hon. Lady acknowledged in her remarks, the nature of the current social security co-ordination framework means that a multilateral partnership must be in place in order for it to function effectively. Aspects of the current system, including aggregation, rely on reciprocity from the EU27 and are underpinned by data sharing between the member states. I fully understand her position, which is that it would be preferable for a system of aggregation of contributions to continue. Indeed, in the UK Government’s publication on our proposal for the future relationship between the UK and the European Union, we set out exactly that ambition. We explained that we will seek reciprocal arrangements around some defined elements of social security co-ordination. That could cover aggregation rules.

However, without reciprocity, there are limits to what the UK Government can do by ourselves. Although the UK has powers in domestic legislation to pay state pensions and benefits, if the UK leaves the European Union without a deal, we could not bind other member states to recognise contributions made in the UK. Accepting this amendment could prevent the UK Government from responding effectively to certain scenarios following our exit from the European Union.