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 12:15 pm ar 28 Chwefror 2019.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Gavin Newlands Gavin Newlands Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Sport), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Northern Ireland), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Wales) 12:15, 28 Chwefror 2019

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer, and to rise to speak for the first time in the Committee—potentially the last time, as the Leader of the House has announced that the Northern Ireland Budget (Anticipation and Adjustment) (No. 2) Bill will be debated on Tuesday. I apologise in advance for my absence on Tuesday.

I cannot match the almost giddy levels of excitement displayed my hon. Friend the Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East in approaching matters of immigration law in the previous session—only an immigration lawyer could generate that kind of excitement—especially because I detest the Bill. It brings into effect one of the worst repercussions of the Government’s approach to Brexit, namely the ending of free movement. It is an act of sheer folly and economic vandalism, combined with the fact that the Government, as in almost all Brexit-related legislation, have granted themselves huge discretionary powers.

With that off my chest, I will move on to clause 5, which is no different. It gives broad and powerful Henry VIII powers to Ministers to make changes to social security co-ordination post Brexit—a move that the3million and British in Europe would describe as moving the goalposts. I feel deeply uncomfortable about approving the clause and giving the Government that agency for many reasons, not least because of the history of “Go home” vans and the creation of the hostile environment, although I happily concede that they predate the current ministerial team.

As was referenced a moment ago, in response to the question that the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston asked about existing social security rights, Jodie Blackstock, the legal director of Justice, said:

“The Bill does not protect those rights, because it does not set out the principles by which it will do so. It simply provides the structure for the removal of all current reciprocal arrangements. As with the discussion we had on clause 4, it creates the power for not only a Minister but an appropriate authority to replace those current rights with an alternative arrangement.

For us, clause 5 is the most concerning clause in the Bill, as if clause 4 was not concerning enough. Our view is that the clause ought to be entirely deleted, and we say that for a few reasons—not just the extraordinary breadth of power that it creates, but the fact that the provision to remove the co-ordination regulations and replace them is already provided for by way of section 8 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. Indeed, there are four regulations that have already been laid, pursuant to that Act, before Parliament and that comply with what are perhaps broad powers, but at least are curtailed far more than the power here; and, because they have been laid, it is possible for them to be scrutinised by Parliament.”––[Official Report, Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Public Bill Committee, 12 February 2019; c. 59, Q157.]

As Jodie said, it appears to many—outside the Home Office, at least—that the powers are entirely unnecessary. Section 8 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 does provide the scope to replace the current arrangements on co-ordination and the EU has not agreed or announced changes to those arrangements. In the modern world, more people, certainly in the EU, are living lives between different states and cherish the right to chase the opportunity to work where they please. That is an opportunity that many in the next generation will not be afforded in the manner to which we have been accustomed.

Despite being vastly inferior to freedom of movement, there will still be various routes open to EU citizens post Brexit, including the tier 2 and the 11-month low-skilled worker visa options. That makes social security co-ordination a hugely important issue for many more people in the future, in addition to the 3.5 million EU citizens in the UK and the 800,000 UK nationals in the EU. It is not justifiable, therefore, for future policy changes in the area to be made through delegated powers.

I am sure that the Minister will insist that the Government do not plan to remove benefits or further co-ordination—in fact, he addressed that in response to the previous amendment and in his opening remarks in support of the clause—but even if we take him at his word, that is not good enough, because the EU and UK citizens affected by the issue want to be assured and to have certainty. If they cannot have certainty, they want to ensure that any changes in the area have the rigorous scrutiny of primary legislation.

As it stands, clause 5 also risks politicising social security co-ordination and leaves us with the real prospect of losing reciprocation from the European Union’s 27 member states in addition to EFTA’s four member states. Without that co-ordination, there is no guarantee that rights such as pensions and others that hon. Members have spoken about at length will continue to accrue for British citizens in the EU. That risks deterring people from moving abroad.

The Government have already awarded themselves too many broad Henry VIII powers. All too often, the Government’s answers to the question of why they need those broad powers are wholly insufficient. We firmly believe that the Bill should not be legislation at all. In the context of this debate, we firmly believe that clause 5 should not stand part of this regrettable Bill.