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 9:25 am ar 16 Mehefin 2020.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Kate Green Kate Green Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) 9:25, 16 Mehefin 2020

The issue is the mission creep and scope creep involved in using secondary legislation to amend primary legislation and retained EU rights, particularly a mission creep that now encompasses the ability to make significant policy changes.

As we heard in oral evidence from our witnesses last week, it is important to recognise the considerable importance of policy and legislation in relation to social security co-ordination. It is vital to labour mobility, and to protect the rights of EEA nationals who come to live in the UK and UK nationals who go to live in EEA member states. Policy in this area has the potential to impact the lives of millions, affecting their right to receive benefits to which they are entitled through national insurance contributions over periods of residency, and which they have a legitimate expectation that they will receive. Changes to policy in these important areas should, I submit, be given effect in primary legislation.

In response to the evidence that the Committee took from British in Europe last week, the Minister said that the Secretary of State could not make regulations that would breach an international treaty, and he offered some reassurances this morning to those who fall within the scope of the withdrawal agreement. However, as British in Europe pointed out last week, the powers in clause 5 mean that Parliament will not be able to properly scrutinise regulations that might breach our international treaty obligations—if not deliberately, then inadvertently.

The Minister also referred to the need to be able to reflect the ongoing negotiations with the European Union, and we heard from Adrian Berry of the Immigration Law Practitioners Association last week about the UK’s draft social security treaty, which is an annex to the Government’s proposed future trade agreement. Mr Berry highlighted the Government’s intention to continue the protection of the European health insurance card scheme for short-term travel and the uprating of old-age pensions, but noted that disability pensions and healthcare attached to pension rights are missing from the draft treaty. He also highlighted the limitations of the new EHIC, which would require those with long-term health needs to get prior authorisation from the UK Government, and that there would be no S2 cover, which enables people to obtain healthcare in the EU that they cannot get on the NHS in the UK. Will the Minister put on the record whether such changes could be introduced using clause 5, and can he confirm which classes of person they can be applied to?

The Government have argued that the use of the powers in clause 5 will be subject to parliamentary scrutiny, through the use of the affirmative procedure. Will the Social Security Advisory Committee have a role in scrutinising regulations introduced under this measure? Does he not in fact accept that changes in this important area require full debate and scrutiny in Parliament, and that the principles of any future policy should be set out in primary legislation?

Finally, clause 5(5) states that EU-derived rights cease to apply if they are “inconsistent” with any regulation made under the section, but the Government are under no obligation to specify where and when such inconsistencies arise. This creates considerable uncertainty for individuals who are affected, for their advisers, and indeed for politicians and the wider public. As we discussed last week on clause 4, such an approach is inimical to good lawmaking. The Government should spell out which parts of retained EU law might be affected by these provisions, and I hope that the Minister will do so in his response.