The second chamber of the UK parliament, the House of Lords, debated a change to the UK's immigration rules on Tuesday 23rd October.
In June 2012, the UK government announced a range of changes to the immigration rules for non-European Economic Area nationals applying to enter or remain in the UK on the family migration route. The rules applied to new applicants from 9th July 2012 onwards.
One of the major changes was to introduce a minimum income threshold for UK citizens or residents who wish to bring a spouse to live with them in the UK from outside the European Economic Area. The threshold was set at £18,600 for a spouse only and at £22,400 for a spouse and one child. The threshold increases by £2,400 for each subsequent child who is included in the application.
On Tuesday 23rd October, Baroness Smith of Basildon, a Labour peer, introduced a motion of regret in the House of Lords. A motion of regret does not result in a vote but only leads to a debate in the House of Lords. She explained that she supported the government in its efforts to manage immigration but 'my motion of regret is on the specific aspect of HC 194, that part of it which sets an income threshold of £18,600 for British citizens and people settled here who wish to sponsor their spouse or partner to come to live with them in this country.'
Baroness Smith said that 'it is right that if an individual wishes to bring his family to settle here in the UK they should not assume that the state will support them. That is why it is already a requirement for an individual to demonstrate that they have access to sufficient funds that will put them in a similar position to someone on income support here in the UK, so that they will not seek recourse to benefits.' However, she regretted that the level had been raised as high as it had.
A Conservative peer, Baroness Browning, said that she thought that the £18,600 level was way below the national average and was not an amount 'that would sustain a family with two children'.
Lord Teverson, a Liberal Democrat peer said that 'it must be fundamentally in the DNA of the UK that its citizens can marry whomever they want.' He continued 'It is absolutely wrong for the state to intervene so strongly in deciding whom you are able to marry and live with'.
Baroness Hamwee, Conservative, said that her concern was that the new rules were extremely complex. She said 'our laws should be accessible.' She said that the complexity of the new rules was such that they were not accessible. She also criticised Baroness Smith for her confusingly worded motion.
The parliamentary under-secretary of state, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, responded to the motion. He said that the new rules formed part of the government's overall policy for reducing immigration. He said 'Those who wish to establish their family life here must be able to stand on their own two feet financially.'
He said that, before the introduction of the new rule, the courts had previously interpreted the required income level as being around £5,500 per year, this being consistent with article 8 of the Human Rights Act, and said 'This, frankly, was not an adequate basis for sustainable family migration and good integration outcomes. In particular, it provided little assurance that UK-based sponsors and their migrant partner could financially support themselves and any dependants over the long-term.' Lord Taylor asked Lady Smith to reflect upon his response.
Lady Smith said that she intended to reflect upon his response at leisure but was very disappointed by it. She said that the new rule was having a 'devastating impact' on families.
However, she withdrew her motion but said 'I fear that what is being done here today will not protect the taxpayer in the way that the minister seeks and it certainly does not protect the family.
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