Baroness Smith of Basildon (Labour) moved the motion, saying she supports ‘the government in their efforts to address and manage levels of immigration to this country and to make it easier to deport foreign criminals, 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 and of £22,400 for couples with children.’
On the proposed income threshold she said: ‘of course it is right that if an individual wishes to bring their 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 at a level 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. Unlike a blanket income threshold, the current position allows authorities to take into account the different ways in which a couple may be able to demonstrate that they can meet that requirement.’
Baroness Browning (Conservative) followed and brought up the issue of regional variations in salaries, she said: ‘In London, the average salary is £33,000 a year, which is not typical perhaps because of the nature of London. I went up to Aberdeen and found it was £33,000 - no different from London. In Bristol, in the south-west, the average was £27,900. I will not read them all out to the House but I did not find any figures in the average city salaries below the £18,600, or anywhere near it, that would sustain a family with two children.’
Lord Teverson (Liberal Democrat), considered the impact of the immigration rules on families, stating: ‘It must be fundamentally in the DNA of the UK that its citizens can marry whomever they want. That has to be a basic right of our citizens, who have one of the greatest and deepest histories in terms of being able to exercise individual rights. I also say to my Conservative colleagues... that it is absolutely wrong for the state to intervene so strongly in deciding whom you are able to marry and live with... If the marriage is a real one - and that is always the important question - then people should be able to marry exactly whom they like and to live exactly where they like.’
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Lord Taylor of Holbeach (Conservative), responded on behalf of the government, he said: ‘These new rules are a major reform of the requirements for family migration by people of non-European Economic Area nationality. They form part, as noble Lords have said, of the Government's overall programme of reform of all routes of entry into the UK.’
He continued: ‘Those who wish to establish their family life here must be able to stand on their own feet financially. Family migration needs to be on such a properly sustainable basis, which is in the interests of migrants and of communities in the UK as a whole. The previous requirement, for applicants to be maintained adequately... was interpreted by the court as income equivalent to the level of income support, which is around £5,500 a year for a couple. 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.’
He then went on to say: ‘The old maintenance requirement also involved a complex assessment of the current and prospective employment income of the parties, of the extent of their other financial means... That is why the government have decided to establish a new financial requirement for sponsoring family migrants which is fair and transparent and which helps to prevent family migrants becoming a burden on the taxpayer.’
Following Lord Taylor’s statement Baroness Smith withdrew her motion, but said: ‘We understand the need to ensure that the system is not abused, but 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.