[Relevant document: The Seventh Report of the Public Administration Committee, on Migration Statistics, HC523.]
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
We have introduced a limit on economic migration from outside the EU, cut out abuse of student visas and reformed family visas. As a result, net migration is down by a third. Our objective—
The Home Secretary says that net migration is down by a third; the reality is that it has fallen by only a quarter. The House of Commons Library has confirmed that, and the Government are at risk of misleading Parliament. Would the Home Secretary like to correct the record?
It is a bit cheeky for a Labour Member to stand up and complain about the figures for falling migration. Immigration is down since 2010 and net migration is down by a third from its peak in 2010.
Our objective remains to reduce annual net migration to the tens of thousands by the end of the Parliament, and we must also reform the immigration system that manages the flow of migrants in and out of the UK. When I addressed the House in March this year, I explained that the immigration system that we had inherited from the last Government was chaotic and dysfunctional. Having created a separate entity in the UK Border Force to get a grip on border checks, we were left with a UK Border Agency that still lacked transparency and accountability, and to tackle that I split the UK Border Agency into two distinct operational commands inside the Home Office—UK visas and immigration and immigration enforcement. I made it clear that while organisational reform was necessary to transform the way in which we dealt with immigration, it would not on its own be enough to achieve that goal. We also needed to update the IT infrastructure and to change the complicated legal and policy framework that so often worked against us. The Bill changes some of that legal and policy framework so that it will be possible for the immigration system to operate fairly and effectively.
The Home Secretary was clearly right to intervene in the way she did to sort out UKBA, which was clearly dysfunctional, and that was the right move in the right direction. But those of us who are willing to give the Bill a Second Reading—I am one of them—have concerns that there was no draft Bill, no Green Paper and no White Paper; there was consultation on only part of the Bill, and there are sensitive areas that need to be looked at across the board, including in connection with the legal aid changes. Why do we have to deal so quickly with such sensitive and difficult issues?
It has been clear for some time, as I have laid out, that the Government want to bring forward legal and policy framework proposals to make sure that we can deliver for people in this country a fair approach on immigration, which ensures that those who come here and stay here and use our public services contribute, and that those who are here illegally can be removed more quickly. My right hon. Friend is a long-standing Member of the House and knows full well that there will be significant opportunities for discussion of this matter in Committee. I can assure him that there have already been a considerable number of discussions on the elements that have gone into the Bill. These are issues that have been addressed by Select Committees in the past.
We look forward to considering this again in the future. The BBC is reporting that the immigration vans that were introduced by the Government to go around certain cities to ask people to leave the country will no longer be rolled out. When she appeared before the Select Committee last Tuesday, she said that the vans were not her personal idea, but part of a package. Has she now seen the pilot and is she now telling the House that they will not be rolled out throughout the country?
What I said to the right hon. Gentleman was that I did not have a flash of blinding light one day and walk into the Home Office and say, “I know, why don’t we do this?” I have looked at the interim evaluation of the vans. Some returns were achieved, but politicians should be willing to step up to the plate and say when they think that something has not been such a good idea, and I think that they were too blunt an instrument. But we should also be absolutely clear about what used to happen under the last Government. If somebody came to the end of their visa, no one got in touch with them to say that they should no longer be staying here in the UK. That is now happening as a result of the changes to immigration enforcement. As a result of that work, during the last year some 4,000 people have left the UK. It is absolutely right that we do that, but we will not be rolling out the vans; they were too much of a blunt instrument.
Is it not also the case that the previous Government not only did nothing to encourage people to leave the country when they had overstayed, but instituted a series of amnesties that undermined the credibility of the whole system for overstaying people?
I have taken a number of interventions and will now make some progress.
I will set out the elements of the Bill in context. First, the Bill will cut abuse of the appeal process. It will streamline the labyrinthine legal process, which at present allows appeals against 17 different Home Office decisions—17 different opportunities for immigration lawyers to cash in and for immigrants who should not be here to delay their deportation or removal. By limiting the grounds for appeal to four—only those that engage fundamental rights—we will cut that abuse.
Secondly, we will extend the number of non-suspensive appeals so that, where there is no risk of serious and irreversible harm, we can deport first and hear appeals later. We will also end the abuse of article 8. There are some who seem to think that the right to family life should always take precedence over public interest in immigration control and when deporting foreign criminals. The Bill will make the view of Parliament on the issue very clear. Finally, the Bill will clamp down on those who live and work in the UK illegally and take advantage of our public services. That is not fair to the British public and to the legitimate migrants who contribute to our society and economy.
I can assure my hon. Friend that we have had a number of discussions with colleagues in the Department for Education on the operation of the proposals in the Bill. There is an agreement across the Government that we need to do precisely what I have just set out in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford North (Mr Scott): we must ensure that we are fair to those people who come here legitimately and do everything the right way, but we must also make it easier to remove those people who do not have a right to be here.
I will make some progress before giving way again.
Part 1 of the Bill is about removals. The current process for enforcing the removal of people who are in the UK unlawfully is complex, with too many stages before an individual can be removed. With multiple decision points, the current system provides individuals with multiple opportunities to bring challenges throughout the process. That increases the risk of further delays before removal takes place. We want to adopt a system in which only one decision is made. That will inform the individual that they cannot stay in the UK, and enable immigration enforcement to remove them if they do not leave voluntarily.
The existing system, designed by the previous Government through eight different Acts of Parliament, does not work. It was inevitable that such a complex system would be exploited. The Bill remedies that. As well as delaying the removal process, some illegal migrants held in immigration detention may apply to an immigration judge for bail and then use it as an opportunity to disappear. Bail might be appropriate in some circumstances, but can it be appropriate to grant bail when a detainee is booked on a flight in the next few days and there are no exceptional circumstances? Should immigration detainees who have already been refused bail be permitted to make repeat applications day after day? The Bill will bring sense to the law in this area and stop that abuse.
The Home Secretary mentioned the eight previous Acts. During my time in the House it has seemed that we get a new immigration Bill at least every two years, and very few of them seem to have any long-lasting beneficial effect. Can she convince me that the Bill is not another example of the Home Office reaching for the statute book, rather than dealing with the management of the immigration service properly, and can she estimate how long we will have to wait for the next immigration Bill?
This is about putting in place a number of legal changes that will help ensure that the system can be better managed. Alongside that policy change, as I have evidenced in the fact that I have abolished the UK Border Agency and set up the two new commands within the Home Office, we are of course making changes in how we manage and administer the system to make it operate more smoothly and rather better.
Will the Home Secretary confirm that limiting the number of bail applications that can be made is nothing new? Under the Bail Act 1976, the number of applications one can make in criminal cases is limited before exceptional circumstances have to be shown, so this is nothing new and we are simply improving the process.
My hon. Friend is right. We have seen cases in which people have made repeated bail applications, which then have to be dealt with, and sometimes all that happens is that the application is withdrawn at the last minute, which of course causes problems for individuals.
The Home Secretary is being generous in giving way. Does she agree that a process with so many in-built delays takes a toll not only on the taxpayer but on those going through the process, who have to live through so much uncertainty during that time? Does she also agree that if we are to require the decision makers to make a greater number of decisions earlier in the process, they will need to have greater expertise in order to do so?
We obviously want to ensure that those making the decisions do so properly. My hon. Friend is absolutely right that it is only fair to those who are making applications that they get a decision that has been properly considered within a reasonable space of time. Sadly, that was not happening in the system we inherited, so we are having to make a lot of changes. I have been clear that that change cannot take place within six months; it will take some time before we can see the system that everybody wants.
With reference to the point the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr Heath) made about discussing numerous immigration Bills during his time in the House, along with the introduction of the UK Border Agency and the Australian-style points-based system and the huge reduction in the number of asylum seekers coming to this country, does that not make it absolutely clear that claims that the previous Labour Government were totally uninterested in immigration are total nonsense? We can argue about how effective the Acts were, but the fact that the previous Government came back so many times to discuss immigration makes it clear that they were very sensitive to the issue.
Unfortunately, the previous Labour Government were interested in immigration in the wrong way. One of the things this Government have had to do, for example, is root out abuse of student visa applications, which started under the previous Government’s points-based system. I will take no lectures about the previous Labour Government’s interest in immigration.
In June 2003 the then Immigration Minister, Beverly Hughes, said that the impact on migration into Britain of 10 accession countries joining the European Union would be “minimal”, with 13,000 migrants expected a year. That was laughably inaccurate. Can the Home Secretary assure us that the Bill will ensure that there is no repeat of that shocking open-door immigration policy?
I can be absolutely clear with my hon. Friend that, as far as this Government are concerned, full transitional controls should be put on any country joining the European Union. We are also looking at a number of proposals to deal with what we have described on various occasions as the potential pull factors for individuals coming here. The Bill will deal with some of the issues that require a legislative response. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions is also looking at concerns about access to benefits and, I am pleased to say, is working well with other EU member states that have similar concerns about the way some of these systems currently operate.
I am very grateful to the Home Secretary. I want to raise the issue of EU identity cards. She is suggesting that landlords will be required to understand all the EU ID cards that guarantee somebody’s right to be in this country. One of the difficulties is that in Italy, for instance, it is not the national state that provides the ID card but the local authority, which can be tiny. How on earth can a commercial landlord be expected to understand all 444 different EU ID cards?
The problem with the argument that the hon. Gentleman and other Labour Members have been advancing in relation to landlords is that we already have an example of a system where people check the status of individuals: employers do that, and they are provided with support by the Home Office. Exactly the same will happen with landlords. The idea that this is something entirely new is completely wrong. Many landlords already ask exactly these sorts of questions of the people to whom they are renting properties.
Establishing the identity of illegal migrants is a further difficulty in the removal process. Visa applicants are required to give their fingerprints to an entry clearance officer before they enter the UK. Following my border reforms last year, the fingerprints of arriving passengers are checked to ensure that the person who has travelled to the UK is the rightful holder of the visa, but there are gaps in our powers to take fingerprints, and the Bill closes them. When the police encounter a suspect, they have the power to check fingerprints, but when an immigration officer encounters a suspected illegal migrant, they may check fingerprints only where consent is given unless they arrest them. Not surprisingly, not everyone consents. Officers need powers equivalent to those of the police so that when they find an illegal migrant they can check their fingerprints to confirm their suspicion and start enforcement action.
I have already been very generous in taking interventions.
Part 2 is about appeals. The appeals system is complex and costly. Seventeen different immigration decisions attract rights of appeal, and when a case finally comes to a close some applicants put in fresh applications and start all over again. That is not fair to the public, who expect swift enforcement of immigration decisions. The Bill sorts out the mess. In future, the 17 rights of appeal will be reduced to four. Foreign criminals will not be able to prevent deportation simply by dragging out the appeals process, as many such appeals will be heard only once the criminal is back in their home country. It cannot be right that criminals who should be deported can remain here and build up a further claim to a settled life in the United Kingdom.
As well as reducing the number of appeals, we propose to simplify the process. An appeal to an immigration judge is a very costly and time-consuming way of correcting simple casework errors that could be resolved by a request to the Home Office to review the decision. This is what we already do overseas for millions of visa applicants. Applicants will be able to contact the Home Office and ask for a simple administrative review to remedy such errors. That can resolve errors in decisions cheaply and quickly, within 28 days, and it is substantially quicker than the average 12 weeks that it currently takes to appeal via the tribunal with all the costs that that incurs. The Bill creates an effective and efficient appeals system that will ensure that the process cannot be abused or manipulated to delay the removal of those who have no basis for remaining in the UK, but it still provides an opportunity to challenge a decision where fundamental rights are concerned. The public are fed up with cases where foreign criminals are allowed to stay because of an overly generous interpretation by the courts of article 8—the right to respect for family and private life. Under the current system, the winners are foreign criminals and immigration lawyers and the losers are the victims of these crimes and the law-abiding public.
The Government first sought to address this issue in July 2012 by changing the immigration rules with the intention of shifting the weight the courts give to the public interest. This House debated and approved the new rules, which set out the factors in favour of deportation and the factors against it. The courts accept that the new rules provide a complete code for considering article 8 where we are deporting foreign criminals. However, some judges have still chosen to ignore the will of Parliament and go on putting the law on the side of foreign criminals instead of the public. I am sending a very clear message to those judges: Parliament wants a law on the people’s side, the public want a law on the people’s side, and this Government will put the law on the people’s side once and for all. This Bill will require the courts to put the public interest at the heart of their decisions.
Given that the figures show that first-instance decision making is very poor in this regard, with 42% of family visit visas and 51% of entry clearance applications successfully appealed last year, does the right hon. Lady agree that it would be better to focus on getting the system right than on eroding appeal rights against immigration decisions?
No, I have been very generous in giving way. Let me say to Labour Members and to the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) that one of the problems we have seen in some family visit appeals in the past—this is why we removed the family visit appeal process—is that people have introduced new information into the appeals mechanism in the time since the original decision. That means that the decision in an appeal that is won is not necessarily based on the original case but may be based on the case put forward on appeal, which may be different. The hon. Lady needs to be careful when she quotes figures.
May I correct the right hon. Lady on one thing? Long experience tells me that the tribunals do not accept information that has come in after the original application was made; it would sometimes be better if they did. We are all interested in streamlining the system. However, given the very high number of decisions on appeal that overturn the original decisions by the Home Office or the immigration officials abroad, what guarantee can she offer that the quality of the reviews that will now be undertaken by Home Office officials as an alternative to appeals will be subject to proper supervision? In my experience, when we had those reviews before we often got poor-quality decision making and people within the Department saying, “Oh well, if so and so has already said no, I’m going to say no too.” If that happens we end up with more judicial reviews.
First, tribunals do accept, and have been accepting—we have seen examples of this—information that has come forward after the original application was made prior to the appeal. The figures that the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion quoted related to family visit appeals. We have already removed the ability to appeal on a family visit visa. It takes less time and is slightly cheaper for people to reapply and, if they have further information, to put it into the appeals mechanism. Of course, we need to ensure that the system is operating properly, and we will be looking to ensure that, through the operation of the ability to challenge administrative error, we ensure that people are making decisions fairly on the basis of the decision that is put in front of them.
I welcome the fact that this Bill will enable the system to become effective, as well as humane. How will it impact on human trafficking, not least in relation to those who are human trafficked and are dealt with more as criminals than as they should be—victims?
My hon. Friend will know that we are looking at the whole question of how we deal with human trafficking, or—let us call it what it is—modern slavery. Next year we will introduce a Bill to deal with modern slavery, with a particular focus on dealing with the criminal gangs who undertake this activity. The launch of the new National Crime Agency gives us an even greater ability to deal with those gangs. I want to ensure that we not only start to reduce but end this horrible crime of human trafficking—modern slavery.
I am going to make some further progress.
Part 3 is about migrants’ access to services. We want to ensure that only legal migrants have access to the labour market, free health services, housing, bank accounts and driving licences. This is not just about making the UK a more hostile place for illegal migrants; it is also about fairness. Those who play by the rules and work hard do not want to see businesses gaining an unfair advantage through the exploitation of illegal labour, or to see our valuable public services, paid for by the taxpayer, used and abused by illegal migrants.
Hon. Members will know that the right of non-European economic area nationals to work in the UK is restricted, and where the right to work is granted, it may be restricted to a particular employer or limited hours. Employers are required to ensure that their employees have the right to work in the UK and if they do not, they will face penalties, but the process for enforcing those fines is complicated. The Bill will streamline that process, making employers think again before hiring illegal labour.
Let me turn to the national health service. Many temporary migrants are currently allowed free access to the NHS as if they were permanent residents. Such an approach is extremely generous, particularly compared with wider international practice. Our intention is to bring the rules regulating migrant access to the NHS into line with wider Government policy on migrant access to benefits and social housing. That means restricting access to free NHS care to those non-EEA nationals with indefinite leave to remain and those granted refugee status or humanitarian protection in the UK. Under this Bill, other migrants will have to contribute.
Temporary migrants seeking to stay in the UK for more than six months will have to pay an immigration health surcharge on top of their visa fee. I assure the House that this surcharge will make the system fairer and will not undermine our aim to attract the brightest and the best. We have carefully examined what other countries do and will ensure that the UK offer is a competitive one in a tough global market.
I want to make more progress.
Dealing with migrants is not new for the NHS. There is already a framework for charging other countries. The NHS must enforce it and recover the cost of treating foreign nationals from foreign Governments, and all of us in government will work with it to make the system work.
The Government also want to ensure that illegal immigrants cannot hide in private rented housing. We are already working with councils to tackle rogue landlords who provide beds in sheds and illegal, overcrowded accommodation. Under the Bill, we will go further and have the necessary powers to deal with rogue landlords who rent homes to illegal migrants.
Is the Secretary of State able to quantify the number of foreign nationals treated by the NHS who are not entitled to free care and who came here solely and deliberately to get free health care?
I suggest that the hon. Lady look at the audit conducted by the national health service that was released today. It makes it absolutely clear that we are talking potentially about several hundred millions of pounds across the NHS when we consider the number of people who come here and are able to use the service without contributing, who come here as health tourists and who come here and use the service when they should not be able to do so. That is why the Bill is absolutely right.
I say to Opposition Members who say that somehow it is wrong to ask people who come to this country to contribute, that it is only fair to the millions of hard-working people who pay into the NHS through their taxes that somebody who comes here to live for a period of time should be asked to contribute. It is only fair also to ensure that when people come here to use the NHS, or use it when they are here and their Government should be paying, that we actually recoup that money.
The most recent migration statistics quarterly report by the Office for National Statistics was published in August 2013 and it noted that the net flow of long-term migrants was 176,000, compared with 235,000 in June 2010, when the right hon. Lady’s Government came to power. That suggests that the figure of 25% cited by my hon. Friend the Member for Rochdale (Simon Danczuk) when he intervened earlier is right and that the right hon. Lady’s figure of 33% is wrong. Will she confirm that those are the latest statistics and that the reduction was by 25%?
If the hon. Gentleman looks at Hansard, he will see the answer I gave to the hon. Member for Rochdale (Simon Danczuk). I said that net migration has come down by a third from its peak in 2010. That figure is absolutely correct, because in September 2010 the figure was 255,000 and the latest figure, therefore, is a fall of 31%.
I have to say that this morning’s reaction from the shadow Health Secretary, the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham), to the proposal to charge for use of the NHS shows that the Labour party is going to be on the wrong side of this argument, because people in this country want to see people being treated fairly in relation to the NHS.
I want to make a little more progress.
Of course, as I said earlier, many private landlords already make checks, on a tenant’s identity and credit status, making it difficult for illegal migrants to rent properties from them. However, not all landlords do it, so we propose to replicate the long-standing requirements for employers to check the immigration status of those they are about to employ.
We are not asking landlords to become immigration experts. Those who undertake simple steps will have nothing to fear and there will not be a penalty. Rogue landlords will face penalties, hitting them where it hurts—in their wallets. This will make it harder for landlords to house illegal immigrants and harder for illegal immigrants to settle in the UK.
It is not excessive regulation. It is a proportionate approach to a significant problem and we have listened very carefully to those who have warned us of the consequences of not doing this properly. We will make it easy for homeless and vulnerable people to prove their entitlement through simple documentary requirements. We will have a statutory code of practice, making it clear that if landlords racially discriminate they will be breaking the law. We will exempt those parts of the housing market, such as homeless hostels and student halls of residence, where further regulation would not be appropriate.
The Bill will also introduce new rules to crack down on illegal migrants accessing banking products and services in the UK. Many illegal immigrants are already prevented from opening bank accounts, thanks to existing identification and fraud requirements. However, there is no specific rule to stop illegal migrants opening an account in the UK. This Bill will require banks and building societies, for the first time, to refuse a customer who wishes to open a new current account when they have been identified as an illegal immigrant.
Having tackled the ability of illegal migrants to work, access health care, rent property and open bank accounts, I also want to ensure that illegal migrants are denied driving licences. The Bill will give legislative force to the current administrative practice, but the measures go further, giving us the power to revoke licences. We will do everything we can to make it harder for illegal migrants to establish a settled life in the UK when they have no right to be here.
Part 4 of the Bill tackles sham marriages and sham civil partnerships undertaken by a fraudulent couple for their own immigration advantage. The Home Office estimates that, every year, between 4,000 and 10,000 applications to stay in the UK are made on the basis of a sham marriage or sham civil partnership. Registration officials already have a duty to report suspected sham marriages and sham civil partnerships to the Home Office. The number of reports of suspected sham cases has risen in recent years, with 1,891 reports received in 2012. At the moment we have the ridiculous situation whereby we cannot always stop a marriage or civil partnership that a registrar believes to be a sham. The current 15-day notice period provides very little time for the Home Office to act before the ceremony takes place.
Having listened to the debate so far, I think that hon. and right hon. Members and the public at large will be astounded that these sorts of basic restrictions on illegal immigrants have not been the law of the land for so long. It is about time that we passed this Bill.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I think that members of the public will say it is right that we are fair to people living in the UK and to those who have come here legally, and that we ensure that those who are here illegally do not find it easy to stay and that we are able to remove them.
A lot of the individual sanctions will be dealt with by statutory instruments. So far it is clear that if a landlord fails to comply and lets a property, they will face a potential fine of £3,000 for each disqualified adult allowed to occupy the property. What sanctions, fines or prison sentence will be given to a doctor or nurse who treats, or a vicar who marries, a disqualified adult?
We are not talking about people not being able to receive treatment in the national health service. We are talking about two things in the NHS. First, when people come here and use the NHS, we will ensure that the NHS recovers the money from their country that it should be recovering. It has not been doing that as well as it should be. Secondly, when people come to stay here for a limited period—for more than six months, but not permanently—we will ask them to pay a surcharge to reflect the fact that they might use public services when they are here.
The Bill will increase the marriage and civil partnership notice period to 28 days—
I have tried to explain the point about sanctions in the NHS by pointing out that the hon. Gentleman’s assumption about the system that we are putting in place appears to be incorrect. He also mentioned members of the clergy who conduct sham marriages. If he looks back at the press from the past couple of years, he will see that members of the clergy have been arrested and prosecuted for conducting sham marriages on purpose.
The Bill will increase the marriage and civil partnership notice period to 28 days in England and Wales, and allow for it to be extended to 70 days when there are reasonable grounds to suspect that a marriage or civil partnership is a sham. The Home Office will investigate the genuineness of the couple’s relationship and consider taking immigration enforcement action when we believe it to be a sham. If the couple do not comply with the investigation, we will prevent a marriage from taking place. Should a sham marriage or civil partnership go ahead, couples will not gain an immigration advantage, but will be removed or prosecuted.
Fixing the immigration system cannot be done overnight. There were too many problems with the system that we inherited for that to be possible. However, the Bill will help us further along the road. It is frankly ridiculous that the Government have to operate such a complex system to deal with foreigners who fail to abide by our laws. It is ridiculous that the odds are stacked in favour of illegal migrants. It is unacceptable that hard-working taxpayers have to compete with people who have no right to be here. The Bill will begin to address those absurdities and restore balance. I commend the Bill to the House.
The Home Secretary and the Prime Minister have made a series of claims about immigration and the Bill, many of which do not stack up. They said that there would be action against illegal working, but there is nothing about that in the Bill. The Prime Minister promised action against those who
“deny work opportunities to UK workers.”
Again, there is nothing about that in the Bill. They promised to reduce the “pull factor” for people from the EU. Again, there is nothing in the Bill about that. They promised to
“reclaim our borders and send illegal immigrants home”,
but border control has got worse and fewer people are being returned than ever. They promised—the Prime Minister said “no ifs, no buts”—that net migration would be down to the tens of thousands by the election. It is currently at 176,000 and recent figures show that it has gone up. There has been a lot of rhetoric and a lot of confusion, and people are concerned about immigration.
We know that over many generations, people have come and contributed to this country: they have built our biggest companies, worked in our public services, and become great scientists, Nobel prize winners and even Olympic medal winners. We also know that in a global economy, in which people travel and trade more than ever, pulling up the drawbridge on all migration is not good for Britain.
Stronger controls are needed. Migration needs to be managed and, yes, we should have a proper debate about measures to control immigration, deal with its impact and tackle illegal immigration. Unfortunately, that is not what we have heard from the Home Secretary today.
Does the shadow Home Secretary realise that we have already gone a little over half the distance from the very high levels of net migration that we saw under the last Labour Government to our target of tens of thousands, not hundreds of thousands? Will she congratulate the Home Secretary on that progress?
The most recent figures for net migration show that it has increased. The hon. Gentleman has chosen to support a target that ignores illegal migration altogether and that includes university students who contribute to the economy. Furthermore, he can claim that progress has been made in meeting the target if the number of British citizens who leave the country or who fail to return to the country increases. That is the target that he is pursuing.
Many of my constituents are first, second or multiple generation immigrants who work hard to prop up our NHS and other public services. Does my right hon. Friend agree that penalising people when their families come over by adding extra charges to every application is unfair on those people who are breaking their back for Britain?
My hon. Friend is right that the system has to be fair for people who have come here over many generations and who have contributed to this country and continue to do so. It is right that people who come here must contribute and be able to support themselves. Equally, the system has to be fair to all. There are considerable concerns that the system is not fair. The Home Secretary’s proposals do not address those concerns.
As we have said before, the problem with a net migration target is that it encourages more British people to leave the country or to remain in other countries. The Prime Minister has promised—no ifs, no buts—that he would reach the net migration target of tens of thousands by the time of the election. On the Government’s own figures, net migration is going up.
We believe that the pace of migration matters. It is right to support measures that will bring the level of migration down, but we must also have serious measures to tackle illegal immigration and to ensure that the system is fair, including in its impact on employment and the workplace.
I have already answered a question about the ad vans. Given that the shadow Home Secretary has not answered the question that my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr Clappison) asked about net migration, perhaps she will answer my question. Does she accept that the level of migration under the last Labour Government was too high?
We have said that the pace of migration was too fast. It is right to have measures to bring the level down. We have said that many times. The Home Secretary has had every opportunity to apologise for the divisive ad vans, which she has admitted were a serious problem. I will give her another opportunity to intervene to do so.
On the subject of regrets, does the right hon. Lady share the regret of the right hon. Member for Morley and Outwood (Ed Balls), who said in 2010 that having unmitigated and unplanned immigration from the European Union at the same time as 5.2 million people were on out-of-work benefits under the last Labour Government was a mistake that the Labour party needed to face up to?
We have said that we should have had transitional controls for eastern Europe. Government Members need to consider how they can defend the fact that since the election deportations have dropped by 7% and deportations of foreign criminals are down by 14%, and how they can explain why the number of illegal migrants absconding at Heathrow has trebled since the election and why the number caught afterwards has halved since the election.
The right hon. Lady is in a rich vein of contrition. Will she add to her list of apologies an apology from the last Government for signing up to EU rules that made it much harder to tackle benefit tourism and, on the point that she has just raised, human rights laws that made it much harder to deport foreign national criminals?
There is nothing in the Bill about the matters that so concern the hon. Gentleman. Where is his apology for the fact that the number of businesses that are fined for employing illegal migrants has halved since the election? Again and again, action on illegal migration has got worse and enforcement has deteriorated since the election.
I want to make some progress on the measures that are in the Bill, even though a lot of the measures that we need to tackle illegal immigration are not in it. Let us consider the Bill before us. Some measures are sensible and we will support them. Some are confused and we await illumination on how the Government plan to make them work. Some areas raise genuine concerns, and in other areas the Government are not going far enough, particularly on the labour market and on illegal immigration.
I am glad that the Bill includes stronger action against sham marriages. Indeed, we called for those measures. Like the Government, we listened to the concerns of registrars about cases where they feared abuse, but had too little time to ensure that investigations took place. We also called for stronger enforcement powers for UK Border Force officials. The problem is that the UK Border Agency does not use the powers it has in practice at the moment and enforcement has been getting worse.
The Home Secretary talked about biometrics. We agree that there are some loopholes that should be closed for taking fingerprints, but she needs to explain why her Home Office Ministers endorsed stopping the fingerprinting of stowaways at Calais. This is not about a loophole in the law; it is about a loophole in practice that we raised with Ministers two-and-a-half years ago and which they refused to do anything about.
And I suggest that the Home Secretary checks her facts, because in April 2011 we raised with Home Office Ministers the importance of restoring fingerprinting to Calais, which border officials had chosen to do. Two-and-a-half years ago, she refused to do that and she has continued to refuse to do that, and her Home Office Ministers said that was the right thing to do. I will let her intervene again if she will tell me that she will now, two-and-a-half years later, restore the fingerprinting of stowaways to Calais. Will she restore the decision to do fingerprinting at Calais? The Home Secretary is refusing, repeatedly, to restore the fingerprinting of stowaways at Calais, despite the fact that we have raised this with her and other Home Office Ministers repeatedly. Her Home Office Ministers have endorsed the decision not to have fingerprinting at Calais, not to be able to check illegal immigration and not to be able to follow up when people attempt to return to this country.
We support measures to restrict access to British driving licences for those who are here illegally. In fact, we introduced those measures. As the Government have admitted, the changes were mostly brought in before the general election, but we are happy to support them all over again. It is also sensible to have stronger checks on bank accounts.
There has been a principle stretching back over 30 years that overseas visitors should contribute for using the NHS. We will therefore support sensible contributions to the NHS from visa payments, and it would be helpful for Ministers to confirm that such payments will go to the NHS. It would also be helpful if Ministers confirmed whether they have dropped proposals for GPs to have to implement the same kinds of checks as private landlords before letting pregnant women see a midwife, or giving children the measles, mumps and rubella vaccination—both issues that doctors have raised as public health concerns.
If the right hon. Lady is honest, she will realise that Labour’s record on illegal immigration is far from glorious. I have indicated that I am willing to give the Government the benefit of the doubt on Second Reading, although I have criticisms of some aspects of the Bill. It would be helpful to know whether the official Opposition will support or oppose the Bill on Second Reading.
My hon. Friend is right. Doctors have concerns about whether the proposals are workable in practice—the practical bureaucracy attached to the proposals—and the implications for public health. We think it is sensible to have better co-ordination between hospitals on, for example, cost recovery through the E111 system, but for any proposals it is important that the Government listen to GPs’ concerns.
Building on the right hon. Lady’s point, does she agree that it is not only inhumane for doctors not to treat people with serious illnesses, but counter-productive? If somebody is here with a communicable illness, it is counter-productive for doctors not to treat them. This is just a nasty policy and a case of blaming foreigners to distract from the Government’s £20 billion of cuts to the NHS and the cost of reorganisation.
This is a matter on which the Government still need to answer questions and they are confused about what they are proposing. The Bill contains limited measures, but they also seem to be setting out other measures that are not in it.
The measures on landlords take up 16 clauses—a quarter of the Bill. This, it appears, is the Government’s flagship policy on tackling illegal immigration. The only trouble is that we have no idea how it is supposed to work. There are more than 400 European identity documents, and the Government have not explained whether private landlords are supposed to know which one is which. There are countless different documents to show that people are entitled to be here. Will private landlords have to know each one? On some figures, nearly one in five usual residents, including British citizens, do not have passports. What will they have to do to rent a flat? When the Home Secretary was asked two weeks ago about how this policy would be implemented, all she could say was:
“There’s a lot of confusion.”
That is right, and the Home Secretary has done nothing today to clear that confusion up.
All these policies on driving licences, tenancy agreements and bank accounts will, according to the Home Secretary, tackle illegal immigration. How much difference will they actually make in practice, even where the policy is sensible enough in principle? One does not need a British driving licence to drive in Britain and one does not need a British bank account to take cash out of a cash machine or to earn some cash on the side. What difference will the measures make to the growing number of people who are here illegally because they are less likely to be stopped at the border and less likely to be sent back home? Deportations are down by 7%. The number of people stopped at the border and turned away has halved since the election. The number of illegal immigrants absconding through Heathrow has trebled, and the number caught afterwards has halved. Six hundred and fifty thousand potential smuggling warnings were deleted by the Home Office without even being read, and 150,000 reports of potential bogus students were never followed up.
There is still no answer from the Home Secretary about how many people came in without proper checks as a result of her bordersgate experiment. We get the same response from the Home Secretary each time: to blame the civil servants, to blame the landlords, to blame all migrants, to blame the technology and to blame the Labour Government. Her latest response is to blame the Minister for Immigration.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. The issue of who comes in and out of this country is important. Does she share my concern at the delay in starting the tendering process for the e-Borders project? As we know, there were problems with the project under the previous Government and it is three-and-a-half years since the contract was terminated. Does she not agree that we need this as soon as possible?
My right hon. Friend makes an important point. The Government decided to suspend the contract three years ago, in 2010. There has been a complete freeze with no contract in place and no proper action taking place. He is absolutely right that we need not just proper checks in place when people arrive, but proper checks on deportations and departures to be able to take follow-up action on illegal immigration.
What was the Government’s flagship policy to tackle illegal immigration, which was trailed by the Prime Minister, who this summer promised new action? It was to hire a man with a van to drive around in circles for two weeks. What was the Home Secretary thinking? Did she really think that people here illegally, who have ignored Home Office letters and avoided UK Border Force scrutiny, would change their minds because they saw one of her posters on an ad van? What did she think people were going to say: “Oh, thank goodness I saw the ad van today. I had just forgotten I was supposed to go home. Hang on while I pop out and get an airplane ticket”? Will she confirm that only one person has rung up to return? He did not even see the vans: he saw a picture in The Guardian. This has not just been a blunt instrument; it has been a complete failure. Will she admit that this has been a pointless gimmick from the start?
Last week the Immigration Minister said that the vans could be rolled out around the country, but instead the Home Secretary strung him out and today decided that the policy is a blunt instrument and she will not do it again. Why did she do it in the first place? Will she stand up and tell the House how many people returned home as a result of it? The Immigration Minister said that only one person returned as a result of the ad vans, but will the Home Secretary say how many people have returned as a result of her ad van approach?
This is not just about a policy that is ineffective and a blunt instrument. The Home Secretary sent the van around four London boroughs with the highest proportion of ethnic minority British citizens. One Brent resident—a British citizen—said:
“As a child in the 1970s with migrant parents I remember how ‘go home’ was shouted at us in the streets and graffitied on walls. One of my earliest memories is of the panic I felt when hearing my parents discussing in hushed tones whether we would indeed have to ‘go home’, as we watched the National Front march on TV.”
The Home Secretary agreed to that slogan. She agreed to send it round communities whose parents heard it from the National Front in the 1970s, and whose British citizens work in our public services, build our businesses, and fight in our armed forces today. She signed off and defended that policy, all for the sake of one person returning. She should be better than that, and I hope she is ashamed of what she did.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for allowing me to intervene, because Brent was one area where the van came round. On the occasions when it did so, the division and hurt that it caused in the community was extraordinary. Does she agree that the policy could not have been introduced because the Home Secretary genuinely thought it was likely to inspire anyone to leave the country, and that instead it was a calculated political propaganda move? As such, her party should pay back to the taxpayer the cost of those vans.
The policy was disgusting and embarrassing. What a dreadful episode it was, and let us hope it never happens again. On apologies, however, will the right hon. Lady apologise for the intervention by the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) in the summer? He had a go at Tesco and Next, but he got the place of Tesco’s base wrong. Will the right hon. Lady apologise to Tesco and Next for that “British jobs for British workers” nonsense revived by the hon. Member for Rhondda?
The labour market is an important issue, and it is particularly important to ensure that employers are not exploiting low-skilled migration. I will come to that issue in a moment, but let me finish the point about illegal immigration.
Instead of gimmicks, we need practical measures to help tackle illegal immigration. Why not improve enforcement? Why not reinstate fingerprinting for stowaways at Calais, as we have been urging the Home Secretary to do for two and a half years? Why not tighten up checks in the first place? Student visitor visas have now become too easy a route through which people come to Britain to work illegally. They do not even have to provide proper paperwork to show they have a place on a course. Numbers are up 70% since the election. Surely that should ring alarm bells for Ministers. The Labour party will table amendments to have proper checks on student visitor visas, stronger inspections and enforcement, and stronger action against employers who take on and exploit illegal migrants. If the Home Secretary is serious about tackling illegal immigration, I hope she will back our amendments and plans.
It is right to have a proper system that is fair and supports our economy, universities and higher education sector, but also prevents abuse. It is a concern that the hon. Gentleman’s Government are dissuading and discouraging university students who want to come here from all over the world, but he should also be worried about the potential for abuse of student visitor visas, as highlighted by the independent inspectorate. Concerns were raised, but because those visas are not included in the Government’s net migration target, the fact that numbers have increased by 70% does not bother Ministers, even though the inspectorate raised the risk of abuse.
My right hon. Friend is perhaps moving on to what is not in the Bill. The Home Secretary said earlier that she wants to end modern-day slavery. Last week a dreadful case of modern slavery and trafficking ended with the conviction of a couple from Eccles who had brought a deaf 10-year-old orphan girl into the country, using the passport of a 20-year-old woman. They kept her as a domestic slave and subjected her to sexual assault. Is it not tragic that someone who is rescued, such as the victim in this case, and actually well looked after, might have been snatched back into trafficking, and ended up in a brothel or worse? The Government have not enacted measures to assign a trusted individual in such cases, although they could have done so in this or other Bills. How can we take the Home Secretary seriously when she has those opportunities yet does not take them?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. It should disturb us all that an appalling two thirds of children who are rescued from slavery and trafficking go missing again and often become victims of the same traffickers or other groups. We need far stronger action on that; we owe it to those children who have been rescued, often from appalling conditions. We should not let them simply disappear again.
Does the right hon. Lady recognise that one reason for that is that care workers in children’s homes are not allowed physically to restrain and prevent children from walking out? That is a result of the Human Rights Act, which was passed by her colleagues, along with the failure to deal with immigration that has led the Government to bring forward these urgent proposals today.
If I had known the hon. Gentleman was going to raise such nonsense, I would not have let him intervene in the first place.
Let me move on to some of the remaining elements of the Bill. People who come to Britain and then abuse British law should not expect to stay here, and Labour has previously supported action to ensure that article 8 of the European convention on human rights is properly interpreted in cases involving foreign criminals. We also believe that appeals should be speeded up—serious cases that go to Strasbourg certainly take far too long.
The measures in the Bill do not deal with those issues, however, and instead it appears that the Government want to abolish appeals for whole categories of immigration cases because they cannot cope with the fact that they get so many decisions wrong in the first place. There are genuine and serious concerns about that approach because it turned out that the Government got it wrong in 50% of entry clearance cases that went to appeal. In managed migration cases that went to appeal, they got it wrong in 49% of decisions. In the majority of those cases the problem was Home Office error, so why not just put a bit of effort into getting the decision right in the first place? If those appeal rights are removed, many cases will cite human rights grounds to get an appeal and more cases will go to judicial review. The Government’s own impact assessment shows that that could cost £100 million, halving any savings the Home Secretary might hope to make.
The real gap in the Bill is that is says nothing about the exploitation of immigration in the workplace. There is nothing to deal with employers who take on illegal migrant workers or to tackle the exploitation of legal migration by the undercutting of wages and conditions in the local labour market. There is nothing to deal with the lack of enforcement of the minimum wage, or employers who use loopholes in the minimum wage to overcharge workers for overcrowded accommodation and offset that against their pay. There is nothing to deal with agencies that recruit only from overseas and exclude local workers from their books, or employers who recruit for some shifts only from certain nationalities.
All those practices are bad for everyone—they are bad for migrant workers who are exploited, bad for local workers who are undercut, bad for other businesses that are undermined and bad for our economy, which continues to depend on low-skilled migration being exploited in that way. The Government are doing nothing. The Labour party will set out amendments to give councils powers of enforcement on the minimum wage, close loopholes and tackle irresponsible agencies, and I hope the Government will support those measures.
The Bill does not do what the Government claim it does. Some of the measures are sensible, some are confused, and some are of serious concern. They claim it tackles illegal immigration, but it does nothing of the sort. It fails to do enough to tackle the serious problems. The Opposition will not oppose the Bill as we believe it should go to Committee so we can amend and reform it, use the opportunity to introduce better and fairer controls to deal with the Government’s failures, and make immigration work for all.
Order. A considerable number of colleagues are seeking to catch my eye. I have not, at this stage, imposed any formal time limit on Back-Bench contributions, but a certain self-denying ordinance on the part of each hon. Member will serve to help others to get in. We can be led in this matter by a notable paragon of virtue, Mr Robert Syms.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
I fully welcome the Bill. All hon. Members realise how strongly people feel about this very important subject. We do not have to knock on many doors before ordinary hard-working people who are trying to pay the bills and bring up their kids start to moan about the immigration system.
The problem is that, over a number of years, the system has become somewhat dysfunctional. The Government have made it a high priority to have a firm but fair immigration policy. Hon. Members know that many legal migrants add fully to our country. Many create jobs, and there are many surgeons, doctors and others in the NHS. However, in our hearts, we know that many come to the UK to take advantage of us and see us as a soft touch, and that many are here illegally. In the Bill and a series of measures taken since 2010, the Government are trying to tighten the system and make it more robust, and to send a signal to the world that we are not a soft touch, and that we are determined to ensure that only people who are legitimately in the UK should be here.
The Bill is sensible. It streamlines the process and begins to introduce biometrics; reduces the number of grounds of appeal from 17 to four; and restricts some of the rights under article 8. The reality is that all hon. Members deal with immigration cases. We know the nature of the game and how it is played. There are constant appeals and new applications so that time goes by and people who should not really be in this country stay here. I therefore welcome what the Government are doing. If we combine it with better management of the border authorities, we will make good progress.
I agree with everything my hon. Friend has said so far. We need to get things right and acknowledge when things went wrong. One important factor is the hundreds of bogus colleges set up in our country over so many years, as a result of which thousands of people who should never have come to this country did so. The Government have closed 600 or so. That is the right way forward.
There must be a balance, because many language schools generate foreign exchange, provide good education and feed people through to our universities. The Government have ensured that the ones that survive—some will prosper—do so because they are legitimate, but many people took that route here. That part of Government policy is very sensible.
I understand what the hon. Gentleman says about foreign overseas students, but does he recognise that, in the case of London Metropolitan university, the Home Office overreaction did a great deal of damage to Britain’s international reputation? Thankfully, that has mostly changed in respect of London Metropolitan, but do we not need to be slightly cautious, because overseas students bring an awful lot to the country?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman’s general point—that many overseas students bring a lot to the English language centres and the university sector—but that is no excuse for the university sector not keeping proper records and knowing what happens to students. I felt very sorry for the students involved rather than for the university, but the Home Office moved quickly to try to get them into other, proper institutions. The immigration authorities acted as responsibly as they could to deal with the difficulties some students faced.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the success of the Government’s policy is reflected in the fact that student numbers have fallen in those institutions that most abused the system? That proves that the steps the Government took worked.
My right hon. Friend makes a good point.
We need to send signals to people around the world that we are serious about ensuring that people who are here illegally should not stay. That is why I welcome the measures on bank accounts and driving licences. There are concerns about private sector landlords, but if someone is about to rent out a £250,000 or £500,000 home, there is a good, solid logical reason for having the full documentation. After all, they want to collect the rent. Many residential landlords already take passport and other such details. The Bill is a perfectly common-sense approach to ensuring that there is a barrier for those who should not be here but no difficulty for those who have a right to be here.
I am sure my hon. Friend is aware that estate agents are obliged to take contact information—both photograph identification and proof of address—from tenants and landlords under money-laundering regulations. Does he agree that the measure in the Bill is a simple and reasonable extension of the existing regulations, which have worked so well?
The hon. Gentleman says that the measures on landlords should pose no difficulty for people who already live here. When my parents first came to this country, landlords would routinely tell prospective black tenants that the room was gone. Does not the legislation bring us back to the situation in which people, rather than go through the rigmarole, will see a black face and say, “The room is gone”?
I understand the hon. Lady’s concerns because of her family history, but the reality is that people who are legitimately here have many protections. All the Government are saying is that, if someone wants to rent a property, they should have a passport. For simple, sensible reasons such as getting credit, most people need some kind of documentation, so the problem will not be insurmountable.
On the NHS, I welcome the health surcharge. Nothing annoys my constituents more than the feeling that resources that should be devoted to their care are being used by people who do not have a right to them. All hon. Members know that the NHS has not followed its policy of collecting money. The easiest thing to do is say that someone does not come from abroad and collect the money as if they were British citizens. The Government’s measures are sensible.
As our constituents feel so strongly, we must have a firm but fair immigration policy. If they do not believe the Government take immigration seriously, the only people who benefit are extremists. We know that many people have extreme views on immigration.
I am sure that, like me, my hon. Friend hears pleas for unaffordable, high-value and new treatments for cancers and so on, but the pot is not limitless. Our constituents wish to know that those who have contributed to the pot will be able to take from it in their time of need. We might provide universal health care, but we do not provide global health care.
Absolutely. The measure does not affect accident and emergency or short-term care, but it is a signal that the Government are serious. We should not squander resources on those who do not deserve them, particularly if people are waiting for operations. One figure used today is that 4,000 more doctors could be employed if we collected the money. There is therefore a prize for tightening the system.
Given the number of hon. Members who want to speak, I do not intend to go on much longer. I broadly welcome the thrust of the Bill. I would be happy to serve in Committee if asked, and I look forward to the Bill’s progress through the House, because it is an important priority for the British people.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Poole (Mr Syms), who has struck the right tone for debating immigration policy. I am glad that Labour Front Benchers will support the Government while tabling vigorous and robust amendments in Committee. That is how the House should discuss immigration policy. I am very much against the arms race that seems to have developed in the past few years, in which political parties compete with one another to show that they are tougher on foreigners. If the House of Commons can demonstrate in the debate and the vote the belief that we need to tackle illegal migration but that we need a fair and just system, we will send out a powerful message.
I first served on a Bill Committee 26 years ago, with my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott). We have made journeys to the Front Bench, but have ended up on the Back Benches again—she more recently than I. We have therefore heard some of this discussion before, because with every immigration Bill Governments always say that they want to be tough but fair. We still end up with an immigration Bill before us every two years. Although Governments are willing to do something about immigration, especially illegal immigration, that is not borne out by what actually happens.
The right hon. Gentleman is right to highlight the number of immigration Bills. Does he share my concern about the lack of pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill—or indeed of previous ones—and does he think that the Home Affairs Committee could have done that well? Would it not be good if some of our previous recommendations had been included?
As a member of the Committee—there are four Committee members in their places this afternoon—I am not going to offer to take on more work, given our work load. As the hon. Gentleman knows, every quarter we look at the work of the Home Office on immigration, and I am certain that some aspects of the Bill will be included in the work that we do. We will therefore scrutinise some aspects of the Bill but not its entirety.
In pursuing an immigration policy that is fair and just, we need to be very careful with our enforcement methods. We also need to welcome decisions taken by the Government when they move in the right direction. The Home Secretary was right to shelve the ad vans, and I congratulate her on doing so. As the shadow Home Secretary and others have said, those vans caused enormous concern in the communities. We do not have a figure for how many people got into the vans and asked for a lift back to the airport, but the vans cost £10,000 and were out for six days in inner-city London. As yet, we do not know how many people have gone back. When the pilot is over, we will need those figures. Meanwhile, I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) for his superb Adjournment debate. It gives us all heart to know that we can call for an Adjournment debate to advocate the abolition of an aspect of Government policy and for it to happen two weeks later. It gives us comfort to know that we have some powers as Back Benchers.
Although I agree with my right hon. Friend about the ad vans, is he aware that immigration officials are still hanging around underground stations in London, stopping people at random and asking for papers? That creates a deeply unpleasant and hostile atmosphere. It is very ineffective in achieving its aim, but it creates much community tension in the process.
It worries me if that is happening; it is certainly not the best way to enforce immigration policy. The best way is to go through the proper process of making an application. If the result is negative, the person should leave the country. I have just had figures from Capita and the Home Office for the number of people who have left the country as a result of the £2.8 million contract that the Home Office gave Capita—although I cannot understand why it was not possible for Home Office officials to write the letters and send the e-mails instead of giving the job to a private company. According to those figures, 20,000 cases have been closed as a result of Capita’s activities.
I will come to my second bit of praise for the Home Secretary at the end of my speech, but I first wish to highlight a couple of issues that cause me concern. The first is the issue of landlords checking people’s passports, which will cause huge problems. The shadow Home Secretary said that people might have to look at 400 different European identity cards and documents. I am concerned that ordinary landlords who are not trained in immigration policy will simply not know the difference between leave to remain, indefinite leave and other Home Office statuses placed on non-British passports. Most landlords, when they grant tenancies, already ask for copies of people’s passports. The risk is that the only people who will be able to get accommodation are those with British passports. That means that a lot of people with a perfect right to remain here will not be able to get accommodation because landlords are too scared or do not understand the law.
I recently visited Calais to look at the border and I asked our excellent border officials how they were able to test whether certain passports and documents were forgeries. They brought out this very big, expensive machine. It was about 10 years old and not the most sophisticated piece of equipment, but they told me, “We use this to find out whether a document is a forgery.” We cannot expect landlords to have such machines—they would not be able to afford them—but if we do not train them or have regular inspections, which we could not afford, it is difficult to know how the provisions will work in practice. In theory, it is a brilliant idea, but it is totally unworkable in practice.
Does my right hon. Friend know that up to 40% of the British population do not have a passport and do not travel abroad? Many of those people are poor, and they will not be able to get housing because landlords will not take the risk.
I did not know that and I thank my right hon. Friend for that information, which suggests an even greater problem with what the Government propose. Those Members who are lucky enough to serve on the Bill Committee—not me, I should inform the Whips—will need to look at this issue very carefully.
My second concern is the removal of rights of appeal. This is a crazy idea. The one way in which people can be sure of whether they can stay in the country or have to leave is the appeals process, whereby someone with the authority of a judge looks at the case. There is nothing wrong with the appeals process. I know that the Minister for Immigration recently said that immigration lawyers get too much money and that one of the purposes of the Bill is to cut their income. I declare an interest, as my wife is an immigration lawyer, although she does no legal aid work. If the decision making is right in the beginning, cases would not have to go to appeal.
The Minister for Immigration is prepared to listen to points made by Members of Parliament. Whenever we have put points to him, he has listened carefully, and I think that he should listen seriously to the idea of creating a hub in London. He has talked about the need for administrative reviews. The problem with those reviews is that unqualified people have to look at legal issues. I am not sure whether the same immigration officials who said no at the first stage are the right people to say no at the second stage, but that is what happens with the entry clearance operation. If someone is knocked back on a visa, but has a right of appeal, they go to the same post and talk to the senior immigration officer who has to make the decision. It would be a much better idea—and I am sorry that the Labour Government did not do it—to create a hub in the UK for cases that have been knocked back. People could go to a senior official at the hub and put arguments for people to come into the UK.
The right hon. Gentleman may not be aware of the case of Amy Houston, a girl from my constituency who was killed by an asylum seeker. He made appeal after appeal after appeal. Owing to the length of time that those appeals took, he was able to establish the right to a family life by fathering two children in this country. He killed that young girl with a motor vehicle, and he is not the sort of person we want to welcome into Britain. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that we need these reforms to stop such cases in the future?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. After 26 years as an MP, I get frustrated when people come to my surgeries on Friday evenings and say, “We want to stay longer.” I feel they have no right to stay, but I am not an immigration officer and do not know the history of their case. Multiple appeals do not help, but the solution is a quick and robust decision. We must tell people, in a timely way, whether they have a right to remain in this country, and if they do not, they ought to leave. That is when the enforcement process should begin and end, not 10 years after someone makes an asylum application, when they have established a family. It is very difficult to tell people to go back, when faced with a loving family and children looking into your eyes who do not want to go to a country they know nothing about. It is the failure of the system that creates such misery, and that is what we need to end.
Finally, I wish to make two quick points. First, the Minister is due to appear before the Select Committee shortly—I will not give him the date now, because he is deep in conversation with the Minister of State, Home Department, the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker)—and when he comes, we will want real, practical dates for the introduction of the e-Borders programme. As I have said, the Minister listens to the House’s concerns and is prepared to act accordingly, but in my view it is not acceptable that three and a half years after the e-Borders contract was cancelled we still do not have tendering.
In case my right hon. and hon. Friends think that that is all the Government’s fault, I must say, I am afraid, that the previous Government’s handling of the e-Borders project was lamentable. It is an absolute disgrace that anyone should sign a contract for an e-Borders programme worth £750 million and not tell the company what they expect and when they expect it. That is why we have an arbitration process that has been going on for two and a half years and which will cost the British taxpayer millions of pounds. This is a lesson not just for a future Labour Government, but for the present Government. When they sign procurement contracts, they must have benchmarks.
I say to the Minister, however, that we do not have to wait until 2015; we can have exit checks now. He has not written back to me since his last appearance before the Select Committee, when I asked him to confirm that there were no exit checks on departure. [Interruption.] No, the Minister has not. Mr Speaker, when you or I leave the country, the airline has a lot of information on us: it knows how we booked our ticket, sometimes which hotels we are staying in, whom we are travelling with, which seat we are on—we can book our own seats—and so on. When we leave at Heathrow airport, they look at our boarding cards, but they do not check our passports. It would be easy to introduce these checks now, and it would be a big win for the Government —much better than ad vans. They could place immigration officers at departure gates—it would not create any queues—to check people’s passports as well as boarding cards. They would then know who was going in and out. It is not as brilliant as an e-Borders programme, but it would be the first stage of knowing who has left the country. I hope the Minister will give special attention to that point.
Finally, on the administration of the Home Office, I give full credit to the Home Secretary for abolishing the UK Border Agency, but it will only have been worth abolishing if we get something better. Over the past few weeks, I have been trying to get answers from senior Home Office officials to simple Select Committee questions about the number of people with the right to remain in the country and the number of people who have applied for further leave to remain. In the end, I got the answers half an hour ago, after I said that I would come to the Chamber and name the officials who had not replied to my letter. I do not want, as the Chairman of a Select Committee, to have to do that, but when people write to Ministers and officials, they need a reply. That goes not only for Select Committee members, but for members of the public; members of the public want timely replies.
New legislation will work only if the Minister and the Home Secretary improve the administration of the Home Office on immigration and visas issues. The Home Secretary abolished the UKBA because she said it was closed, secretive and defensive. If at the end of the year we are having exactly the same problems with the same officials in the same jobs, answerable to the same line managers, which is what they were told would be the case, we will be disappointed. At the moment, their administrative changes have a fair wind, but we will want to see a real difference in how immigration policy is not just agreed by the House, but implemented after it becomes legislation.
Last month, one of my constituents—I will call him Philippe—attended an asylum-screening appointment at Lunar house. He had a history of serious ill treatment in Cameroon and had in his hand a referral to Freedom from Torture from his very worried advocates, so one would have expected him to be treated with care and attention when he arrived for his screening appointment. It is worth reading the whole of his statement—it took me some time to do so—to understand what happened to him over three days in September. It gives a picture of what happens to people when they try to navigate Home Office bureaucracy. I want to tell hon. Members a little about what happened to him, because there is a danger that this debate will be about headlines and statistics, but will forget the very people we are being tough on—the very people who are the subjects of the Bill.
Reading all that my constituent said, one gets a sense of his fear and nervousness when he first arrived at Lunar house with all his documents in his hand, and then the abject rudeness with which he was treated, the dismissals, the disbelief and the downright incompetence; and the petty squabbles between contractors unwilling to go beyond the letter of their own instruction and offer basic, normal human compassion and basic, normal information to my constituent. Hon. Members need to read it all to understand his fear, confusion and bewilderment, to follow him from the first moment, when he arrived, with nervous trust, for his asylum-screening appointment, to the moment when, in vain and with frustration, he tried to make the official at Lunar house appreciate that he was there for an agreed appointment and to get her to read his referral to Freedom from Torture. In vain, he tried to make his point through the interpreter about where his belongings were, but instead he was arrested, handcuffed and taken to Harmondsworth. Reading his statement, one gets a sense of just how frightening that is for somebody previously detained in their own country and of its impact on that individual.
Finally, when Philippe arrived at Harmondsworth, rather late at night, somebody realised he should not have been there; somebody eventually checked his documentation and realised that he had originally turned up for a routine asylum-screening appointment, and he was taken back. Eventually, after petty squabbles, which he witnessed, he was dumped in a hostel without any documentation, without being told where he was and without being given an address. There followed a distressing 48 hours, during which he had a paranoid episode and ended up lost on the streets of south London. He had one contact, one human being, who went out of their way to help him. Someone from a church in Brent who had been working with him drove around the streets of south London to find him and then took him into her own home and reconnected him with his lawyer—the best and worst of humanity across three days.
The hon. Lady paints a moving picture, and I am sure we all sympathise with her constituent, but does she agree that these mistakes happen because a large number of people are coming over, abusing the system and preventing us from helping those most in need, which is exactly what the Bill is designed to prevent?
No, I do not accept that. This happens because of the culture of disbelief in the Home Office, and it is that culture that needs to change, yet I see nothing in the Bill that will have any impact on the quality of decision making or on how individual officials treat constituents such as mine when they go with their asylum or visa applications. In my 10 years as an MP, I have seen countless examples of this behaviour, as all Members will have done. Those of us with the highest levels of immigration casework will have seen more, but it is a source of huge frustration for many MPs that our advice surgeries are spent mostly dealing with stuff that the Home Office should be dealing with.
The hon. Lady is making some powerful points about the human cost of the way our immigration system works. Has she, too, experienced cases like those in Feltham and Heston of people who have been given leave to be here and to work but have struggled for months at places where they have been given jobs because they are waiting for documentation? Their lives, and those of their families, are on hold and they then fall into poverty.
The hon. Lady makes an excellent point. These are the sort of people I worry will fall foul of the Bill because they struggle to provide their documentation. We know that there are a lot of people who fall through the net when they are first given refugee status and end up destitute. They make up the bulk of the people whom the British Red Cross deals with in terms of food parcels because they cannot prove their entitlement to benefits. A significant number of people have the right to stay but will struggle to be able to prove it.
Personally, I have never seen an organisation more in need of checks and balances on its own use of power than the Home Office or, indeed, its predecessor, the Border Agency. Instead, the Bill gives powers that it is not equipped, nor frankly able, to meet and powers that it cannot be relied upon to exercise properly. Where it exceeds or abuses its power, or simply fails to do the job, it will be shielded from challenge in many cases and there will be no redress whatever. The implications of the Bill cannot be understood without also placing it in the wider context of legal aid changes and proposals to restrict judicial review.
The problem is that the impact on individual lives gets lost in the grandstanding of headlines. When immigration is all about reducing numbers on a spreadsheet to meet an arbitrary cap or creating arbitrary political dividing lines and traps for opponents to fall into, the subjects of the legislation—the human beings at the centre of it—are somehow invisible. I am weary of a politics that creates and defines enemies in order to demonstrate potency but, frankly, it angers me to see politics do that at the expense of those who have the least power to change their own futures. All three Front Benches, I am afraid, are at it, including my own, scrabbling over the mantle of toughness, chasing opinion polls and, in some cases, wilfully whipping up fear and loathing in the process. It is staggeringly careless with lives and with community relationships that have been built up over a long time.
I am afraid that whatever the damage that is done by the detail of the Bill when, I dare say, it is ultimately passed, some of the worst damage has been done in our debate in the lead-up to it. The language with which this was brought forward is what really causes the damage to community relations. I remind hon. Members of the debate we had earlier about the Home Office vans. That is a case in point; it had almost no effect on the ground except to whip up real tension between communities. My constituency was one of those areas that was targeted by the vans.
I can understand the passion with which the hon. Lady is speaking and she is making a very sensitive point, but does she agree that there is an element to this that involves the prevention of exploitation of vulnerable people who are brought in illegally, treated badly and fall outside the system? If their pimps and traffickers are unable to do that because we have tougher immigration laws, we will free those people from being put in that awful position. I had a young lady brought to me whose passport had been taken off her. If people can come to our country legally, it will stop those who want to be able to take advantage of them outside the system.
I am certain that the commitment of the hon. Lady on the issue of human trafficking is very real. However, there is nothing in this Bill that will make that situation any better for the individuals who are caught up in it. It is worth remembering that, for a lot of vulnerable people who come here, it is very difficult to enter the country legally. Many of the legal routes have been closed down. Someone coming here and applying for asylum may have entered the country illegally and then claimed asylum. Understanding that is important, as is understanding some of the detail. I am in danger of speaking for too long and I know that other hon. Members want to speak, but we must understand that those who get caught up in this may be some of the most vulnerable people.
There is a great deal in the Bill that will have catastrophic consequences on the ground. In most cases, the problem that it seeks to fix has been poorly defined and the solutions ill thought through. All of it is incredibly rushed, a point made by a number of hon. Members. A number of my hon. Friends have also made the point about there being no pre-legislative scrutiny. It seems to me that the detail has been negotiated by an exceptionally tight group of people within the Government, and very little time is being afforded to this House to consider it. One day on Report is extraordinary. The very small period of time between the Bill being published and Second Reading means that most of the briefings from relevant organisations came in yesterday afternoon as they have just begun to grapple with the detail of this Bill. There is a significant amount of detail and the devil will be in making sure that the detail is correct.
It is worth noting some of the increases in power that the Bill gives. There is an extension of removal powers and the application to family members—including British citizens, I should add, who are not excluded from the Bill. Those matters will be in secondary legislation and we have no way of properly scrutinising the extension of powers. There is a significant extension of immigration officers’ powers to use reasonable force, despite the fact that whether the Border Agency previously used reasonable force has been a matter of constant dispute. It is completely within the culture of the Home Office, it seems, always to assume that force is the only way to manage any situation, which was precisely the culture within Government when I was negotiating the details around the ending of child detention. We sought to try to change that so we did not always go to the maximum end of force in enforcement procedures to get a family to understand that they had exhausted the appeals process. I cannot see how an organisation so psychologically addicted to the use of such powers should properly be given more powers until it has learnt how to use the powers it already has well, and certainly until it has learnt from the work that has been done elsewhere within its vast structure to try to change the culture.
Staggering, too, are the proposals on bail for immigration detainees, which would effectively allow the Home Secretary repeatedly to issue removal directions in order to prevent an application for bail. No account would need to be taken of changes in circumstance, or of the health of the detainee or their family. There was an earlier intervention about criminal bail. I want to make the point that some of the detail of that intervention was not fair because, within criminal procedures, one automatically eventually comes up for bail, whereas within immigration detention there is no automatic right to have one’s bail application considered.
We detain more people than any other European country except Greece, and Greece detains people only for very short periods. We effectively operate indefinite detention. The UNHCR has made clear its profound concerns about UK policy on detention and made it clear that bail hearings ought to be automatic. The removal of appeal rights was spoken about by the Chair of the Select Committee, the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz). That effectively removes appeal rights for all areas of managed migration, an area that has traditionally had very high rates of success on appeal. Given the appalling nature of decision making in this area, it seems to be particularly absurd to remove appeal rights. It is also likely to result only in more claims under judicial review or under article 8, which the Government say they want to try to reduce. It seems utterly nonsensical.
It was perhaps the redefinition of article 8 that made me shudder particularly. It completely ignores the test around the best interests of children and ignores all case law in this area. No doubt this is a deliberate attempt to overrule case law, but certainly it flies in the face of our obligations under the United Nations convention on the rights of the child. It ignores children under the age of seven—those children who have been here for fewer than seven years—and will of course apply not just to adults in terms of their right to family life with any of their children, but to unaccompanied migrants in decisions on their immigration cases. I find it very difficult to see how the courts are going to interpret this, but certainly it will have a chilling impact on the Home Office’s own decision making in this area. I am rather frustrated that the careful work we did on the ending of child detention, on the culture within the Home Office and on how we treat families seems to have been completely cut across by this very political statement in the Bill. It also cuts across the Children and Families Bill, which is still making its way through the Lords as we speak.
Perhaps the most absurd proposal in the Bill is that on landlords’ checks. I have listened to some of the discussion on that and there is some naivety about the property market in London in terms of understanding what it means to try to rent a property and the difficulty of getting in there first. If there is any doubt whatever about someone’s immigration status, there is no way they can rent in my constituency. Many people find it difficult to prove their documentation. The claim that this will all work well because a similar system involving employers has worked well flies in the face of our experience of the employers’ checking line, which often gives out inaccurate information resulting in people being unable to get or keep a job. It is extraordinary to propose a similar system that could affect someone’s right to live somewhere.
The catch-all term “illegal immigrants” is being used to describe the people who will be caught by the Bill. I remind the House that some of those people have no status because they are stuck in the black hole of the Home Office’s legacy system. Others might not quite have achieved the definition of “refugee” under the terms of the Geneva convention, yet cannot be returned to their own country because it is not safe to do so. I would count people from Syria among those affected in that way, and I saw many people in that situation during the Iraq war. Unless people are on section 4 support, they will find themselves falling foul of many of the Bill’s provisions.
The NHS levy will apply to in-country applicants, some of whom will have been working here for many years. Some of my colleagues have said that they are prepared to give the Government the benefit of the doubt on the Bill. Personally, I am not prepared to do so. I see very little in it that is worthy of a Second Reading. In fact, it was extremely difficult to find anything in it that I could support or that I found well thought through. I shall vote against Second Reading this evening, and I encourage others who disagree with it to join me in the No Lobby, rather than just adding to the impression that we are all happy for a Bill as ill thought through as this to pass on to the statute book.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Brent Central (Sarah Teather). I shall be doing the same as her at the end of the debate, and I shall make my remarks shorter simply by agreeing with her remarks about children and about bail detention. Those are critical issues that need to be addressed during the debate.
I have campaigned for more than 30 years against injustice in our immigration laws. Indeed, one of the reasons that I stood for election in Slough rather than anywhere else was that I wanted to follow the tradition of Slough Labour MPs who had voted against the Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1968. That legislation had the effect of making whole groups of people stateless, and I was proud that that injustice was remedied in the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002.
I recognise that we can achieve change and get justice even when the debate on immigration is as toxic as it is at the moment. I also recognise that people feel deep anxiety about immigration, particularly in an era of austerity when they are feeling insecure about their jobs, their pensions and about their families’ futures. However, this Bill is operating the worst form of dog-whistle politics in blaming migrants for problems that are not of their construction. I know how much migrants bring to Britain. Slough, a migrant town, is the third most productive wealth-producing town in Britain outside London.
After years of campaigning, I am pretty familiar with issues such as the Wilson committee’s report of 1967, which stated that it was
“fundamentally wrong and inconsistent with the rule of law that power to take decisions affecting a man’s whole future should be vested in officers of the executive, from whose findings there is no appeal.”
Yet that is in effect what the Government are proposing to do in this Bill, 42 years after the Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1968.
In introducing the Bill, the Home Secretary told us stories about cases of repeat applications by criminals and abuses of the appeals system. I suppose this is why the Home Office loses cases so frequently! We are not talking about a load of radical Trotskyist judges; we are talking about judges who decide that the Home Office is wrong almost half the time. The Home Office is now saying that the judges will not make those decisions in future, and that it will resolve those matters through administrative appeals.
Let me tell the House about the administrative reviews that already exist in parts of the system. A judicial review in the upper tribunal involved a case in which an applicant had given the Home Office their credit card number, and—guess what—the Home Office had typed it out wrongly. The consequence was that the application was not treated as a proper application because it was not accompanied by the full fee. The case had to go as far as the upper tribunal before a judge decided that it was a proper application, and that the Home Office had written down the credit card number wrongly.
Such cases are not rare. I have a constituent whose husband wrote the cheque to accompany her application, but instead of putting £865, he put 865p, because he is a twit. The consequence is that her application is now out of time, and she has no appeal. Another case involved a response from an entry clearance officer who, having stated that the immigration rules require a spouse to have good spoken English and to have passed a speaking and listening test, said that the applicant had passed that test but failed the English writing test and was therefore refused entry. We have asked for reviews of all those cases, but—guess what—we have been told that there will be no review or that the review has upheld the original decision.
Those of us who deal regularly with the Home Office know that it is incapable of doing what it is supposed to do now. Yet through the Bill, it is grabbing a whole lot of work for itself from the appeals system. The result is that it will break. It might have got rid of the UK Border Agency, but the Home Office will break if it tries to do all those things.
We need to heed the words of the Wilson committee report. On decisions as serious as whether someone should be allowed to live with their husband, everyone should have the right to have that decision subjected to an independent review. That is why we need an appeals system. There are groups of people who currently have no right of appeal, but the Home Office admits that it cannot do anything about them. There is a large Zimbabwean community in my constituency, but the Home Office is not returning any of its members to Zimbabwe because of the situation there. They are hard-working people who are desperate to work, yet they are in limbo. In passing responsibility for immigration control from those previously responsible to other bodies such as landlords and the health service, the Home Office is putting those people at greater risk. They are already at horrible risk. I have spoken to constituents who turn to illegal activities or to prostitution in order to feed their children, because they are not allowed to work.
The Government say that it will be easy for landlords to check out the status of applicants, but any of us who deal with employers know that the current Home Office advice service for employers is gummed up: they can never get through on the phone and the process takes ages. Many of my constituents who are allowed to work here perfectly legally have been unable to prove it because of Home Office inefficiency, and therefore lose their jobs. A similar advice service is now going to be offered to landlords. It might be fine in an area where landlords have to try hard to find tenants, but that is not the way competition works in the south of England; it is all the other way. Large numbers of people will therefore be refused housing to which they should be entitled.
That is why the Residential Landlords Association—not noted for its lobbying of Parliament—has written to say that it is
“seriously concerned that the proposal depends on untrained landlords doing the work of UK Border Agency staff without support and with the threat of penalties if they get it wrong.”
A programme on television recently highlighted a number of landlords in London who were already operating a racially discriminatory rental policy. They do not need much encouragement to continue with that, or to do worse. That is the risk that the Bill will create.
On health, the Bill also suggests that there should be a prior payment. People should pay, if they are here temporarily, for health care—there is no problem with that—but the choice optioned in this Bill is the wrong choice. There is a reason why the consultation, the details of which I have been requesting for more than a month, has been published this morning. Let me quote the analysis we heard about in Health questions:
“The analysis is a top-down estimate based on data from the Census 2011, the International Passenger Survey 2012 and Immigration and other statistics from the Office of National Statistics…These are the best available data in the public domain”.
What that means is, “We licked our finger and put it up in the air. We are guessing.”
Many countries have a requirement that migrants should, for example, have an effective health insurance system. That would not be a bad thing to do and is a more popular response in the Home Office consultation than the proposed levy, yet the Home Office has rejected that idea and proposes to introduce a levy that will burden particular nationalities more than others.
The Bill shows the arrogance of the Home Office by refusing to have its decisions appealed. It shows that the Home Office, in an island nation where it is possible to have effective border controls, does not care about the racially divisive consequences of increased internal immigration control. It shows that the Home Office has ignored its lack of capacity for doing this and, shockingly, includes proposals that were not prefigured in the consultation and that will bear down on victims of human trafficking.
The consultation on health payment contained a specific commitment about victims of human trafficking. Until now, overseas domestic workers have not been charged for health care. There is a reason for that—they are vulnerable and exploited. Frankly, the National Crime Agency is not making a priority of tracking down that particular form of human trafficking. We know how hard it is for those people. There are shocking stories of people with chronic, often infectious diseases who are prevented from getting access to health care by their exploiting employers. Under these proposals, they will be more vulnerable than they were before.
I am very glad that the Home Office is planning to introduce a modern day slavery Bill, but I am truly shocked that through this Bill they will reduce even the pathetic rights that modern day slaves have today. We have to chuck it out. There are some good things in it, but as a whole piece of legislation, it is truly unacceptable and we should reject it.
It is a great pleasure, as always, to follow the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart), although I shall not be agreeing with her. It was also a great pleasure to hear from my hon. Friend the Member for Poole (Mr Syms), who is no longer in his seat. I agree with him about the reasons to support the Bill. He spoke of the impact immigration has on the streets and it is true that this is a matter of great concern. The immigration rules have been reformed to cut out abuse where it is rife, but there is still more to do, particularly on landlords.
Let me start with the report by the Migration Observatory in Oxford entitled, “Migrants and Housing in the UK: Experiences and Impacts”. It is a very short report that sets out some key findings, one of which is that the foreign-born population has significantly lower home ownership rates than the UK-born population. The detail shows that the foreign-born population is three times as likely as the UK-born population to be in the private rented sector. If we drill down further, we can see that recent migrants are more than twice as likely as the normal foreign-born population to be renters—76% are more likely to rent. Foreign-born individuals have lower ownership rates than UK-born individuals and have greater representation in the private rented sector.
Recent migrants have very different accommodation standards. The report states that
“new migrants moved into temporary accommodation upon arrival…However, after realising that their stay in the UK could be permanent it is common for migrants to look for better housing choices”.
The evidence from that statement is clear: if we want to look for new migrants and potentially illegal immigrants, we need to look at the private rented sector. It is a key part of trying to ascertain where they might lie within the system. The evidence so far suggests that that is what is happening.
The UKBA and Ealing council recently visited six properties and the agency found that 22 out of 39 individual tenants, a large percentage, were illegal immigrants. Of those 22, 19 were detained. Of those 19, nine entered the country without leave, eight were overstayers, one was a failed asylum seeker and one was working in breach of his visa conditions. In such circumstances, the correct duty should be for the landlord to check for residence status. There is a long list of excluded tenancies in the Bill and the Secretary of State has the right to grant such a right to a person who would otherwise be disqualified.
The obligation on landlords—the choice of words is crucial—is to make “reasonable enquiries”. Private landlords are not expected to be experts in immigration; they are expected to make reasonable inquiries. They are not supposed to know the details of all the 400 or so immigrant visas that were mentioned earlier. They are merely meant to make reasonable inquiries. We are looking to secondary legislation to include a list of acceptable documentation.
My hon. Friend is making an important point. He will no doubt be aware of a 2006 study by Cambridgeshire constabulary that considered crime trends arising from the 2004 accession, particularly in houses in multiple occupation in Peterborough. That showed the disproportionate impact of crime on women living among largely male occupants of such houses as a result of poor landlord stewardship. Is that not an important issue that the Bill will address?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for mentioning that. I was not aware of that valid point and I am sure it adds to our debate.
The penalty payment is £3,000 per individual. A public consultation ran over the summer and the majority of landlord representative organisations opposed and disagreed with the principle of the policy. Most of the comments related to untrained British civilians undertaking the work of immigration officials, but the policy is a positive way of landlords contributing to British society given the proven link between migrants and rented accommodation. That contribution to British society will also involve freeing up the housing stock.
The policy will not conflict with landlords’ contractual arrangements. Indeed, if we ask the members of the organisations rather than the representative organisations we find that many members undertake such checks anyway—63%, I think. The Minister is nodding. The Bill is simply asking that all landlords do what the best landlords already do.
There is no reason why the system should not be clear and easy to comply with, and I accept that it must be. However, I do not accept that landlords will be confused about who is caught by the provision and I do not accept that any substantial cost burden will be passed on to tenants. I accept that publicity is important, and that we have to let landlords know what is happening. There is a need to be precise if we are to get the message out. I received calls from constituents on the matter when it was first mooted, as they were confused and wanted assurances about what was right. I was able to give those assurances. The issue of potential discrimination, which the hon. Member for Slough raised, is a real one, and I look forward to guidance from the Government to overcome that.
I shall conclude, as other Members wish to speak. This is a simple process for landlords, and it is something that they already do in the main. I urge the Government to make it simple, so that we can keep a check on migrants.
It is a convention to say that it is a pleasure to follow the preceding speaker. I shall not go as far as that, but it is probably appropriate for me to follow the hon. Member for Henley (John Howell). He focused on provisions relating to new regulations for private landlords, and I, too, shall focus the substance of my remarks on that aspect of the Bill.
Before I do so, however, I want to make a few general observations about the Bill as a whole, which is a combination of the good, the bad and the ugly. Tightening the law on sham marriages, improving our ability to deal with dodgy immigration advisers, and speeding up the deportation of foreign criminals are good ideas. Addressing the length of time it takes to deal with immigration applications, thereby reducing the number of years in which people have to live in limbo, literally not knowing whether they are coming or going, is a reasonable aspiration. However, I am not convinced that the right checks and balances exist in the new decision making and appeal process outlined in the Bill. It is a complex area. The hon. Member for Brent Central (Sarah Teather) is right to draw attention to the fact that briefings on this part of the Bill were issued late in the day. The Government cannot be confident that the review that they wish to implement on immigration decisions will be any better or of higher quality than the initial decision-making process in the Home Office. There should be an independent review mechanism for appeals on immigration decisions.
Where the Bill is undoubtedly ugly is in its unworkable and unrealistic proposals to outsource the job of immigration officials to letting agency staff and private landlords up and down the country. Such a change in the law may or may not contribute to creating the Home Secretary’s “hostile environment”, but it undoubtedly risks inflaming racial tensions and smacks of the era in which landlords in the UK put signs above their doors proclaiming “No blacks, no Irish”. I for one do not want to return to those days. I want an immigration system that is firm and fair, and which is in the best interests of everyone in our country. I want a system in which the rules are enforced properly and in a timely fashion. No matter what Ministers say, the immigration arm of the Home Office—the former UK Border Agency—is a total mess. No amount of nasty rhetoric turned into sentences on the statute book will make up for the basic failures in administration, efficiency and competence that have characterised the Home Office for far too long.
I said that I wanted to focus on the Government’s proposals for private landlords. Part 3 introduces a new duty on landlords to check the immigration status of prospective tenants before properties are let, with hefty fines if flats and houses are rented to people without leave to remain. There are already tight rules about who can access homes rented from councils and housing associations. On a superficial level, I suspect that many people would say, “What’s the problem with asking private landlords to do that? It sounds like a good idea.” However, there is a serious problem with the proposals because of the way in which that would work in practice.
I have been a Member of Parliament for three years, and in that time I have dealt with my fair share of immigration cases. When people come to my surgery with reams of paper from the Home Office I sometimes find it difficult to ascertain exactly what their status is. It can be complex and confusing: people do not always fall into neat, defined categories. Sometimes three people in a family have indefinite leave to remain, but one, inexplicably, is still waiting to hear from the Home Office. Sometimes a Home Office decision to refuse an application is overturned by the tribunal, but then there are inordinate delays in sending individuals new documentation to confirm their status. Perhaps all small private landlords and letting agents have an insight or training in the immigration system, or a special link to the Home Office, which I do not have, but I think that is unlikely.
What is going to happen? Let us imagine a busy letting agency in south-east London, where demand for rented property routinely exceeds supply. Two people turn up to rent a flat that has just been put on the market. One is a woman of Nigerian heritage—someone who came to this country as a child, went to school here and now works as a nurse. She has indefinite leave to remain and she has become a British citizen. The other person is also a British citizen—a white woman, a nurse too, but with an English-sounding surname. The admin person in the letting agency is presented with Home Office papers by one, but not the other. They know that if they let to an “illegal immigrant” they might be fined £3,000. They are confused by the papers. They have a stream of people waiting to be seen, and they have other things to do. Which of the two people do they go for? I do not think that I need spell out to hon. Members what might happen in that set of circumstances.
I entirely agree, and I believe that what is proposed will lead to racial profiling in the letting of properties that could end up on a scale reminiscent of the 1950s.
We are told by Ministers that they will set up a hotline to provide a 48-hour checking service for landlords. It will have to be a Home Office hotline like no other. Confusion, procrastination and obfuscation characterise Home Office hotlines at the moment. Why will this one be any different? How will landlords and letting agents know who is living in a house apart from the individual who signed the tenancy agreement? What happens when someone’s leave to remain expires during their tenancy but they submit an application for renewal that is caught up in intractable delays and administrative chaos? How will the Home Office even know if properties are let privately if the Government refuse to set up a register of private landlords?
Recent migrants often rent a room from a friend of a friend. Sometimes whole families live in one room in a house. There is no tenancy agreement, and they do not go to a letting agent. Anyone would think that these people are going to letting agents on the King’s road to secure their properties, but that is not true: these transactions take place in the shadows of our economy. This policy is unworkable and unrealistic, and it is deeply unpleasant. Last week in London, the headlines were of racial discrimination in the letting of property—people being told that flats and houses were no longer available because of the colour of their skin. Those headlines made me feel ashamed to be a Londoner. Does the Minister really think the proposals will make the situation better? Of course not. They will make it worse—much, much worse.
I have lived in London and in Lewisham for more than 10 years. I love it. It is a bit lively at times, but I am pleased that I live there. I love being able to go to Lewisham market on a Saturday morning and thumb through African fabrics for sale, buy jerk chicken from a van in Catford or go to the beautiful presentations and performances of the local Tamil supplementary school. I am pleased that I do not live in a monocultural place where everyone looks the same, sounds the same and has the same views and life experiences. People generally get on with one another in Lewisham but tensions do exist, often simmering beneath the surface. Some young black men feel that the police do not treat them fairly. Some people tell me of problems in getting work because they have a foreign-sounding surname.
When in May this year the BNP wanted to march from Woolwich to the Islamic centre in Lewisham, it made me feel sick and worried—worried about my home, my neighbours and my community. The Minister may not have to worry about such things in the Forest of Dean, but let me tell him and the Home Secretary that they are playing a dangerous political game which I am not prepared to participate in. I believe our immigration system must be firm in order to be fair. I believe its enforcement needs to be timely, professional and effective. I do not think outsourcing immigration control to private letting agents and landlords is the answer, and I have grave concerns about the impact of this policy on community cohesion in areas such as the one that I represent.
So I go back to what I said at the beginning. I have not talked about the things that I think are positive in the Bill. There are some things which I believe should happen and which I can support, but because of what I have explained in the past 10 minutes, I cannot support the Bill tonight, but neither will I oppose it.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Lewisham East (Heidi Alexander) on raising some very important points about which she spoke with great knowledge, and I respect her decision on this important but difficult matter. If I may, I will not follow her down that avenue, as I want to make a more general speech about the importance of the Bill.
Several comments have been made in the House today about why there seems to be an immigration Bill every two years. It is a fair point, but it is perhaps worth saying that it has been some time since Governments have felt able to deal with this matter in a serious way. It is inevitably a long march in a civilised country when we have to take steps to remedy something that has gone very badly wrong for our country. I welcome the Bill as a further step forward along that path in this Government’s determined effort to get immigration down to a sensible level that is acceptable to the public and above all serves the interests of our country.
I warmly congratulate my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and my hon. Friend the Minister for Immigration on their relentless focus on what needs to be done to restore long-overdue order in our immigration system. Let us not forget why we are here today. Regrettably, the dysfunctional Labour Government lost control of our borders. Net foreign immigration on their watch was nearly 4 million, while roughly 1 million British citizens left in that period. This is an extraordinary scale of immigration, absolutely without parallel in our history. We now face the massive task of integrating these huge numbers into our society.
The Balanced Migration group, which I co-chair with the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field), is especially concerned about the impact on our population of continued immigration on anything like this scale. On current projections, based on net migration of 200,000 a year, immigration will account for two thirds of our population growth—not, incidentally, one half, as the BBC repeatedly and erroneously tells us. Such immigration would add a further 5 million people to our population in the next 15 years. This is completely unacceptable to the British public. According to a recent opinion poll, two thirds of the public want to see drastic action to reduce immigration and three quarters of the population want to see it reduced.
The Government have already had considerable success, for which they have not been given due credit. Non-EU migration—that part of the equation which is subject to Government action—has been substantially reduced from 217,000 in 2010 to 157,000 in 2012. This has been achieved without constraining access for business to the skilled migrants that it needs if it and we are to prosper. There are no limits on the transfer of international staff. The only cap is on work permits, and only half the 20,700 available work permits have been taken up. There is much to be done to improve delivery, but the policy is clearly right. Nor has there been any significant effect on our universities, which have seen student visa applications increase by 10% between 2010 and 2012. As I said in an intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for Poole (Mr Syms), the fall in student numbers has been at the colleges where much of the abuse of the system had been taking place.
It is sometimes claimed that the Government are sending out mixed messages; in one week they are encouraging business and tourism, in another they are clamping down on immigration. In fact, there is no contradiction between encouraging legal migration and discouraging abuse of the system, as is the purpose of this excellent Bill. It is right that we should seek to encourage tourists, business visitors and genuine students, while reducing the scale of permanent migration. That is how we in this country should reap the benefits of a globalised world, while ensuring that we are not, as a nation, overwhelmed by it. It is that fear which drives so many people’s anxiety about immigration.
The Bill tackles a long-standing weakness in our immigration system—namely, the relative ease with which those who originally come quite legitimately can stay on illegally once their visa has expired. These overstayers frequently work below the minimum wage. Those who do so undercut the wages of British workers. They also allow unscrupulous employers to undercut employers who offer decent wages and conditions. Overstayers also add to the pressure on our public services, so it is right that they should be firmly but fairly discouraged from staying on. An important consequence of such illegal immigration is the added pressure that it generates on our housing, which already faces a crisis. I therefore welcome the proposal in the Bill for landlords to carry out checks similar to those now required of employers, although I recognise that the nuts and bolts may need some examination. I note the points that the hon. Member for Lewisham East made in this regard.
The proposals to close off access to driving licences and to bank accounts to those who have no right to be here are entirely sensible and I hope they will be widely supported. I remain concerned, however, that we still await news of any effective measures to ensure that our national health service is no longer wide open to all comers, whether or not they have contributed to its enormous costs. The proposals in the Bill are, to put it mildly, extremely modest.
I recognise that we cannot and should not look to medical staff to carry out what are essentially immigration functions. That is why we have suggested that joint Home Office/Department of Health offices should be established entirely separately from GP practices in order to decide on eligibility. We keep being told that there is no evidence of significant abuse of the NHS. That is simply because there are no effective checks in place. If we were to turn off all the speed cameras, there would be no evidence of any significant speeding. So, with the exception of this important lacuna concerning the NHS, I warmly congratulate my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and my hon. Friend the Minister—
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. I would like to draw to his attention the detailed, independent and peer-reviewed research that our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health published this morning, which shows that the NHS fails to collect some £500 million a year. We are not proposing to withhold treatment from people, but trying simply to ensure that people who are not entitled to free health care make a fair contribution towards it.
I have seen that, and I welcome the appointment of a senior figure as chairman of the NHS body that will look further into this. I simply say that if my hon. Friend really thinks that the amount of money involved is only £500 million, he is well wide of the mark. Part of my group’s concern about that paper is that it simply does not go far enough. It makes too many heroic assumptions on the most enormous margins, and I and the right hon. Member for Birkenhead will be making available to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and my hon. Friend the Minister further important details from the NHS that we have been given and which show that these figures are well south of the figures that need to be dealt with.
As I say, having regard to that important lacuna in the Bill, I nevertheless wish to congratulate my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and my hon. Friend the Minister on their courageous and successful efforts to tackle one of the foremost concerns of the British public. I wish my right hon. Friend every continued success as a Conservative Government move towards a system that has the confidence of the public.
I am proud to speak in today’s debate. The speeches of my hon. Friends the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) and for Lewisham East (Heidi Alexander) were quite magnificent. They dealt with this issue from their own experience, as did my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, who always speaks so eloquently on these matters. I would even say—those who know me will know how much it costs me to do so—that the hon. Member for Brent Central (Sarah Teather) also made a very good speech.
The quality of the speeches comes from the nature of Members’ constituencies. It was instructive that the hon. Member for Henley (John Howell) should say that when the Bill was published he received correspondence from his constituents who, of course, are the landlords, while the constituents who wrote to my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham East and to me are the tenants. Each of us in this place is properly reflecting the views of our constituents, but, on behalf of those against whom the Bill will be so penal, I hope that hon. Members who do not share the same constituency issues and problems might take note of some of the speeches that have been given already.
I want to focus on the heart of the Bill, which is that the Home Office argues that the immigration appeals framework is flawed. To whom will it give the work? An internal Home Office review estimated that approximately 60% of the volume of allowed appeals are due to casework errors. The Home Office believes that the appeals framework is flawed, but part of the problem with that framework is the poor quality of its initial decisions, which then clog up the appeals process. How can the Home Office believe that an administrative review process will properly go to the heart of the problem? It will not.
As the Bill stands, refused applicants will be required to apply for administrative review within 10 days of receiving the decision. All of us who have extensive correspondence with the Home Office know that most of the decisions come back to lawyers. So lawyers will be required to make that administrative review application within 10 days, but the Home Office must know full well that that simply will not happen. It is not happening at the moment. Many of our constituents do not receive notification from their lawyers until several weeks after even a positive response has been received from the Home Office. The very idea that such a review could be made within 10 days is quite simply incredible. Those officials who have told, written to and persuaded Ministers that this can be done know only too well that that is false.
Under clause 11, where there is right of appeal to the first tier tribunal, refusal decisions made on erroneous grounds or without reference to highly relevant information simply cannot be challenged. The option to raise challenges to unlawful decision making before the High Court in judicial review proceedings will remain, but that means that the time of the High Court judges will be used in pointing out basic errors in Home Office decision making. The Home Office states that the immigration appeals framework is overtly complex, slow and expensive, but reducing the number of appeals will cause the number of applications for judicial review to soar. That will be more expensive, slower and less effective, but it will be the only lawful option left for many cases. The High Court is likely to become the first port of call for those opposing deportation decisions. Again, immigration officials in the Home Office know that. They know that they are taking a bottleneck from one part of the system and putting it in another part where it will be more costly to the public purse.
In the light of the proposed reforms to judicial review funding and challenges to legal aid, including the proposed adoption of a residence test, judicial review will not be practically accessible for a number of cases, leaving individuals without any form of redress and the Home Office with no imperative to improve its processes.
In one moment.
I listened carefully to the right hon. Member for Mid Sussex (Nicholas Soames), who made the interesting point that without the speed cameras we cannot see things going wrong. On the same principle, if we take off the monitoring, the Home Office will not improve its processes. The light that judges can currently shine on what is going on in the Home Office to show where it is incompetent, where it is taking arbitrary and flawed decisions, will no longer be there. According to the Home Office’s own statistics, 32% of deportation cases and 50% of entry clearance applications were successfully appealed last year. That means that the initial decision was wrong. We need the judges to be able to keep that focus on those wrong initial decisions. Yet the Government’s response to this high margin of error is not to seek to improve the quality of their decision making, but rather to reduce the opportunities for challenge. Instead of improving the bad administration and inefficiency at the heart of the Department, the Government are shifting the responsibility and attacking due process.
The administrative review process already exists for overseas applications, but my own experience of entry clearance manager reviews is that they are slow and of little better quality than entry clearance officers’ decision making. It is difficult to believe Ministers’ estimation that an administrative review would be processed within 10 working days of an application given the historic backlogs that already exist in the Home Office.
The Department has included in its impact assessment a summary of the ongoing costs and benefits of the changes to appeals. It has come up with a figure of £261 of benefits through a decrease in appeal costs. Interestingly, however, it has not included administrative review costs in the cost side of the analysis. It acknowledges that those costs will exist, but it has put in that column the word “unknown”. They are unknown, but the Home Office could have estimated them and did not, because that figure would have made the cost-benefit analysis come out in a way that the Minister did not wish. That is shameful.
In response to the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) made about the problem of landlords having to check people’s status, the Home Secretary said that we already had such a system for employers. We do, and I will read a letter of 14 December last year from an employer to an employee, whom I will call RS. It states:
“I am writing to advise you that we have received notification from the UK Border Agency regarding your entitlement to work in the UK and would like to invite you to an investigation meeting to discuss this and other aspects of your right to work in the UK…I must advise you that you are currently suspended (no payment) pending further investigation as we have liaised with you and unfortunately you have not provided us with the necessary documents to confirm your eligibility status within the UK.”
A week later, the employer wrote to RS again, stating:
“I am writing further to the investigatory meeting held on Tuesday 18th December 2012…We have received notification from the UKBA to advise us that they cannot confirm your status to work within the UK. We advised you of this notification and requested that you provided us with further documentation…I am therefore writing to you to confirm that you are required to attend a formal disciplinary hearing”.
That was on 21 December. I had become involved in the intervening period and written to the UKBA about the case. It confirmed to me on 19 December that the case had been logged on its computer system, and that from that date the employer should have got a positive response when phoning the employer checking service. I understand that a manager checked on 7 January, but again, the system showed a negative response.
On 9 July, seven months later, I got a letter from the Home Office, which read:
“Thank you for your letter of 18 June with enclosure on behalf of”
RS. It stated that it had received her application on 27 July 2012—a year previously—
“and it is now still awaiting consideration…I am sorry to hear that”
“is experiencing problems with her employers. She may be interested to know that employers can check the eligibility of prospective employees to work in the UK by using the online Employer Checking Service”—
which was precisely what her employer had done the previous December, when she had not been logged on it, and every week and month since. The Home Office has done nothing, and a woman has lost her job and livelihood. The Home Secretary holds that up as an example to show that the system is already working. I think not.
Let us not be down on the landlords, though. I have a letter to the Home Office from a landlord, Mrs Patel, which states:
“I can confirm that”
“is my tenant. He lives at the property with his wife and three children. I understand that he is in great financial difficulties”—
that is because his case has been in limbo with the Home Office for 15 years—
“and I have accommodated this only because he has three very young children. However, I am unable to continue with this arrangement as I have a mortgage and other bills to pay. I would appreciate if his claim could be dealt with urgently so he is able to get help, as I am no longer able to let him stay at the property without paying his rent. I don’t wish to see him homeless, as he has three young children.”
That is a landlord who is acting like a human being. The Bill asks that she instead act like an immigration officer. Tenants often have limited leave to remain in this country and apply for additional leave to remain. During the pending period, what can a prospective landlord do? If they do not know their prospective tenant’s immigration status, they will not take them on.
I have to respect your wish for others to be allowed to speak, Mr Deputy Speaker, although there are of course many cases that I would like to cite. I must finish, however, by talking about the racist van that affected my community so dreadfully this summer. The Government claim that the objective was for people to realise that they could get assistance in going home. However, every person whom the Government could deport has received a letter telling them that. Mr KN has been signing on every single month for 12 years, and on every one of those occasions an immigration officer could have detained him and taken him for deportation. They have not done so. They know where every one of the people targeted by the van lives, but they have not bothered to go and ensure that they are detained and deported, because they do not want the costs. The idea that the racist van was sent out to remind people that they could go home, when thousands of people are not being deported with the full knowledge of the Home Office, shows that that Department is the most dysfunctional in government.
That is up to me, but I thought that hon. Members would have enough respect for each other to ensure that everybody gets in. I thought that they would help each other by taking a little less time in order to allow others to take part, which is why I did not want to be dictatorial about it.
It is 16 years since the hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner) and I stood in the same hall in Wembley, he winning his seat and I losing by 19,000 votes, and his speech felt like every one of those 16 years as it passed by.
I welcome the Bill and want to talk about the general issues it deals with. I think that it is courageous and principled, because what we are talking about is one of the most important functions of any Government: to protect the country’s borders and, most importantly, to allow the public, of all creeds, colours and religions, wherever they come from, to have faith, trust and confidence in those borders. This is a dividing line between the Government and the Labour party. I think that it is the height of cowardice that Labour Back Benchers have adopted this mealy-mouthed, curate’s-egg approach yet, for purely political reasons, will not have the courage of their convictions to oppose the Bill in the same way they “rubbed the right’s nose in it” during their time in government. If they really believe that this is a bad Bill, why will they not vote against it tonight? They will not do so because they know that that would be unpopular with voters.
Opposition Members say that the Government should be ashamed of the ad vans, but where was the mandate to inflict unmediated, unmitigated, uncontrolled and unplanned immigration on this country? There were between 2 million and 3 million European Union migrants to this country, when the LSE assessment was 13,000 to 15,000, and unprecedented levels of non-EU migration. There was no mandate, and the Labour party should hang its head in shame for never going to the British people with an honest prospectus for that policy.
I will take no lectures from a representative of the Scottish National party about the poison of chauvinism and nationalism. If it is all right to aim that at English people in order to propagate the ridiculous policy of breaking up the United Kingdom, it would be best for the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) not to say anything about it—
Order. I think that I need to help a little bit. In fairness, we are on immigration, but independence for Scotland has not happened, so the immigration part will not apply at the moment. It will obviously help us all if we can carry on with the debate.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker.
With regard to the rationale for immigration, the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee found in 2008, as indeed did the National Institute for Economic and Social Research, that large-scale immigration had a minimal impact on the economy holistically. I pay tribute to the Government for having the guts to listen to people and take appropriate action in a responsible, reasonable and measured way. They have taken action before on things that have caused real problems for all communities. The hon. Member for Brent North is not the only one who represents a diverse, multicultural society; I have 10,000 eastern European migrants in my constituency and 10,000 voters of Pakistani heritage. The question is what is good for the whole community. We all know that when we go to those wonderfully moving citizenship ceremonies at the town hall there is a feeling of cohesiveness about being a British citizen. Those people who have followed the correct route and done the right thing are just as angry and concerned about the impact of illegal immigration as anyone else, irrespective of their race or ethnicity.
The hon. Gentleman started his speech by saying that the number of new arrivals in this country had been vastly underestimated. Presumably he was talking about migrants from eastern Europe. How many of them would have been captured by the Bill?
I will move on to EU migration later, but the hon. Gentleman makes a fair point, and we have discussed the issue before.
The Government have taken action on sham marriages, bogus colleges, seasonal agricultural workers—a controversial decision a few weeks ago, but I think that the Minister made the right call—and access to the NHS. I think that that is absolutely right. We can be proud of having reduced net migration towards the tens of thousands, as we heard in the earlier exchanges between the Home Secretary and the shadow Home Secretary. Given that, it is not unreasonable for us to wish to have in this country good quality new people from around the world who want to be British citizens, people who speak English and make an economic contribution to our society. We want a colour-blind scheme whereby we attract highly skilled people who can make a serious impact on society, not least in terms of improving themselves and their family.
I welcome all the powers in the Bill, particularly the review of article 8 of the European convention on human rights. I put my cards on the table. I make a straightforward declaration to the House that I would vote to leave the European Union. I am a member of Better Off Out. I would have us out of, or at least suspend us from, the European convention on human rights, like Sweden, because of the perverse decisions the European Court has made. I do not believe that a foreign legal entity should be second-guessing our sovereign Parliament and our courts, and I will take that message to my constituents in due course.
I have two slight general criticisms of the Bill. It might seem strange, but I agree with the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart): I do not believe that the robustness and veracity of the data collected under both Governments —this one and the previous one—are sufficient for us always to make rational decisions on immigration. The Treasury and the Department for Work and Pensions, in particular, need to be making a better fist of collecting data. Too much of this debate is based on anecdote and on historical figures that do not make much sense when looked at in terms of real life and the particular pressures caused by mass migration. There needs to be a proper cost-benefit analysis of the displacement of mass migration, historically and in future, particularly as we look towards the situation with Romania and Bulgaria.
It is hard to countenance the fact that this is the Labour party of Keir Hardie, Clement Attlee and the Labour Representation Committee, given that it imported 2 million to 3 million low-paid, low-skilled eastern European migrants, some living in slum housing, at the same time as consigning 5 million people to out-of-work benefits, seemingly for the benefit of capitalists and big business. Had the Conservative party presided over such a record, the Labour party would rightly be deeply critical. We need a cost-benefit analysis of the young people in pockets of this country who remain on welfare and who are unskilled, untrained and on low wages because of Labour’s deliberate policy of mass migration while in power.
The Bill misses an opportunity to cover EU migration. I have previously rehearsed for the House the issues in my own constituency, with 34,000 national insurance numbers created for eastern European migrants in just seven years, a tripling in the number of GP registrations, and 19 schools with more than 40% of children speaking English as an additional language. Those are real pinch points in different geographical areas across the country. They may not exist everywhere across England and Wales or the United Kingdom, but they are certainly major issues in my constituency. The situation in Peterborough is acute. Having said that, we were the city that welcomed the Ugandan Asians when they were expelled by Idi Amin in the 1970s; we have a very proud record in that respect.
The Government need to look again at the non-contribution-based benefits regime. That is a vital issue. If we are to keep within the confines of the free movement directive of 2004, we must consider aligning our benefits regime with the regimes of other countries that do not the have large-scale benefits tourism that we have potentially had. The European Union Free Movement Directive 2004 (Disapplication) Bill, a ten-minute rule Bill that I introduced in October 2012, contained some very important measures about registration of EU migrants, access to benefits, deportation, criminal activity, housing waiting lists, GP registrations and so on. Unfortunately, only some of those have been taken up by Ministers.
This Government have taken the right decision, not particularly because they want to be electorally popular but because they have listened to people. They have understood the great sense of resentment and anger out there among very many people—people who are not part of a social liberal elite, who do not read the right newspapers and did not go the right schools but feel an inherent sense of helplessness and resentment. My warning is this: if we do not give vent to the legitimate concerns of the vast majority of decent people who pay their taxes and are kind and neighbourly, then we give an opening to fascists, racists and extremists like the English Defence League and the British National party. In the mother of Parliaments, we can debate these issues because we are not afraid to do so. It might be uncomfortable for the Opposition or for some Government Members, but it is right to have that debate. I commend the Bill and will enthusiastically give it my support.
I wish I could say it is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr Jackson), but I cannot. The only thing I will say is that when it comes to a world view and political values, he and I are probably on the opposite sides of the spectrum. His intemperate remarks about Scottish independence do him no credit whatsoever. He wants to pull up the drawbridge and leave the European Union and other institutions, whereas we want to join the world and we welcome the fact that the world will welcome Scotland as an independent nation.
The Government’s stated aim with this Bill is to make the UK a more “hostile environment” for illegal immigrants. I give the Minister 10 out of 10 and say to him, “Well done and pat yourself on the back,” because the Government have most certainly achieved that with this Bill. They have just made the UK an even more intolerant place for the rest of us to live in.
This Government have also achieved something I never thought I would see in the 12 years I have been a Member of Parliament: an Immigration Bill that is even nastier and more pernicious than all those that have gone before. All these right-wing immigration Bills have to achieve is two simple things: kick as many people as possible out of the country and prevent as many people as possible from getting in in the first place. That is what every single immigration Bill we have had from right-wing Governments, whether they be Blairite or Conservative, has done: kick out as many people as possible and prevent as many people as possible from coming in.
Sometimes Governments have to be inventive. This Bill relies on some of the traditional routes, such as making appeals harder, enforcement more difficult and life more miserable for people living in this country who should not be here. However, it is also inventive, because it covers social services and health and tells landlords to become immigration officers. This Bill will turn race relations into a nightmare, bringing suspicion based on ethnicity into our social services and the housing market.
Like most right-wing parties, the Tories’ pre-conceived idea about immigration is that it is a bad thing that has to be dealt with and managed. To them it is a burden. Right-wing Conservatives such as those in this Government want to get the numbers down. That has been the case throughout history. Conservatives would probably have tried to stop the Normans and the Vikings coming here on their boats in the 9th and 10th centuries. Theirs is a world view of barriers and of preventing people from coming here.
We live in a globalised, interconnected world in which the transfer and movement of people have never been greater. We are standing in London, for goodness’ sake! This is one of the greatest cities, if not the greatest city, in the world. One third of the people who live and work in London come from outwith the United Kingdom. It is they who built this magnificent city.
We should listen to what the Mayor of London has to say about these issues. He wrote a fantastic article in The Daily Telegraph the other day—I wish the Conservatives would read it—under the headline, “It’s mad to blame our housing crisis on ‘blooming foreigners’”. I would not put it that way, but the Mayor of London is spot on. He recognises the value of and contribution made by high-end and low-end migrants to London. I recommend that my many Conservative friends in the House take a look at what the London Mayor has to say about this issue, because they will get some sense from him, unlike the hon. Member for Peterborough.
Yes, this country has changed. My country, Scotland, is changing, too. We do not vote Conservative. We approach these issues differently. Debates such as this show that we are pulling apart politically. We would not have such a debate in Scotland; we would not discuss such themes. We are drifting apart as a political culture.
This place is living in the early days of UKIP UK. That is where we are in this country. It started a little while ago, but it really came through with UKIP’s success in the local elections. That changed everything. We now live in UKIP UK. The party does not have one member in this House, but it is pulling all the Conservative party’s strings and dominating political debate. Everything is predicated on UKIP and Nigel Farage.
UKIP’s victory was closely followed by the hate vans and the ridiculous texts trying to get people to go home. I secured a debate on the hate vans last week. Perhaps I should get a bit of credit for getting rid of the appalling things. It took ages for the Minister to respond to me about them, but a week after the debate, we have got rid of the hate vans. That is a result.
Even this Conservative Government realise how ridiculous it was to drag a billboard around the streets of London, ranting at people to go home, with a telephone number and a text number. That is what they were reduced to. It could not get more ridiculous. What would have been next? The Minister was one of the few people in the Home Office who was prepared to defend the hate vans. He was in the studios all last week saying that, with a bit of refinement around the edges, they might be okay. He was prepared to put son-of-hate-vans on the streets. Thank goodness that has been ruled out by the Home Secretary. Let us be sure that it does not happen.
Are the Opposition opposing the Bill? I do not know. They do not like aspects of it, but they are compromised. If they are to win the next election, they have to win votes in the south. That brings us back to UKIP UK. They are aware that immigration is a hot issue in seats that they have to win, so they are having to be very careful about what they say. The Conservatives are right to point the finger at them because they are not doing a thing, but they should not let the Conservatives bully them. The Conservatives are saying that the seven to nine years of high immigration when Labour was in government were a waste. One of the best things that Labour did was to get people into this country. It built cities such as London and rejuvenated cities such as Manchester and Leeds. Labour Members should not let the Conservatives bully them into thinking that they did the wrong thing on immigration.
I would appreciate some clarity on the SNP’s position. I presume that the UK Government will need help from the Scottish Government on the landlord checks and on the NHS proposals, as those areas are largely devolved. What is the SNP line on that?
I am very grateful to the hon. Lady for reminding me to talk about Scotland. There are proposals that relate to devolved services that we are in control of. We do not like them—we do not like them at all. We are in charge of the health service in Scotland. We would need to be convinced that these measures were in the best interests of Scotland before we would go through with them. Scotland is a different country. The hon. Lady knows that, and I think she would agree that we would not do these things.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his debate last week. I agree with him on that issue. I also share his concerns about landlords. Is he as pleased as I am that there will be only one pilot in one location and that the policy will not be rolled out without a vote? Does he take some comfort from that, even though he might not be totally reassured?
I take a little comfort from that, but not a great deal. I do not know what the hon. Gentleman is thinking, but I am sure that he will not vote for this nonsense tonight. I know what he has said. I can see all the Liberals sitting there thinking, “Uh-uh! This is not a liberal Bill.” It is one of the most illiberal Bills that we have seen from this Government. It will be an absolute disgrace if even one Liberal goes through the Aye Lobby tonight. When I sat on the Opposition Benches with them, I heard them rant against new Labour immigration Bills. This Bill is 10 times worse than anything new Labour concocted.
Scotland has had the “go home” project. The UK Border Agency office in Glasgow was telling people to go home before they had even sat down. Now that we have got rid of the appalling hate vans, I want the Minister to guarantee that we will not have “go home” messages at UKBA offices. We do not want that in Scotland. We do not have UKIP in Scotland. Nigel Farage had to get a police escort out of Edinburgh. We hate UKIP to the bottom of our ballot boxes. It has not secured one deposit in Scotland. We do not want to take part in the appalling race to the bottom that the Conservatives are engaged in with UKIP—a race to the bottom that they can never win. They will never out-UKIP UKIP. It is the master of right-wing gimmickry. If the Conservatives enter a race with UKIP, they will only get beaten. I think that the Minister knows that.
This matter is important for Scotland. The hon. Member for Airdrie and Shotts (Pamela Nash) is right about that. We have our own demographic issues and population requirements. I will tell Members the difference between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. When the Scottish Government received the latest population figures, they put out a press release welcoming the rise in the Scottish population. Could you ever, Madam Deputy Speaker, imagine a UK Government welcoming a rise in population? That is what distinguishes us as a Government from them—we welcome the contribution of immigration. We have our own population requirements, but we are stuck and burdened with a set of immigration policies that are almost the exact opposite of what we require. That is why we must wrest control of our own immigration requirements.
Our population has gone up and that is good, but there are concerns that it might still fall. Even 10 years ago, we were worried that our population might fall below the 5 million mark. Thankfully, that did not happen. The health provisions will cut across our responsibility for devolved services, and we will have to look at them carefully before we do anything.
There is one thing I want to say about immigration, because we do not like any of this stuff—it is just rubbish. The UK Government’s immigration policy is having an impact on Scotland’s great universities. We have three universities in the top 200 universities in the world. We have fantastic world-class universities and this Government are hurting them. Just stop it. We want to ensure that we get the best possible students to our universities. All this rubbish that the Government are proposing puts more and more people off. We have to compete with other English-speaking nations around the world to ensure that our universities stay world class. We just wish the UK Government would get out.
This issue is simple. Let us admit that Government Members seem to be going in one direction—the emerging UKIP UK has its own set of values, culture and political direction—and in Scotland we are going another way. We do not like this stuff. We do not vote Conservative and we hate UKIP, so we are not going to go in that direction. Here is a novel solution: why do they not do their own thing and we do our own thing? It is called independence and it works for most countries. Next year, thank goodness, we will achieve it.
It is important that we adopt a moderate tone, as immigration is an issue that can all too easily inflame passions. I agree strongly with the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Mr Jackson). If we do not debate the difficult issues on immigration in this House, we cede the territory to nasty extremist groups and we must never do that. We must be prepared, albeit with our different points of view, to debate and discuss these issues in this House in a measured and reasonable manner, and that is what I hope to do.
If we look back over the 20th century, we see that for much of that time the numbers migrating into and emigrating from the United Kingdom were roughly in balance. From the 1960s to the early 1990s, the number of emigrants was actually often greater than the number of immigrants—a net population decline. What has happened in the past two decades? Immigration has exceeded emigration by more than 100,000 every year since 1998—a significant historical departure from the 20th century and many periods before then. It is important for us to recognise that.
Turning to the Bill, I am in complete agreement with the need to speed up the removal of illegal immigrants who have absolutely no further basis to stay in the United Kingdom. That is important, both for the credibility of the immigration system and for the people themselves. It is no life at all to live in a type of limbo not knowing one’s status, or, if one does know one’s status, carrying on being in the United Kingdom when one cannot really make a life or plan for the future. If someone has no basis to stay in this country, it is right for them to return voluntarily to their home country or, if necessary, be forcibly deported by the Government. I know that the Government will take greater steps in this area: frankly, the delays are often too long. As the Home Secretary said in her opening speech, we need swift enforcement. That is very important.
I agree with the point made in an intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St Edmunds (Mr Ruffley), who mentioned the original predictions about immigration from the A8 European Union countries—13,000 was the original figure, I think, but the reality was many hundreds of thousands, and people lost confidence in the Government’s ability to predict immigration numbers. I welcome what the Home Secretary said about dealing with the pull factors regarding Romanian and Bulgarian immigration, which will become an issue from the start of next year.
One measure in the Bill will deal with people accessing the national health service when they have no right to do so. Many of my constituents come to me and say, “We have a national health service, not a world health service.” Last January, the Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Local Medical Committee—the group that represents GPs in my area—wrote to the Immigration Minister. I will quote briefly from that letter to show the type of issues they were begging the Minister to deal with, and to which he has now provided an answer.
“One very typical recent case is where a local Pakistani-born resident, registered with a Luton GP, had his parents, visiting on a six months visitor’s visa, staying with him. Both parents have a number of on-going chronic illnesses that include diabetes and coronary heart disease; they had arrived in the country with far too few tablets to cover the duration of their stay. Because they have moved in with their son, who was well known to the GP concerned, the GP not only felt that she had an ethical duty to provide further care and medication for the parents, but she knew that the doctor/patient relationship with the son would be destroyed if she refused. Another local GP has thousands of patients on his list who entertain friends and relatives from Pakistan, India and other…countries and who come to England for the sole purpose of accessing free health care.”
That comes not from me but from the leader of local GPs in my area, who are asking the Government to take action on this issue. I am glad that the Minister and the Government have responded to that concern; they were right to do so.
Under the previous Government, one of my constituents who was unemployed and looking for work sent me a very angry e-mail. She was angry because during her job search she had come across an advertisement for a picker-packer job on the minimum wage. There was a condition, however, because she—or any applicant—had to speak Polish. At the time I raised the issue in the House with the then Solicitor-General, the former Member for Redcar, and various actions were taken. People agreed that such advertisements were not right, and I would have liked clear action to have been taken to state that such actions were illegal. I think such a condition was absolutely wrong for a minimum wage job—a picker-packer—when there was no requirement to deal with Poland. How can our constituents find work fairly if they have to compete with such issues?
Two years ago, the UK Border Agency mounted a raid on a major factory in my constituency. It found a number of illegal immigrants and that employer was dealt with. Again, our constituents have to deal with such issues daily. They are competing for jobs in the labour market against people who either have no right to be here, or, in some cases, their employers make an utterly unreasonable—and frankly disgraceful—requirement that they should speak a foreign language to do a minimum wage job.
This is about being fair to British jobseekers of all races. That is important as we are all concerned to ensure that our constituents have a fair chance of getting into the labour market.
I support the measures in the Bill on proper checks to ensure that illegal immigrants—people who have no basis of stay in this country—cannot carry on living here. That includes checks involving landlords, banks, the NHS, which I have mentioned, and the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency. Most of my constituents would say that the measures are right and express incredulity that they have not been taken before, as my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Henry Smith) said in an intervention on the Home Secretary.
I give the Bill a strong welcome. Many of my constituents raise immigration issues regularly. They want them debated in the House of Commons. They want their views and concerns to be expressed. I believe that the Bill goes some way to restoring faith and credibility in our immigration system, which is very welcome.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on Second Reading. The debate has been, and will continue to be, wide ranging, but I shall restrict my comments to three specific matters, the first of which is the potential unintended consequences of the immigration health charge.
Clauses 33 and 34 introduce the immigration health charge, but offer no clarity on the administration or policing of it. That leaves the presumption and fear that checks will be in place before people access primary care, even if there are no measures to that effect in the Bill. I am concerned that that will create serious risks to public health, including an increase in HIV infection. That is not only my view, but the view of many charities and organisations working in the field that have contacted me, as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on HIV and AIDS. They have serious concerns.
Currently, 100,000 people living in this country have HIV, a quarter of whom are undiagnosed. Half of new infections are passed by people who are undiagnosed. Evidence shows that the migrant communities are less likely to go to sexual health or specialist clinics to be tested because of the increased stigma for them and their communities. They are much more likely to go to a general practitioner because it is not as obvious that they are attending to be tested—the stigma is not related to GPs.
My fear is that any sort of barrier erected between migrant communities and GPs and primary care access will be another contribution to the shameful increase in HIV infection in this country in recent years. GPs carrying out any sort of immigration check sends out the wrong message entirely. I urge the Government to listen to the experts. I have a lot of information and letters on the subject to show that the measures could have a grave effect on tackling infection numbers and late diagnoses in migrant communities in the UK.
To reassure the hon. Lady before she continues, nothing in the Bill refers to GPs. Even the proposals my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health has set out today make it clear that provision for public health conditions such as HIV will remain free for everybody, because that is the right thing for public health purposes, as she has set out.
I appreciate the Minister’s intervention, but the fact is that there is no clarity in the Bill—it leaves that fear for communities seeking primary care. If they believe they will be kicked out of the country for going to the doctor, they might not go and therefore might not be tested.
Public health experts agree that increasing the offer of HIV testing to a wide range of facilities is key to tackling the UK epidemic in all communities. In addition, the purpose of primary care is to assess the broadest range of health needs and identify how best to meet them. Anything that delays or prevents anyone with an infectious disease from seeking medical advice denies them the opportunity to be diagnosed and increases the chance of them passing on the infection to someone else. Someone on HIV treatment is 96% less likely to transmit it to others. Therefore, the Bill clearly risks unlimited and unintended consequences to UK public health.
The Bill may increase the risk that we will fail to tackle HIV in our communities, and it may also be costly. According to the Department of Health’s review of overseas visitors charging policy, referred to in the explanatory notes, a comparison of the administration costs of the current system with the amount actually recovered showed that it barely broke even. The Home Secretary failed to address that point, and I hope that the Minister will do so in his closing remarks. The new system may not be cheaper and we may fail to reclaim any money.
According to the review, in order to recoup the money and achieve the Government’s aims, the NHS structure would need to be radically changed. It said:
“Only a fundamentally different system and supporting processes would enable significant new revenue to be realised.”
I would be grateful if the Minister provided more clarity about the administration of the proposals and the collection of the money from those who have entered the country.
I am also concerned about the effect that the proposals will have on reciprocal arrangements with other countries, which has not really been mentioned today. The Bill refers to our EEA partners, but we have arrangements with 27 countries that are not in the EEA, including Australia and New Zealand. Many of our students go backpacking in those countries or to work on short-term visas, and they access health care free of charge, like the people who come here from those countries. Can the Minister clarify how the Bill will affect reciprocal arrangements? Has he had discussions with representatives of those countries? Will we have new reciprocal agreements, or will they not be affected?
The final area of concern is the devolved aspects of the Bill, which I mentioned in an intervention earlier. I am surprised by how vague this issue is in the Bill. There is no detail on how charges for devolved public services will be made, or on how landlord checks will work in the devolved nations.
I do not wish to interrupt the hon. Lady again, but the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) has—inadvertently, I am sure—misled the House. What he says is simply not true. I wrote to several Ministers in the Scottish Government, and my officials liaised with their officials over the summer, before the publication of the Bill.
I thank the Minister for that intervention. The hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) was extremely animated and angry earlier—understandably so—about some of the aspects of the Bill, but when I asked about the SNP’s position, he simply replied that he remained to be convinced, instead of saying that it opposed it. I ask the Minister to provide some clarity about the discussions and agreements reached with the Scottish Government and the devolved Administrations in Wales and Northern Ireland. What impact assessment has been conducted on the cross-border issues that the Bill could bring about?
Obviously there are countries outside the EEA with which we do not have reciprocal arrangements. On a point of principle, is the hon. Lady of the view that if someone visits from those countries we should provide them with free health care—or perhaps only in Scotland?
Order. Mr Hemming, sit down. This is not a personal discussion between you and Pamela Nash of the points you might want to make later. May we have a bit of order? Pamela Nash, you have the Floor. If you give way to John Hemming, could you indicate accordingly, so that I can call him?
Apologies, Madam Deputy Speaker. I will not let anyone intervene again.
I strongly believe in an NHS free at the point of need. Arrangements are in place for people to pay, when that is required, but we have had no clarity about how the provisions will be policed or expanded. I agree that we need an immigration policy that protects our constituents from increasing global financial pressures, but we do not want them coming up against unintended consequences as a result of measures in the Bill, on which there has been a lack of consultation. I worry about the risk to public and private health. Moreover, this debate has thrown up areas of contention in the referendum debate and problems with having different arrangements in Scotland and England. If the Bill removes long-held reciprocal agreements with countries that we are friends with and to which our constituents wish to travel, I would be very concerned. Finally, I am concerned that the Bill will cost constituents more than it benefits them.
It is a pleasure to speak in the debate and to welcome the Bill.
Immigration remains among the issues that most concern my constituents; that was the case in the run-up to the last general election, and it is still the issue most raised on the doorstep. Not totally surprisingly, perhaps, my constituency does not experience huge immigration—according to the last statistics I saw, I had two of the five most ethnically English towns in the country—but there remains a fear of immigration. What people see, perhaps in neighbouring towns, causes them concern, perhaps over and above the real extent of the problem. Nevertheless, they are concerned—and they express their concerns regularly—that too many people are coming here illegally and not being sent back home. They are especially worried that serious criminals who complete their prison sentences are not being deported, and they are worried that our public services and housing cannot cope with the population increase.
It is right that the Government address those issues and try to restore confidence in the system; we all want an immigration system that people can have faith in. We want to get this right so that “asylum” can cease to be a dirty word and we can be proud to take people who are in desperate need. I am not sure that most of my constituents think that way now. Rather, they are concerned that the system is being abused and that everyone who arrives here has no reason to be here.
While welcoming most of the Bill, I want to focus on some of its key areas. From my relatively limited immigration casework, I know that this can be a byzantine system that sometimes produces bizarre results. Reading some of the verdicts, I find it hard to work out what the facts of the case are or how the verdict bears much relation to those facts.
That should be a priority for every Department. I serve on the Work and Pensions Committee. Sadly, the DWP’s administration processes too often come up with the wrong decisions, but the problem is often fixed by a mandatory reconsideration process within the Department.
It would be interesting to hear from the Minister how the review process would work. I think it is the right idea, however, because we do not want to be troubling the courts and tribunals with mistakes in the system. If they can be corrected within the Department, that must be a more cost-effective, fairer and quicker system for all involved. We need to know that the person doing the reconsideration is independent, and not just defaulting to the previous decision—because he knows the guy who took it and so it must have been right. We all want a system that gives clear, quick, fair and accurate decisions first time around, avoiding a labyrinthine process that subjects people to an awful wait while trying to establish their status, which makes them miserable and gets them stuck in the system for longer than necessary.
That is a genuine concern for my constituents: why is the system still so slow? Let us get it right first time. If the person has no right to be here, let them be told that so that we do not have to go through multiple different appeals down different routes. The proposal that those with no right to be here no longer need a separate removal notice has to be right.
I also agree about article 8. We need to get the balance right between the interests of the public in this country and the interests of the person making the claim. I am not sure our courts have been interpreting that correctly. We have a right to be protected from serious criminals. I speak as someone who generally favours deregulation and does not favour imposing new burdens on people, so it is with some caution that I welcome the proposals to ask landlords to start checking the immigration status of their prospective tenants. I have an interest, as I rent out a house in Nottingham where I used to live. I use an agent, so I am pretty certain I will be safe from these rules as long as the agent is competent.
There is a real public interest in trying to make sure that it is harder for illegal immigrants to avoid the system and stay here without a right to do so. One of the ways we can do that is to ask landlords to make sure that the person they are renting out to has a right to be here. In my constituency, most letting agents go through some hugely extensive and complicated processes, and take a lot of money off tenants, to check their credit history, references from previous landlords and all manner of things. I am not sure that it is that much of an extra burden to ask them to check a person’s status as well. Clearly there are some whose position is so complicated that it will not be easy for a landlord or agent to come to a clear understanding. That is why we need a service from the Home Office that gives a clear and quick answer and says, “Yes, you can rent to this person. No, you can’t rent to that person.”
Having worked with clearance mechanisms in my previous lif