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General Committees

Debated on Tuesday 6 December 2016

Delegated Legislation Committee

Draft Road Traffic Offenders Act 1998 (Penalty Points) (Amendment) Order 2016

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chair: Graham Stringer

Allen, Mr Graham (Nottingham North) (Lab)

† Blackman, Bob (Harrow East) (Con)

† Brown, Alan (Kilmarnock and Loudoun) (SNP)

† Doyle-Price, Jackie (Thurrock) (Con)

† Elliott, Julie (Sunderland Central) (Lab)

† Foxcroft, Vicky (Lewisham, Deptford) (Lab)

† Glass, Pat (North West Durham) (Lab)

Johnson, Alan (Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle) (Lab)

† Jones, Andrew (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport)

† Merriman, Huw (Bexhill and Battle) (Con)

† Morgan, Nicky (Loughborough) (Con)

† Offord, Dr Matthew (Hendon) (Con)

† Penrose, John (Weston-super-Mare) (Con)

† Pickles, Sir Eric (Brentwood and Ongar) (Con)

Powell, Lucy (Manchester Central) (Lab/Co-op)

† Prentis, Victoria (Banbury) (Con)

† Villiers, Mrs Theresa (Chipping Barnet) (Con)

Clementine Brown, Committee Clerk

† attended the Committee

Fourth Delegated Legislation Committee

Tuesday 6 December 2016

[Graham Stringer in the Chair]

Draft Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988 (Penalty Points) (Amendment) Order 2016

I beg to move,

That the Committee has considered the draft Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988 (Penalty Points) (Amendment) Order 2016.

The order is being made to improve road safety by increasing the number of penalty points imposed when a driver is caught using a handheld mobile phone or similar device while driving. When the Government published the road safety statement in December 2015, we re-emphasised the manifesto commitment to make British roads even safer in the future to

“reduce the number of cyclists and other road users killed or injured on our roads every year.”

One priority identified in that statement was to take tough action against people who use mobile phones while on the road. We therefore launched a public consultation on increasing the penalty for handheld mobile phone use while driving. The consultation ran from January to March 2016. We received well over 4,000 responses, which were overwhelmingly in favour; 94% supported an increase. In fact, a significant number urged us to go further than we proposed and introduce even harsher penalties for the offence. We have listened, and this order increases the number of penalty points endorsed on the driving record of someone who commits the offence from three to six, and we will shortly lay before Parliament a further order, to increase the fixed penalty for the offence from £100 to £200.

Let me explain why we are doing this. Handheld mobile phone use while driving is very dangerous. It was a contributory factor in 22 fatal collisions in 2015. Each one of those is a needless tragedy, and we must bring the numbers down. As road safety Minister, I regularly meet families who have lost loved ones in road collisions, and those are some of the most difficult experiences that I have had as a Minister. The families are understandably very upset and angry that they have lost a loved one, and in this particular case there is a degree of anger because someone has been killed because of something that could easily have been prevented.

As well as the personal tragedies for the families involved, there is a cost to our emergency services and the national health service in dealing with the aftermath of fatal and other collisions. Moreover, the number of incidents in which mobile phone use is a contributory factor is, we think, under-reported. The Royal Automobile Club motoring report published in September 2016 suggests that increasing numbers of drivers are using a handheld mobile phone while at the wheel.

I completely support the principle of the order, but the key issue is enforcement. Clearly, with the number of people using handheld mobile devices on the rise, the most important thing with the current penalties is apprehending those who use their mobile phones and place other drivers and road users at risk.

I certainly agree that enforcement is part of it. I will come on to that, but I am grateful to my hon. Friend for articulating his support for the order.

According to the 2016 RAC report, 31% of motorists said that they had used a handheld phone behind the wheel, compared with just 8% in 2014. The number of drivers who said that they had sent a message or posted on social media rose from 7% to 19%, and 14% said that they had taken a photograph or made a video while driving. In 2014, the Department commissioned roadside observational studies, which showed that about 1.6% of drivers are using a handheld mobile phone at any given moment.

Driving ability is clearly impaired if someone is using a handheld mobile phone. Studies show that that potentially impairs driving more than being above the drink-drive limit. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents has calculated that a driver is four times more likely to crash when using a mobile phone. The police regard using a handheld mobile phone as one of the “fatal four” causes of accidents, along with speeding, drink or drug-driving and not wearing a seatbelt.

In the light of all the evidence, it is clear that change is needed. The increase in the number of penalty points that a driver committing this offence will receive means that drivers need only commit two mobile phone offences, accruing 12 points, before facing the possibility of being disqualified by the courts. In addition, one of the intended consequences of the order is that novice drivers who have passed their test in the past two years face revocation of their licence if they commit a single mobile phone offence. Under the Road Traffic (New Drivers) Act 1995, novice drivers can only accrue six points, rather than the usual 12, before they face disqualification. To regain their licence they must reapply for a provisional driving licence and pass a further theory and practical driving test.

The majority of novice drivers are young people below the age of 25, and evidence suggests that young drivers are the group most likely to use a handheld mobile phone while driving. Younger drivers are disproportionality represented in the number of fatalities and serious injuries on our roads. Given the risk that they pose, there is a need for a strong deterrent to tackle their offending behaviour. It is therefore proportionate that the consequence of a single mobile phone offence may be disqualification. We aim to achieve behavioural change in the group. If we do not make more progress with them, we will not be making more progress in improving overall road safety.

The drivers of heavy goods vehicles and passenger service vehicles who commit the offence continue to face the possibility of the traffic commissioners, who regulate HGV and PSV operators, using their powers to review and suspend the driver’s vocational licence entitlement to drive the vehicles. Given the greater impact that such large vehicles have in accidents, I believe that measure to be proportionate.

As well as increasing the penalties for using a handheld mobile phone while driving, if the Committee approves the order we will launch a new hard-hitting THINK! educational campaign to coincide with the changes. The aim of the campaign is to alert drivers to the new regulations and raise awareness of the dangers of using a handheld mobile phone. The long-term aim is to change behaviour and make using a handheld mobile phone while driving as socially unacceptable as drink-driving.

I expect colleagues to be engaged in the issue and to ask questions about enforcement. Making progress in road safety comes from a mixture of three ingredients: engineering, whether that is roads or the vehicle; education, which includes the THINK! campaign and initiatives that we are taking to improve the driving test so that people are better prepared when they get behind the wheel; and enforcement.

Enforcement is not something that we are considering with the order, which makes a straightforward amendment to move an offence from three to six points, but it matters. There is no single, simple causal link between enforcement and the number of fatalities on our roads. My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East may be interested to learn that I have looked at some of the data. In 2011, 120,000 fixed penalty notices were given and 22 people lost their life in a road collision in which mobile phone use was implicated. In 2013, 50,000 fixed penalty notices were given and 22 people lost their life. Last year, 16,700 fixed penalty notices were given and 22 people lost their life. I agree that enforcement matters, but to suggest that there was a direct, simple cause is simply wrong. Having said that, this issue is significant. Local police forces and police and crime commissioners can set priorities on their enforcement activity. I hope to work with police and crime commissioners to emphasise the importance that the Government attach to the issue as they set their priorities locally.

Today, mobile phones are commonplace. We all live on our smartphones. People only have to attend a debate in the House of Commons to see how many people look at their mobile phone on an hourly basis. We must get to the point where all drivers take responsibility for their actions. It may seem harmless to reply to a text while driving, or to answer a call or use an app, but the truth is that these actions can kill and cause untold misery to others. We all have a part to play in ensuring that our family and friends do not use their handheld mobile phones while driving. The order increases the penalty points from three to six and is part of a suite of actions that the Government are taking to improve road safety.

We have some of the safest roads in the world. We are working to make them safer still and to ensure that fewer families have to face the devastation of losing a loved one.

Will my hon. Friend clarify whether there is a difference where somebody is using their mobile phone for sat-nav? Would that fall into this category? How would that be regarded? Do Members looking at their phone for sat-nav face the provisions of the order?

No, such use would not be included in the provisions. Sat-navs can be an aid to driving, as can other things on screen, which would be reasonable to use. We are increasing the use of sat-navs in driving tests so that people become more familiar with them and their use without compromising the safety of the driving, so they are not involved in these provisions at all.

The Minister is being very generous in the dying moments of his remarks. Further to the question from my right hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar, will the Minister clarify whether someone using a mobile phone with a hands-free device would be caught in general by the measures that he is introducing today? For example, if they are stationary at a traffic light and they elected to dial somebody not on hands free but using the screen of their mobile phone and then moved off while speaking on a hands-free device, would that be caught by the measures he is proposing?

In our legal system, the bottom line is that it is not illegal to use hands-free or Bluetooth kits; however, such equipment may also distract people. Good practice would be to pull off the road and make sure that one is entirely secure before using a mobile phone, using an app or sending a text or whatever. It is safer not to use any mobile phone while driving or riding.

I thank my hon. Friend for giving way again and I crave his indulgence. Is there not a responsibility on car manufacturers to introduce as standard a hands-free capability so that drivers could use a hands-free mobile phone while driving without breaking the law?

Generally, technology in vehicles makes vehicles easier to use and the cost of digital technology is falling rapidly. Whether that should be made mandatory is a separate question, but the amount of kit available in our cars helps us. As I have mentioned, one of the three Es is engineering, which makes the vehicle experience much safer and more pleasurable for all of us.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer. I had written a speech for this morning, but I do not think my voice will last to the end of it. I therefore intend to cut to the chase and just ask a few questions.

We do not intend to oppose the order. We support both the Government’s intention and the way in which they have consulted on the order. I have a number of questions. First, why six penalty points as opposed to an outright ban? The Minister was very eloquent in telling us about the number of fatal accidents in which a handheld mobile device has been a contributory factor. This is becoming an increasing, almost endemic problem on our roads. Every time we take the car out on the weekend, we usually see somebody doing something silly and then see that they are using a mobile phone. It is also fast becoming the biggest single killer on our roads.

The Department’s own figures show that it is now more dangerous than drink-driving, yet the penalty for drink-driving is an outright ban. Why the difference? Why is there no consistency?

If this is about changing behaviour it would be helpful to know why the Minister thinks that six penalty points are going to change behaviour. I remind the Committee that back in 1967, when I was just a child, the Labour Transport Secretary, Barbara Castle, introduced the drink-driving laws; it was precisely about changing behaviour. Drink-driving was endemic on our roads and it was felt that penalty points were not going to change behaviour, whereas an all-out ban would. It was a question of enforcement: when people saw individuals they knew losing their licence, it started to change their behaviour.

Why have the Government not considered an outright ban? I notice that the Ministry of Justice is currently consulting on changing the penalty for death by dangerous driving where a handheld device is involved from 14 years to life. Given that the difference between someone using a mobile phone having a near-miss and actually killing somebody is largely about luck and the surrounding circumstances, there appears to be very little consistency. Why six penalty points and not an outright ban?

The second question is on monitoring and targets. What targets will the Department for Transport have in place and what monitoring will it be carrying out to ensure that this is actually working, so that if it is not working, we can come back and look at it again?

It is a great pleasure, Mr Stringer, to serve under your chairmanship. I want some clarification, because we have a duty, when considering such things, to make sure that we do not create circumstances by which a citizen inadvertently breaks the law under a road traffic Act. I entirely support the idea of increasing the penalty points, but we need a degree of clarity as to when a mobile phone can and cannot be used. The situation with a telephone call is pretty clear: if the device is handheld and not played out through Bluetooth or a speaker, clearly it will be caught and nobody, I suspect, has any problem with that. However, I do not know about you, Mr Stringer, but when I am using my mobile phone, a telephone call is a bit of a rarity—it is texts and that kind of thing. There are all kinds of functions that exist.

I spoke about satellite navigation on the mobile phone. If a mobile phone is on the dashboard, or held in place with one of these stickers on the windscreen, I understand from the Minister that that is perfectly acceptable: it is being used for satellite navigation. However, if somebody is watching iTunes or is using Facebook or Snapchat, I do not think that that is entirely satisfactory—it is quite a dangerous thing to do. How will a diligent police officer be able to ascertain whether a person is engaged in sensible navigation, trying to be courteous to other road users, or is keeping up with Michael Bublé or Beyoncé, or talking to a close friend or a pet at home? How will they ascertain the difference between those two? That is my worry.

The hon. Member for North West Durham—I hope that she recovers quickly—made a very good point about targeting. How many targets will we have? It will be awfully tempting for police officers not to look at actual phone use and simply nab people with these things on their dashboard, so will the Minister clarify that?

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer. We in the Scottish National party also support these measures. The hon. Member for North West Durham asked a valid question about why it was six points. Work has been done on trying to identify how many people use mobile phones and there have also been consultations, but has there been any work on behavioural analysis and whether the measures will make an impact? The Minister spoke at length about the fact that novice drivers are the younger drivers most likely to use mobile phones and most likely to be at risk of losing their licence, so hopefully the measures will be effective. However, in terms of campaigning, how do we get the message through to those young people? They are generally the ones who are not party to the usual radio campaigns or television and newspaper advertising. If we are going to educate them and try to change their behaviour, we need to find a way to communicate effectively.

Drive-driving was mentioned as a comparator, but I think drink-driving is another elephant in the room, given that England, Wales and Northern Ireland still have the joint highest allowable alcohol levels. Is the UK Government going to look at that? On the previous questions about citizens getting caught up and inadvertently becoming victims, I do not think we should tie ourselves in knots. We should go ahead with the legislation rather than worry about somebody who might get caught. If they are using a mobile phone as a satnav system, they certainly should not be touching it or operating it, in which case they should be caught under the legislation.

There have been interesting and important questions from the Committee. I will tackle the drink-driving one first, which offers a clue as to how we can make progress on road safety. The first year for which we have detailed information on road fatalities in which alcohol was a factor was 1979, when 1,650 people lost their life. That number went down to 240 in 2014, the last year for which we have full data available. That reduction has been down to a mixture of enforcement and education, but especially peer pressure. It is now socially unacceptable to drink and drive, although there is a hard core of people still engaged in it.

We have seen social change in the world of drink-driving and I want to see such change in the world of handheld mobile phone usage while driving. There is a direct read-across in terms of social peer pressure. We are not seeking to make any changes to the limits because I do not want to criminalise the people who might go out and have a glass of wine with their Sunday lunch. I do not think that that is how we will make more progress on this issue. Other countries may have lower drink-drive limits, but they do not have better road safety records.

I do not want to get bogged down in this, but the Minister’s argument is nonsense. That argument was put forward in the Scottish Parliament. It was said that the police would end up criminalising the wee old lady who goes out and has a gin and tonic and that the police should be doing other things. Drink-driving convictions in Scotland are down by more than 7% since the drink-driving limits were lowered, so the effect has been beneficial.

I was not suggesting that the police would target older women having a glass of wine. I simply do not want to criminalise them, and I do not want to stop the police focusing on those who are not in the 50 mg to 80 mg per 100 ml of blood category. The people who drink-drive are way over the limit. Those are the people we should be targeting. Just over 2% of road fatalities in which alcohol is a factor are from that band of 50mg to 80mg per 100 ml. We can make changes there too, but it only affects just over 2%. Our real target should be people who are way, way over that limit.

I was asked about targets. We do not have any road safety targets and I am not planning to introduce them, because I do not need a target to tell me that road safety is important. I have a fairly relaxed approach about other bodies setting targets for themselves, as Highways England has done, but there will be no national targets coming out from the Department.

Monitoring will certainly be important. I look at all the quarterly statistics, and every time a statistical review is released by the Department I monitor it extremely carefully. We have been able to make good progress because we are targeting the specific issues rather than making sweeping road safety statements and comments. We have now reached the point where 1,770 people are still losing their life on our roads, but the broad-brush approach that has made such progress over the years will not make us progress in future. Instead, it should be about targeted messages at the groups who are still causing problems.

Why six points, rather than 12, three or four? We have had to take a view on what a proportionate sentence is. This is a significant change: a driver who commits two offences could lose a licence. We have had to take a judgment call on what will affect behaviour change and be proportionate, and we think that six points, rather than three or four, will achieve that—two offences and you are out.

I understand the issue with targets: if targets are put in place, people work to them and things start to leak out in other areas. However, did the Department for Transport and the Minister consider an all-out ban? He must have some figures in his head. If there is one fewer death or serious accident, is that considered enough? At what point will he look again at something more serious, such as an all-out ban?

The hon. Lady tempts me into targets in a very gentle way. I review all the data. Is any progress good? Certainly, but I want to see more progress. That is why this measure is part of a suite of actions. It was one ingredient in our road safety statement. I am conscious that we are focusing on one thing today, but it should be viewed in the context of an overall package of measures to improve safety on our roads.

I will not be bringing back targets; I do not think they are necessary. We do not have a target that says, “You as road safety Minister must bring forward a plan.” I brought forward a plan because I thought it was the right thing to do. That plan is populated with ideas that are the right thing to do to make a difference. I am not planning to reintroduce targets.

On clarity, my right hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar raised some difficulties. I am amused at the thought of people watching Beyoncé and Bublé, but he is right: we have seen some shocking cases in which people have been busy watching programmes that they have downloaded on tablets or whatever. That is clearly wrong; it is dangerous. We want people’s minds to be on the road and their hands on the wheel. That is broadly what we should be doing and it is what the highway code says. I will have another look at the highway code in the light of my right hon. Friend’s comments, but there is absolutely no doubt that if there are concerns about safety, people simply should not be doing it. It comes down to individuals taking responsibility for it. The rules are clear.

I make it absolutely clear that someone who is watching a video should be prosecuted. My worry is that an ordinary citizen who uses Google, Apple Maps or Waze on their mobile phone might find themselves inadvertently breaking the law when they think they are doing something perfectly legal. I do not expect the Minister to reply now, but the police have offered guidance suggesting ways in which people can use their mobile phone for navigation and other ways that they cannot. We need clarity on that. I do not expect a comprehensive report now, but I would like him to look at it.

I take on board my right hon. Friend’s comments, and I will always keep a watchful eye on all technological progress and what it can do to cause a distraction or to offer opportunities for road safety. He says that it is hard for the police and, yes, it is, particularly if people are using hands-free. What is the difference between using hands-free and singing along to the radio? How can a policeman tell? It is difficult. Of course, the police are able to take action if they see drivers who are not in proper control of their vehicle. That is an offence, as is careless or inconsiderate driving. The police are able to take action on those and other offences.

The last question was specifically about how to get messages across to younger drivers who may not necessarily be consumers of mainstream media. The answer is that, alongside all other communication campaigns, we have to get the right message to the right audience using the right creatives and the right media. In this particular case, I suggest that digital media are the way ahead. For example, in the Christmas drink-driving campaign, which launched last week, we are using digital advertising, Facebook, Twitter, Spotify and others. It is about getting the message to the right audience via the media with which they are engaged. Digital media will reach the right audience.

I hope I have answered colleagues’ questions. I thank colleagues and right hon. and hon. Members for their comments and questions. This order is a necessary part of our package of measures to improve safety on our roads and streets. We owe it to those who have been killed or injured in accidents caused by people behaving in a selfish and irresponsible way by using their handheld mobile phone while driving. I hope the Committee will approve the order.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That the Committee has considered the draft Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988 (Penalty Points) (Amendment) Order 2016.

Committee rose.

Draft Immigration Act 2014 (Current Accounts) (Excluded Accounts and Notification Requirements) Regulations 2016

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chair: Mr David Nuttall

Ali, Rushanara (Bethnal Green and Bow) (Lab)

† Barclay, Stephen (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury)

† Davies, Byron (Gower) (Con)

† Fitzpatrick, Jim (Poplar and Limehouse) (Lab)

† Henderson, Gordon (Sittingbourne and Sheppey) (Con)

Hodge, Dame Margaret (Barking) (Lab)

† Kirby, Simon (Economic Secretary to the Treasury)

† McDonald, Stuart C. (Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East) (SNP)

Mann, John (Bassetlaw) (Lab)

† Mitchell, Mr Andrew (Sutton Coldfield) (Con)

† Parish, Neil (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con)

† Prisk, Mr Mark (Hertford and Stortford) (Con)

† Reynolds, Jonathan (Stalybridge and Hyde) (Lab/Co-op)

† Shapps, Grant (Welwyn Hatfield) (Con)

† Smith, Jeff (Manchester, Withington) (Lab)

† Thewliss, Alison (Glasgow Central) (SNP)

† Williams, Craig (Cardiff North) (Con)

† Wollaston, Dr Sarah (Totnes) (Con)

Gail Bartlett, Committee Clerk

† attended the Committee

Fifth Delegated Legislation Committee

Tuesday 6 December 2016

[Mr David Nuttall in the Chair]

Draft Immigration Act 2014 (Current Accounts) (Excluded Accounts and Notification Requirements) Regulations 2016

I beg to move,

That the Committee has considered the draft Immigration Act 2014 (Current Accounts) (Excluded Accounts and Notification Requirements) Regulations 2016.

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Nuttall. Effective immigration controls require responsibility to be shared. Recognising that shared responsibility, the Immigration Act 2014 took action to limit the services available to known illegal migrants. That included prohibiting firms from opening current accounts for a disqualified person—an illegal migrant liable for removal or deportation who the Home Secretary considers should be denied access to a current account.

The Immigration Act 2016 builds on those measures, targeting already open accounts that were either opened before the 2014 Act came into force or opened legally by a person who later became disqualified because of a change in their immigration status. The 2016 Act requires firms to check details of their current account holders against the details of disqualified persons provided to them via CIFAS, a specified anti-fraud organisation. They are then required to report the results of the checks to the Home Office and, if instructed by the Home Office, to close accounts or prevent continued access to them.

The 2016 Act delegated power to the Treasury—hence my appearance here today—to make regulations that detail how the regime should work. This negative statutory instrument should be read alongside the Immigration Act 2014 (Current Accounts) (Compliance &c) Regulations 2016, which were made on 7 November. It prescribes that firms carry out quarterly immigration checks, and it sets out the Home Office’s response to notifications from firms, and a requirement for firms to inform the Home Office of steps they have taken to comply with the duty to close accounts.

I will now take each of the three main areas of the statutory instrument in turn. The first is the types of account on which firms must make immigration checks. The 2016 Act requires firms to make checks on current accounts and the statutory instrument specifies that not all current accounts are within scope of that requirement. Firms are not required to extend checks to all existing current accounts. They are required to conduct checks on existing personal current accounts only, and not on corporate or business accounts. That reflects the Government’s ongoing view that current accounts are the gateway product to other financial services and a settled life in the UK. It also takes into account existing prohibitions, which are in the 2014 Act, meaning that a disqualified person cannot evade the legislation by closing a current account and opening a business account as a sole trader or a charity.

At this point, I should confirm that the Government’s intention in relation to the term “current account” has not changed from that outlined in the debates on the 2014 regulations. My colleague, the previous Economic Secretary, set out that intention on 10 November 2014.

On notifications, if a firm makes an immigration check on a personal current account and finds a match, the bank is required to notify the Home Office using a secure Home Office portal. The statutory instrument requires firms to provide certain information in that notification, including details of any other accounts that the firm holds for the disqualified person and the balances held in them. Information about regular payments into accounts above a threshold of £200 has been included in the requirements, to allow the Home Office to identify patterns of payments that might constitute evidence of illegal working. The requirement to provide information is limited to what firms hold and can retrieve; it does not require further investigation of data not held. The Home Office will then confirm the match, based on its data, and instruct the firm on the next steps. Depending on the information provided, and the details of the disqualified person’s case, the Home Office may apply to court for a freezing order, or notify the firm that it is under a duty to close any accounts it holds for that person. The Committee might be interested to know that the Home Office is preparing a code of practice on freezing orders, which will be laid in Parliament in advance of implementation.

When a firm is notified of its duty to close accounts, the 2016 Act allows it to delay closure for a reasonable period to recover debt or to manage the effect on third parties. Firms will also be able to comply with the duty without closing an account, if they are able to take steps to prevent the account from being operated by the disqualified person. Firms are required to provide the Home Office with information about the steps they have taken to comply with the duty. Finally, the instrument enables the Financial Conduct Authority—the FCA—to monitor and enforce firms’ compliance. That mirrors the FCA’s existing role for the purposes of the 2014 Act.

The regulations come into force on 30 October 2017, with firms making their first check in the first quarter of 2018. I take this opportunity to thank firms for their constructive engagement with my officials regarding the regulations and I hope that members of the Committee will agree that they strike an appropriate balance. On the one hand, they create requirements on firms that are appropriately targeted and proportionate and, on the other, they achieve the policy intention of preventing continued access to banking services, and encourage those here illegally to leave the UK or to regularise their stay. I commend the statutory instrument to the Committee.

I thank you for calling me, Mr Nuttall, and I thank the Minister for his opening speech.

The Government have said that it is their intention to create what the Prime Minister herself has called “a hostile environment”. A whole package of measures, many of which came into force on 1 December 2016, deny undocumented migrants in the UK basic rights. When I see footage of desperate people loading their children into dinghies in the Mediterranean or paying traffickers thousands of pounds to risk death by being loaded into lorries in conditions worse than those faced by cattle, I am not sure we will ever create an environment more hostile than the one those people seek to leave. But what measures such as these can succeed in doing—undoubtedly very successfully—is to further debase the language, the discourse and the tone we use to talk about migration.

Having access to a bank account is a fundamental part of modern living, but the hostile environment includes prohibiting banks from opening current accounts for migrants who fail to pass an immigration check. Banks will be forced to check current accounts against migrant databases and notify the Home Office if checks confirm that an account holder no longer has permission to remain in the UK. That could lead to the freezing or closure of bank accounts and have huge consequences for people who might not be able to provide evidence of their leave to remain, potentially through no fault of their own. It will also leave vulnerable migrants at the mercy of banks that might have little understanding of how the immigration system works.

The regulations prescribe on accounts that are excluded by the current regulations, including those opened by migrants before the 2014 Act came into force in December of that year, as the Minister explained. People who had leave to remain at some point and legitimately saved up funds for their future will be particularly affected.

The Opposition therefore oppose the measures because we oppose the rhetoric of hostility and its practical side effects. We do not accept the scapegoating of migrants as a smokescreen for the Government’s austerity programme. If the NHS, social care and other public services are under strain—they certainly are in my constituency—it is because of the policies pursued by the Government and we should never forget or ignore the huge contribution of migrants to making those public services work.

Colleagues will be aware that serious concerns have been expressed about the effect the measures could have on individuals and communities. They are part of a worrying extension of powers that will further reduce the rights of all citizens and fly against the core British values of fairness, compassion and decency. The explicitly hard-line approach risks making the UK a more hostile environment for everyone, and in particular for all migrants and black and minority ethnic communities. There is a danger that bank workers, in fear of breaching the regulations, will end up making the wrong decisions, making judgments on ethnicity, surname and/or nationality that will disproportionately affect some groups. It has already been confirmed that several hundred people wrongly had their driving licences revoked by parallel measures. How many people will wrongly have their bank accounts frozen by this order? It will not be none.

Making it harder for people to get access to a bank account may also ultimately put people in danger. It will drive them further into the underworld in which they have no choice about whom they deal with, and what they have to do to gain the essentials of life. I do not want that for people who have the right to live here; nor do I want it for people who do not have that right. I do not want to compel anyone into that desperation.

The fact this Government have chosen to parade phrases like “hostile environment” embodies a dangerous and irresponsible opportunism. If they raise the temperature, create a certain political climate and appear to be licensing discrimination, that will have consequences which will be paid for by some of the most vulnerable people in our society.

Is immigration to the UK too high? In my view, it is. There have to be reasonable limits on immigration in any society. But these measures will make no difference to that. The Prime Minister has had six years as Home Secretary doing exactly this sort of gesture politics, yet immigration has hit record highs. We will see reductions in immigration only when we acknowledge that skills shortages at home will always drive immigration, and when we address the severe inequality found just beyond our borders.

As for a hostile environment, we are already a country where an MP can be been murdered while doing their job by someone who perversely has come to believe that his actions are the work of a patriot. The Government are not making a hostile environment, but they are making a toxic one. I therefore oppose the order and intend to divide the Committee.

Like the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde, we oppose the Government’s stated policy of creating a hostile environment. The related set of policies is dangerous and probably counterproductive to the Government’s aims. There is no evidence that the policies will be effective in the way that Government hope they will be. Instead, it will probably cause trouble for everyone, because we cannot seal off illegal migrants from those who are here with leave. Everyone will experience that hostility. This policy will probably force irregular migrants even further underground making enforcement harder. It also presumes that information on immigration status passed from the Home Office to third parties is correct, but it is often not, for a variety of reasons.

If any aspect of the whole hostile environment policy has some sort of logic to it, perhaps on paper this measure has. However, like too much UK immigration policy, it is pursued and rolled out without any proper assessment of the evidence of its effectiveness or, indeed, the downsides that the existing policy has brought about.

The hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde raised questions about the numbers of people who might be involved. Earlier this year, the chief inspector of borders and immigration noted that the data being shared with banks and building societies about new account openings might not

“be updated with relevant information, e.g. a voluntary return or a lodged appeal, until some months after the event, and that data was often entered in the wrong place,”

often as comment-free text. He continued:

“the list was not always accurate, with both omissions and individuals wrongly included as ‘disqualified persons’ who had departed, or had succeeded in an appeal or had regularised their immigration status and were not in the UK with valid leave”.

An inspection of 169 cases on the database showed that 17—10%—should not have been there: nine had leave to remain, six had applications for outstanding leave to be extended and two had an outstanding appeal. We need to remember that the list contains details of about 200,000 people, so we could be talking about some 20,000 innocent people being affected.

On the other hand, there is no systematic data about whether this policy improves border control in any way. The Home Office gives us its warm intentions that the policy will lead to people leaving. However, there is no evidence of Home Office follow-up or use of the information it receives on data matches and there is no evidence that the policy persuades people to leave voluntarily either. Before rolling out the scheme, we surely we need to see improvements in that regard.

The fact that we are revisiting the policy suggests that there are difficulties. The 2016 Act is there to fill the loopholes left by the 2014 Act, but these regulations suggest that we have to roll back from legislation that was passed just a few months ago. These regulations leave lots of questions unanswered. The Minister went some way in his statement, which I welcome, to explain exactly why we need to exclude certain accounts from the scope of the regulations. Essentially, it is to rule them into line with previous regulations. The explanatory memorandum states that the new exclusions mean

“that firms are not required to make a check on all current accounts, for example corporate or business accounts. This approach is intended to be targeted and proportionate and to take into account the existing prohibitions in the 2014 Act.”

I would like to hear a bit more about the thinking behind that. I would like to know how many checks are envisaged to occur and, if the 10% error rate is applied, how many thousands of innocent people will be caught up in this? If innocent people are caught up in this, what sort of compensation will there be for those mistakes?

In conclusion, I remain sceptical. We too reject the approach the Government take in attempting to create a hostile environment. More importantly, we need evidence of what the regulations will do and the steps the Government will take to resolve some of the already outstanding issues.

It is a pleasure to see you presiding over our considerations this morning, Mr Nuttall. I apologise to the Minister if he has already covered this point but I will be brief. My concern reinforces that articulated by the two shadow spokespersons.

Over many years, I have seen constituents failed by the asylum system. They have been declared illegal but subsequently identified errors in the paperwork made by the Home Office, the immigration authorities or the tribunal. I assume that under these regulations they would be regarded as illegals. Numerous constituents, on a rehearing or appeal, have subsequently demonstrated that they are entitled to be in this country and ought not to have been classified as illegal in the first instance. However, because they are illegal they are ruled not to have access to any state funds or benefits. They live on charity from family and friends, churches and local mosques. I fear that the regulations, robbing those few who do have some bank funds and accounts, could exacerbate the situation and make more people destitute, particularly those who can ultimately demonstrate that they have a right to be here.

To echo my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde, this looks like a sledgehammer to crack a nut. I will support my Front-Bench colleagues in any Division they call, unless the Minister can reassure us that more people who are entitled to be here but were initially ruled illegal will not be thrown into greater destitution through not being able to work until their case is solved and not being entitled to access benefits while what little funds they may be able to call on are frozen.

I had not intended to speak but I want to talk briefly about some of my constituents. As the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse mentioned, they might have a very difficult progress through the immigration and asylum process—I have many constituents who face that. They will use what funds they have, in the bank accounts they are able to access, to pay for lawyers. If they cannot pay for legal advice when needed that will make their case all the more difficult. I wonder whether that is the Government’s intention: to make it more difficult for people in those circumstances to get the help that they are entitled to and fully deserve.

I have another concern. If a person uses a bank account to pay for accommodation, they will not be able to do so without that account. So many things are now online; people will be expected to pay their bills online. I am concerned that they will not able to do that via a bank account any more while they await the outcome of the asylum process. As my hon. Friend the Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East mentioned, mistakes can be made in that process. Like other hon. Members, I have experienced many instances of the Home Office being incompetent during the process while people are awaiting information. That again makes it all the more difficult for them.

I am also concerned about families with dependent children. A child might need funds for clothes and food and this bank account might be the holding account for those things. People might be getting help from somebody, with that help going into that account. If the person does not have access to the account, the Home Office will force that family into destitution because they will have no means of supporting themselves. Again, perhaps that is the Government’s intention, but it is a pretty wicked intention to force families out while they might have a legitimate claim to be here and while they are going through a very complex and arduous asylum and immigration process.

I know from my caseload that this can take some time; you can go through multiple appeals and various different levels of appeal. New grounds can be brought as well. That process is complex and difficult and while all of this is going on, with the threat of losing the limited funds they have, the fact that the rug could be pulled out from under them while they might have a legitimate claim to be here and are going through that very difficult process concerns me greatly.

I ask the Government to provide more evidence of why this is necessary, and to demonstrate that they will not stigmatise particular groups unfairly. It would be good to see how the equality of the system will be ensured. If people are losing out, as my hon Friend mentioned, because of administrative errors or delays or something else, and all of a sudden they find they do not have a bank account either, there has to be some comeback from the Government to these people to apologise and make right.

Like the hon. Member for Glasgow Central, I was not going to speak in this debate—I rarely do on these occasions—but the more I hear, the more frustrated I get. Do these people live on a different planet from me? Or is it because I live in Kent and we are at the coalface as regards illegal immigration in this country?

Having read the regulations, it seems to me to be quite clear that this relates only to people who do not have a right to be in our country. The more we make it easier for people who do not have a right to live in our country to live here by giving them bank accounts and such like, the more we will be encouraging even more people to come to Dover and come into this country as illegal immigrants. I will certainly be supporting the Government on this occasion.

Further to the point made by the hon. Member for Glasgow Central, I want to ask the Government about the position of families with dependent children. I can think of a family in my own constituency who have a severely disabled child and are awaiting the outcome of an appeal. As it happens, they are already heavily dependent on the generosity of others. To throw such families into a position where they would not be able to continue to support that child would be very regrettable and I do not feel I could support the Government unless there was a reassurance that individual circumstances would be taken into account, particularly where there were dependent children who, through no fault of their own, would be left utterly destitute.

Did anyone else want to speak? Minister? No—sorry, Mr Shapps, I did not see you standing.

I, too, had not intended to speak in this debate, which is why I only slightly half-indicated my intention to do so. Having been inspired by others who have, however, I thought it would be worth adding a couple of comments.

I thought that the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman made an excellent speech, which was both passionate and powerful. Unfortunately, it did not address the key issue in this piece of delegated legislation, which is about people who no longer have the right to be in this country. I was on the Home Affairs Cabinet Committee when this idea was first circulated and discussed. At the time, we were specifically trying to target people who had repeatedly been refused access or leave to remain and yet were still in this country. The reason I thought the speech was so powerful, if rather misled in terms of the target of what we are actually discussing today, is that we have all sat in our constituency surgeries—have we not—and had cases that are heartbreaking. A constituent came in on Friday who has had many years of struggling to get through the system. Heartbreaking though that case was, that person has been refused leave to remain and is here illegally. They have now established so many roots in this country that one could not do anything but have enormous sympathy for their situation and, indeed, as the constituency MP, look desperately for ways to help and assist.

If I search in my soul and ask myself about that case, I realise that the British state has let that individual down more than anybody else. Over the years, we have given every possible indication that that person will have the right to remain in this country while at the same time holding their legal case at bay. That right has included, for example, the ability to access bank accounts and do other things that normalise their situation, to give them roots that make them so established that, when the final legal decision that they can no longer remain here is properly made—in a way that everyone in this place would agree with—that decision is absolutely heartbreaking. So, we need to act in accordance with some kind of process that does not lead people to assume that eventually it will all work out when in fact they have no statutory right to be here.

To my colleagues on the Opposition Front Bench, I say that to talk about Syria and then immediately pivot to talking about people in this country and paint the Government as heartless is to ignore £2.3 billion spent trying to help people in Syria. That was brushed over as if it did not exist, then the subject pivoted to this particular piece of delegated legislation, which, as the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde knows, covers one particular aspect of people establishing roots in this country in a way that, in the end, makes it harder not just for this country but for them to sever those links.

I understand many of the concerns that have been raised—and I hope the Minister will address some of them in his response—but there is a wider responsibility to people in this country. That includes looking after the law as it stands, making sure people can be removed when their applications have failed and ensuring that they do not end up in a position where the idea of their citizenship has been so enshrined, including with things like their bank accounts, that is it almost impossible for them to leave.

It has been clear this morning that Members have considered this important issue in full, and clearly there are differences of opinion. I thank members of the Committee for their points—I will do my best to respond to many of them. The hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde mentioned rhetoric about migrants, scapegoating of migrants, and the rights of all citizens. I want to state clearly that the UK is very much open for business: it is globally facing and outward-looking and I am sure that will continue—it is one of our great strengths.

The hon. Gentleman asked about vulnerable disqualified people. Let me be clear: those with outstanding asylum applications or appeals with not be affected, nor will those who have been granted leave to be here. That is a very important point. He asked about the accuracy of data. I can assure him that the data are subject to rigorous checks at the Home Office before they are shared with anyone. It is also important to say that this will not affect anyone’s ability, within the usual rules and with the usual checks and balances, to open a bank account. There will be no de-risking by the banks. This is a quarterly exercise, a matching exercise, and it is targeted at a group of people who have no right to remain in this country.

The hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East also asked about data quality. I have said that the data are subject to rigorous checks. The current account is reported to the Home Office only if there is a clear data match. The Home Office will then carry out a secondary check, and if an individual still thinks there has been a mistake, they can contact the Home Office for remedy.

The hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse also mentioned data quality. It is always important to get these things right, and not to make mistakes. The Home Office is developing a data quality strategy intended to improve data quality. It is also important to know that this is not about stealing people’s money. Money will be returned to the account holder in the normal manner if the balance is in credit, in line with standard bank account practice.

The hon. Member for Glasgow Central raised the possibility of families being forced out of their homes. Disqualified people are known illegal migrants who are liable for removal or deportation. They have exhausted all appeal rights, and the Home Secretary must consider that they should be denied access to banking services. Such people have no right to be in the UK. I will come to the important point made about that by my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes.

The hon. Member for Glasgow Central also asked about living expenses. If an account is simply closed, any credit balance can be returned to the account holder as usual, in line with individual banks’ terms and conditions. If an account is frozen, it will be unfrozen when the illegal migrant leaves the UK, subject to any action related to the proceeds of crime. The purpose of the provisions is to make it difficult to live a settled life in the UK in order to encourage voluntary departure, not to confiscate assets. It is not about taking money away from people.

My hon. Friend the Member for Totnes raised the concept of discretion. The Home Office can exercise discretion about who should be permitted to hold an account. It is intended that that discretion should be used in exceptional circumstances—it is possible that her case might be one of them—to avoid unduly harsh consequences for vulnerable people who face a genuine obstacle to leaving the UK.

I am not sure that I have persuaded anyone to change their mind, but this is an important issue. This balanced measure is a small part of a huge tool kit of measures and encouragements, on the other side of the coin, that I have not mentioned.

I thank the Minister for his reassurance. He says that “exceptional circumstances” will refer to vulnerable people who face an obstacle to leaving the UK. Can he clarify that that could include exceptional circumstances involving child dependants?

My understanding is that the Home Office can consider any exceptional circumstances. If I have heard correctly, my hon. Friend’s case involved an appeal. Someone appealing a decision would not be subject to this legislation in the first case. I reiterate that only those people who have no right to remain and who have exhausted all the avenues available to them will be subject to it.

My point is that I have had a number of constituents over the years who have exhausted, or apparently exhausted, those avenues and been declared illegal, who have then found—to pick up on the comment made by the right hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield—another route to challenge the decision. Sometimes they are straightforwardly delaying until such time as they can succeed; in some instances, they are not delaying, and genuinely new evidence has come to light, or an error has been identified.

The period between being declared illegal and winning that particular point of law or correcting data that the Home Office has got wrong can be years. What the Minister is saying is that during the course of those years, they will not be able to access what little money they might have in a bank account, and will rely on the charity of friends and family, churches, food banks and mosques. To reply to the point made by the hon. Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey, we are on this planet; we just disagree with the points that he is putting forward.

The hon. Gentleman raises a valuable point. My understanding is that if that were the case, the Home Office would be open to argument. The instrument is a small piece of legislation in a wide range of tools. I feel obliged to mention the £140 million announced at the Conservative party conference for a controlling migration fund specifically designed to ease the pressures on public services in areas of high immigration.

My hon. Friend the Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey raised an alternative perspective. It is about getting the balance right and providing the welcome that the UK is famous for—not putting up barriers, being outward-facing and globally-looking—while, at the same time, providing a degree of fairness when it comes to people who should not remain in this country.

This is a genuine question. The only other issue I have with the proposed regulations is the intention to exclude a whole series of accounts from the operation of the rules, including accounts used by an individual

“for the purposes of a trade, business or profession.”

All the Minister said in that regard was that the measures are in line with earlier regulations, but I still do not quite understand the rationale for that. If that happens, surely we will be going after—for want of a better expression—the little people, whereas people with business accounts and so on are being excluded from the force of the rules altogether. I would appreciate some explanation of the rationale for that.

I need to be clear on this. The rationale and scope of the legislation is personal current accounts because that is felt to be the area where the legislation can have the most effect. Businesses of all sizes are unaffected. Businesses are only mentioned should someone have a current account that falls foul of the matching process, when the banks are obliged to provide all the information about the other accounts that that individual may hold. However, it does not stop any business accounts—large or small. [Official Report, Vol 618, 6 December 2016; c. 1-2MC.]

I have done my best to provide assurances on the many points made by Committee members. I know that we all share a desire for a targeted and proportionate system. I am confident that the statutory instrument represents a balanced and sensible approach to continued access to banking services by disqualified persons. I hope that hon. Members support the regulations.

Question put.

Resolved,

That the Committee has considered the draft Immigration Act 2014 (Current Accounts) (Excluded Accounts and Notification Requirements) Regulations 2016.

Committee rose.