The Home Office is bound by the public sector equality duty to eliminate unlawful discrimination and promote good race relations. The Equality Act 2010 provides that discrimination is not unlawful if it is required by legislation or authorised by Ministers. For example, a visa regime that applies to a particular nationality constitutes discrimination, but is lawful under the Equality Act.
An Iranian refugee in my constituency applied for a Home Office travel document and has been refused. He was told that he must get a passport from his own country, which, as he fled that country, is almost impossible. Even to apply for a passport, he would have to agree to sign up for national service. Surely that is discrimination.
I thank the hon. Lady for raising that specific issue. Although I cannot comment on individual cases, we do not wish to see anybody disadvantaged because of the individual requirements of travel documents from their country of origin. I would be very happy to work with her to see whether we can find a solution.
The Department’s own statistics make it clear that last year’s average refusal rate for entry visas from Nigeria was 37%, and almost 44% for entry visas from Ghana, compared with an average refusal rate of only 12% across all countries. Can the Minister explain to my west African-born constituents, whose family members, friends and ministers of religion are being refused visitor visas in ever rising numbers, why the system is discriminating in that way?
I reassure the hon. Gentleman that the system is not discriminating in that way and that the Home Office is obliged to consider all visa applications in light of the evidence presented by the applicant. He might be reassured to learn that, in the year ending June 2018, we saw a 2% increase in the number of visas issued to sub-Saharan African nationals compared with the same period of the previous year.
The Home Office has offered warm words and reassurances to migrant communities about a movement away from the hostile environment, yet the Government are appealing against the High Court ruling that the right-to-rent scheme, which requires private landlords to check the immigration status of tenants, is discriminatory and breaches human rights law. Does the Minister believe that discrimination is a necessary price to pay for enforcing the hostile environment?
The Government disagree with the judgment and are appealing. The evaluation conducted during phase 1 implementation found no evidence of systemic discrimination as a result of the scheme. However, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has commissioned further evaluation, which will examine the potential for discrimination in right-to-rent checks.
Churches in Stirling and in other parts of Scotland are struggling with the recent change in immigration rules for visiting ministers of religion. Does my right hon. Friend appreciate the degree of difficulty this is causing faith groups in Scotland? What can be done to alleviate it?
I was very pleased last week to meet ministers of religion across a wide range of faiths to discuss this specific issue. I am sure Members will agree that when it comes to ministers of religion, as opposed to religious workers, it is imperative that those who are going to preach and conduct pastoral work within any religion need to have a good standard of English, which is why the Home Office is requiring them to apply for a tier 2 visa, as opposed to a tier 5 visa, which of course does not require the language check.
The Windrush crisis did not fall from the sky but was a direct result of the hostile environment, which the High Court has found directly causes discrimination. The Windrush compensation scheme took over a year to set up and has a two-year deadline. Has anybody actually received the money in their bank account yet? How will the Minister ensure that claimants receive speedy compensation? Does she believe that two years is long enough to ensure that nobody who is entitled to compensation loses out?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that question. He will, of course, recall that elements of the compliant environment were introduced under the last Labour Government, including the controls introduced in 1999 on temporary and illegal migrant access to benefits and the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002, which introduced controls on local authority social care.
The hon. Gentleman raises an important question about the Windrush compensation scheme, and it is important that we have the scheme up and running and are receiving applications. We have, of course, undertaken to provide regular updates to the Home Affairs Committee, which will provide exactly the information that the hon. Gentleman seeks.
Of course, it is a requirement under legislation that the compensation scheme be for a period of two years, but we are looking closely at that. I reassure the hon. Gentleman that should there be a requirement to extend it, which would undoubtedly need primary legislation, we would be happy to consider that.