Second Reading (Continued)
My Lords, we return to migration. I was struck by the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths of Burry Port, when he asked us to remember things while we debated the Bill. Indeed, my theme, which may come to somewhat different conclusions, is about those whose immigration status here is out of order. That is basically my only theme. I should like to suggest some things that we might do well to remember while considering what to do about those whose immigration status is out of order.
Man, as we know, is an economic animal, has always migrated and will continue to do so. However, there is great pressure in today’s world on that willingness to move. There are no frontiers left. In the early years of the 20th century, more than 1 million people went through Ellis Island every year. There is no longer such capability. Some countries are willing to take substantial numbers of people, but nothing of the order that used to apply—and, of course, the world’s population has dramatically increased. In these circumstances, the utilitarian calculation of economic benefit versus loss is simply not adequate.
I learnt that long ago. I was, in an unlikely way, managing a steel foundry in Light Pipe Hall Road, Stockton-on-Tees, when the first people from the Indian subcontinent came, around the time of Suez. I took on a labourer whose name—I hope I will be forgiven—was Patel. After about a fortnight, the TGWU shop steward came to me and said: “John, do you know about this labourer you have taken on?”. “Tell me”, I said. “He lives with seven others, they call themselves brothers but I don’t think they are related. They live in a two-up, two-down terraced house and sleep in shifts”. “Well?”, I said. He said: “The lads don’t like it”. I do not know what the effect on that particular street was at the time. I suppose one could put the wonderful label of social cohesion on it somewhere. The problem solved itself, or maybe somebody found a solution for it, because Patel and his brothers went to Bradford where it is not quite as cold as it is on Teeside and where there were more of their brothers.
At the same time, incidentally, I learnt another thing. People are very good and, sensibly, know when it is right not to know the answer to things and be able to say: “I cannot cope. I do not know how to do this”. Yet if they had a roll-up and some mixed doubles put on at the local bookie by Eddie Rollinson and it came up, there would be no difficulty about knowing how much was to be distributed. Whatever the economic and social issues of people living without their immigration status being correct, the question of the law and what to do about it will remain with us. If there are indeed between 300,000 and 500,000 such people, or whether the figure is different, we have a real problem. We should also remember that this is not just about economic and social issues: there is a connection with security.
So what should happen? We have a choice. As suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, and the right reverend Prelate, if you have people whose documents are out of order and you think it would be right for them to stay, then every effort should be made to put their documents right. It should not just be left that there is nothing one can do. If their documents cannot be put right, because the law does not allow it, then they should leave. Is that an unreasonable view? I do not think so: it has some element of reality in it.
At the moment, we need to relieve unsustainable pressures and manage this country of 60 million people and a medium-sized economy. While we are doing that, there are some things I suggest we remember. Our liberal democratic philosophy is at a discount out there in the world. There is no queue at the moment to join in. After Iraq, Afghanistan, South Sudan and Syria we have neither the will nor the means to do anything about it. Maybe we should talk less and listen more, and even remember that the Russians may—certainly do—know a great deal more about Islam that we do. It might, therefore, behove us to concentrate on managing our own affairs.
In this respect, we have 2.3 million unemployed people. If, through a combination of economic growth, education and training, and employers, who always talk their own book, doing as much about the training as possible, we could drive unemployment down by half a million people, we would make a great difference to the immigration pressures that exist. If teachers succeeded in managing our schools as well as they could be managed, and if we managed our hospitals as well as they could be managed, then maybe the problem of people who are here but do not have the right to stay would come to be seen as a great deal easier than is sometimes suggested. In an open and democratic society, is it unreasonable to ask, “Who are you?”, “Where do you come from?”, “Is your immigration status okay?” or “Is your family’s immigration status okay?”? There does not seem to be anything in that kind of inquiry that could not be handled in an adult democracy. Who supports people staying here without the right to do so without that being put right? Does anybody support that?
Of course, this matter has become a great muddle—life does from time to time become a great muddle—but is it not sensible to have a go at sorting it out every now and again with all the difficulties of achieving success? In respect of those whose documents are not in good order, this Bill is a step in the right direction.
My Lords, I share the concerns set out by other noble Lords about the impact of the Bill, and I want to focus my remarks on the position of students. However, before I do that, I express my concern about the effect of the Bill on children—specifically migrant children.
An excellent briefing from the Refugee Children’s Consortium alerted me to the dangers to the safety and well-being of thousands of children which, it argues, are inherent in the Bill. The Government want to encourage those with no legal right to be in the UK to “go home”, but of the 120,000 undocumented children living in the UK, the majority were born here or have spent most of their young lives here. They include unaccompanied children who have been brought here for exploitation, those fleeing war or those who have been abandoned by their carers. This is the only home they know. If the proposed measures in the Bill, including those on access to healthcare, access to housing and narrowing of appeal rights, further increase destitution and homelessness, they will put more vulnerable children and young people at risk of exploitation and abuse. I share the hope of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester that the Minister will use his reply today to say something about how the Government propose to protect these children.
Turning to the impact of the Bill on international students and staff, I begin by declaring an interest as a member of the Council of University College London. In bringing forward this Bill, the Government are responding to widely held concerns about the impact of immigration. We have already heard that this evening a “Panorama” programme will expose new allegations of abuse by private companies helping visa applicants to defraud the system. If it is true, it is very serious. The reputation of the UK education sector as a whole relies on robustness on immigration rules from all quarters.
Members of this House will know that Universities UK has campaigned for a more welcoming visa policy. What may not be so well known is that, alongside this, it has been working with the Home Office to improve the way that the compliance system works—running joint events with the Home Office involving hundreds of university employees, improving guidance and developing a familiarisation programme for the Home Office Higher Education Assurance Team. Universities have put literally millions of pounds into upholding their responsibilities in the immigration system, but fraud in one part of the system damages all parts of it. Universities have worked hard to eliminate abuse and we want to keep it that way without discouraging genuine students from coming to study here. That is why I am joining so many others in urging the Government not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Yes, we need robust rules, properly enforced. Yes, we must acknowledge concerns about immigration, but we should do neither of these things at the expense of the wider national interest.
Studies by the Migration Observatory and others have shown that the public are much more positive about the contribution that students make to this country. They recognise that students are not migrants in the usual sense of the word, despite the fact that this Government’s net migration target counts them as such. The Government, from the Prime Minister down, explicitly recognise how much this country gains from the outstanding track record of our universities in attracting international students. We earn more than £10 billion a year as the second most popular destination for students. Committees of this House, such as those led by the noble Lords, Lord Hannay and Lord Krebs, have shown that the benefits are lasting; they create valuable links with countries all over the world and are valued by business and diplomats. If this Bill damages our ability to attract students—and I believe that it does—it damages the UK.
Four aspects of the Bill concern me: the removal of appeal rights; landlord immigration checks; the NHS surcharge; and measures to make it easier for the Secretary of State to increase visa fees. Many noble Lords will recall the debates in this House during the passage of the then Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Bill when rights of appeal were removed for a large number of visa cases, including for initial entry clearance for students and others. This was despite overwhelming evidence that the quality of initial decision-making was very poor, so that success on appeal was high. Not much appears to have changed. Success on appeal is just under 50%. What can be the justification for removing the right to challenge decisions? We are told, as we were in 2006, that administrative review will be an effective replacement. I agree with others, including the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association, who argue that administrative review is useful but that it should exist in addition to, and not instead of, the right of appeal. If officials get a decision wrong, there should be a mechanism for correcting it by administrative means. That would reduce the number of decisions successfully appealed. It is wrong to remove the scope for an independent judgment where so much may hang on the outcome of immigration decisions.
The second aspect which concerns me is the new requirement on landlords to check the immigration status of tenants. Debate in another place has shown how unlikely this is to be workable. Private landlords are not immigration lawyers and I am concerned that, faced with a very wide range of documents, they will simply let accommodation to people who appear to be British. This could lead to discrimination on racial grounds which could affect a wide range of people who are lawfully in this country. Students and university staff would be particularly hit, because the measures in the Bill would make it difficult to secure accommodation in advance of arriving in the UK. This will need real scrutiny in Committee.
Thirdly, the new NHS surcharge will add to the upfront costs associated with coming to the UK. The Government have made the welcome decision to set a lower charge for students and that is a positive step. My view—one which I share with the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones—is that the Government should think again about whether they should be charging them at all. Given the long-term and short-term benefits which the UK derives from students, the addition of yet another charge is characteristically short-sighted.
Finally, the Bill contains an interesting set of proposals about visa fees and charges. They were not much debated in another place, and I suspect that this House will want to know more about the degree of scrutiny that we will be able to exercise over proposed increases. Visa fees have been rising rapidly and we know that they are set to rise further. Will the Minister reassure the House that, in setting fees, particularly for students, the Secretary of State will have regard to fee levels in competitor countries? This matters because we know our competitors—the US, Australia, Canada and Germany—are doing everything they can to attract more international students. While our Government come up with new restrictions, barriers and costs, our competitors are removing barriers and increasing incentives.
The Minister may say that the UK continues to attract the brightest and best. Has he seen the latest HESA figures, which other noble Lords have already mentioned? These show that the total number of international students in the UK has fallen—so far by 1%, but this is significant because it is the first time that a decrease has been recorded. New enrolments are also down, for the second year in a row. The number of students from India has dropped by a staggering 49% in two years. In an expanding market, what a lost opportunity this is. When will the Government stop being complacent about this? International higher education is a phenomenal success story for the UK. The Government should support it wholeheartedly. The measures in this Bill will not help, and I hope we will be able to do something about this as the Bill passes through this House.
My Lords, UK Visa and Immigration is still floundering in the unreliable IT systems and casework backlog left by the troubled UKBA when the Home Secretary abolished it last March and there is nothing in this Bill to deal with the quality of decision-making, which has not improved since that change. Now we are placing new demands on UKVI that, in the words of the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association, it,
“is not equipped or able to meet and gives it powers that it cannot be relied upon to exercise properly”.
I agree with my noble friend the Minister about separating myth from reality. The views on immigration that the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick, said were widely held were influenced by false notions of the numbers of immigrants encouraged by the Daily Mail. In an Ipsos MORI poll in June 2013, people questioned thought that immigrants made up 31% of the population, whereas the true figure was 13%. In the latest statistics, immigration for work was down by 12% on the previous year; there was a 7% fall in work-related grants to stay permanently, and non-EEA family visas were down by 20% to the lowest figure since comparable records began in 2005.
These facts are not well advertised, leaving UKIP and the Daily Mail free to create fear in the minds of the public. We saw this in the totally unjustified hysteria over the floods of Bulgarians and Romanians who were allegedly ready to invade the country on 1 January, when the hordes of newsmen greeting a flight from Bucharest were disappointed to find that only two of the passengers were Romanian.
One of my fears is that many dependants are being denied leave to enter because of the £18,600 income threshold applied to the sponsor and the refusal to consider other resources available to a couple, such as the earning potential of the applicant or the provision of free accommodation by the sponsor’s parents or other relatives. There is nothing in the Bill to correct breaches of Article 8—the right to family life—and, indeed, Clause 14 tries to coerce the courts into interpreting Article 8.2 more restrictively by telling them what weight they are to give to certain factors. The Joint Committee on Human Rights has commented adversely on this attempt to bend the decisions of the courts in directions which may conflict with case law, and we shall have to look at this in detail when we come to the Committee stage.
I also fear that substituting this administrative review for the right of appeal against all immigration decisions, except asylum and human rights claims, is bound to lead to injustice. Half the appeals by economic migrants and students are successful, the majority of them on the basis of factual error by the decision-maker. Half of entry clearance appeals and a third of deport appeals are also successful, as the right reverend Prelate said. The common-sense answer would have been to train caseworkers to get the initial decisions right instead of taking away people’s appeal rights. There is already an administrative review by the Home Office presenting officer when he is preparing for the appeal. That process does not pick up hundreds of wrong decisions, as the appeals statistics show.
How will this review approach the many decisions which are not in accordance with the law because they were not in accordance with the rules or did not deal properly with the evidence? Will the review accept representations from the applicant or her representative? Will the process be conducted behind closed doors? Instead of accepting that officials rubber-stamp their own colleagues’ decisions, appellants may either seek to reconfigure their cases as human rights challenges or, if that is not on the cards, to proceed by way of judicial review.
The appeals impact statement suggests that 5,600 extra judicial reviews may be started as a result of this process and up to 1,000 granted permission. These cases will cost a lot more than if they had been heard before the First-tier Tribunal and there will be further expenditure when costs are claimed or damages sought. The impact assessment does not go into the arithmetic on this but I am sure the Home Office has the figures. I should be grateful if the Minister would let us have them.
On bail, there is nothing in the Bill to deal with the scandal of long-term detention of individuals who pose no threat to national security. Some 5% of immigration detainees are held for more than a year and another 7% or 8% for between six months and a year. That is surely intolerable and we should require the independent chief inspector, John Vine, to carry out regular annual inspections of the long-term detention of immigrants. For the past few years, while immigration has been declining, the number in detention has been rising steadily. I should be grateful if the Minister would say how much has been spent on the detention estate since the coalition came into office. How does the Treasury view the plans for an even bigger estate?
I have difficulty also with the decision to allow the Secretary of State to deprive a person of his citizenship if it was acquired by naturalisation and she is satisfied that while a citizen the person conducted himself in a manner which is seriously prejudicial to the vital interests of the UK. The instant she makes an order under Clause 60, if the person has no other citizenship he becomes stateless and has only a retrospective right of appeal under the Special Immigration Appeals Commission Act 1997.
Did the Government consult the UNHCR, the guardian of the Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, before including this clause in the Bill? Did they consider providing some form of external scrutiny over the powers in Section 40 of the 1981 Act, which are being exercised on an increasing scale? In 2013, 20 people were stripped of their UK citizenship, which was more than in all the previous years since the original power was introduced in the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002.
On health tourism, the Bill contains only enabling provisions but the intention is that non-EEA migrants granted leave to enter for more than six months will be required to pay a surcharge, like an insurance premium, to cover the cost of any NHS treatment that they may need, which is reasonable. But all other non-EEA visitors coming for shorter periods of up to six months are liable to be charged at the point of accessing treatment after the initial contact with a GP, for which registration will be required. Did Ministers consider the representations we have all had from Maternity Action and the Royal College of Midwives about the harmful effects this will have on pregnant women among the 500,000 estimated undocumented migrants, including not only the short-term visitors but also refused asylum-seekers and visa overstayers? They may be deterred from seeking antenatal care and, as a result, develop health resource intensive conditions later on or potential harm to the unborn child.
Obviously I welcome the statutory prohibition of child detention, even though it is still subject to the exceptions that were agreed in 2010. At the Report stage in another place, the Home Secretary said that the Government would provide a separate legal basis for pre-departure accommodation. I am wondering whether that refers to the short-term holding facilities at Heathrow and other points of entry, which the Independent Monitoring Board has condemned as,
“unsuitable for use overnight or at any time by children”.
There is now at last a plan for improvements, due to start in April and to be completed by December 2014. I should be grateful if the Minister would confirm that the project at Heathrow is still on course.
I also welcome the introduction of universal embarkation checks in 2015, which are provided for in Schedule 8 and seem to have escaped the attention of the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria. We already screen about two-thirds of passengers leaving the UK using advance passenger information. I understand that that will go up to 75% on all routes and 90% of all air passengers next month. To complete the picture, data on the remaining passengers will have to be collected at the border by carrier and port operator staff. Those persons are already involved in outbound passenger processes, so the additional work required of them will be minimal.
As the Public Accounts Committee said in July 2013, estimates of annual migration are based at present on the International Passenger Survey sample of 5,000 migrants and are subject to a wide margin of error. I congratulate the Government on eliminating that uncertainty and collecting information, as has been long advocated by the Liberal Democrats. It is of importance to our national security and to the effective enforcement of our immigration laws.
My Lords, perhaps I may start by saying to the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, that all Patels are brothers and sisters, and that they never do anything illegal knowingly.
To get back to more serious matters, I guess that the Minister must be heartened that we are nearly half way through.
He will not have heard many supporters of this Bill and he is not likely to hear more. I will try not to repeat much that has already been said but I hope to add to it. Noble Lords must not misunderstand me: I feel strongly about the issues already raised, particularly those related to universities, students and health charges. I will also mention briefly the effect that the Bill may have on other vulnerable groups, particularly pregnant women and children.
I declare an interest: I am chancellor of the University of Dundee and, rather unusually, still hold a professorship at the same university in obstetrics. Fortunately, I have not been called on for any services to be delivered for a while.
As has already been mentioned, Universities UK, which represents vice-chancellors of bona fide universities—we are not talking about bogus universities which might be mentioned in the “Panorama” programme—feels strongly that a Bill that will,
“remove appeal rights for students and staff applying for further leave to remain … introduce a surcharge for access to NHS services … require private landlords to check the immigration status of their tenants … increase the scope for government to raise fees for visas and immigration services”,
is fundamentally flawed. It believes that,
“it would be in the wider interests of the UK to exempt international students from the effects of the Bill”.
I would add postgraduate students to that list.
It has already been mentioned that, according to government figures, international students in higher education contributed £10.2 billion to the UK economy. We have already heard that it has been recorded for the first time that there was a drop of about 1% in students in 2012-13. To give some more detailed figures, as regards the total entrants by subject from non-EU countries, in STEM subjects there was a drop in 2011-12 of 8% and a further 2% in 2012-13. These are official figures.
In some STEM subjects, for instance in veterinary science, there was a 22% drop; in medicine and dentistry, there was a 6% drop; and in computer science, there was an 11% drop. While the drop has not been as significant in some non-STEM subjects, a trend is beginning to show. It is even demonstrated in postgraduate students and, more importantly, it is now beginning to show in research students. What is fundamental is that the trend is downwards.
We have to ask why, when people like me once considered the United Kingdom to be the prime place to go for undergraduate and postgraduate education, they now are trying to go somewhere else. It is a compound effect of the visa restrictions, increased charges and now the other charges that this legislation would impose. Some 32% of post-docs are from non-EU countries. They often come with their families. This Bill will make it more expensive for them.
Much has already been said about students and I support all that, so I come now to Clauses 33 and 34, which relate to NHS charges. I fully accept that there is a need to protect the public purse by limiting access to healthcare in some circumstances and preventing the deliberate misuse of scarce resources. However, any measures we introduce should be practical, necessary, appropriate and, to borrow the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, evidence based. The Bill introduces a change to the residency criteria in Clause 34 so that eligibility for free NHS services is dependent on migrants having indefinite leave to remain. How many migrants who do not have indefinite leave to remain are working, paying tax and making national insurance contributions? Is it equitable that they should also pay the charges?
I am also concerned about the equity of these changes as there are significant variations in the time it takes for individuals to become eligible for indefinite leave to remain. The introduction of the health surcharge could also make the UK a less attractive destination for skilled workers from outside the EEA, particularly in shortage areas such as the National Health Service. Everybody here is familiar with the sight of lots of doctors and many more nurses from non-EU countries in our hospitals. They might have come here to train and remained here.
There are other issues too. The rationale given for the changes, in the impact assessment accompanying the Bill, is that the current arrangements are too generous and leave the NHS open to abuse. The Department of Health commissioned a two-phase independent audit of visitors and temporary migrants using the NHS. The Government brought in the legislation based on this. I am concerned that the Government’s proposals could create unintended drawbacks for the NHS and for patients in particular. The proposals are likely to create a complex patchwork of charging and access entitlements where some services, such as GP appointments, remain free while others, including A&E visits, will be charged for.
The Bill also introduces changes to residency criteria so that eligibility for free NHS services depends on migrants having indefinite leave to remain, as I already mentioned. However, a medical student who comes to the UK on a Tier 4 visa and remains on that visa for seven or eight years to finish the undergraduate course and then goes on to a Tier 2 visa because he needs postgraduate training would take 10 to 12 years to get indefinite leave to remain. Is that equitable? Why should he be penalised for 10 years?
I am also concerned that proposals for a health surcharge in Clause 33 risk having a negative impact on the UK’s attractiveness as a destination for skilled workers, particularly in shortage occupations where the economy cannot find sufficient workers either from the UK or the EEA workforce. In the UK, consultants in emergency medicine, haematology and old-age psychiatry are on the shortage occupation list. Non-consultants and non-training medical posts—most of the junior doctors you often see in the hospital—in anaesthesia, general medicine and psychiatry are also on the list. There are many more specialties now being added because of the shortage. The health surcharge, when combined with visa application fees and maintenance requirements, risks having an impact on the UK’s ability to attract high-quality migrants in medical jobs on the shortage occupation list. This could clearly have a negative impact on healthcare.
The Bill also includes provision for migrants who have paid the health surcharge to be able to access free NHS care to the same extent as a permanent resident. However, it also allows for exclusion from free access to be specified for particularly expensive discretionary treatments. It is not stated why, if the initial payment is considered to be fair, appropriate and comprehensive, there will also be discretionary payments for some high-risk conditions and the Bill does not state what they are. It gives the overall impression that, if you want to come to this country for study or work, it will cost you.
The issue of pregnant women was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. There are potential health impacts for pregnant women from Clauses 33 and 34. The proposed changes will deter some pregnant women from seeking and accessing maternity care. This will have a negative impact on the health of these women and their babies and perversely will lead to a need for more medical care at a greater cost. Charges at the point of care create risks that women will not present to the NHS, will present late in pregnancy or will be denied access because of their inability to pay. This prevents midwives and doctors from giving the appropriate health advice and treatment early in pregnancy. It cannot be right to include pregnant women.
The newspaper headlines say that the number of babies born to immigrant mothers is increasing, but the papers do not clearly define immigrant mothers. I guess anybody who is not white might be an immigrant mother. Anybody who might be white but is known to come from another European country will also be regarded as an immigrant. An exemption from NHS charges for all pregnant women and children is required in this Bill.
In short, I hope that we will see all students and postgraduates removed from this Bill before it becomes law and that NHS charges for pregnant women and children will also be removed. That is what I hope the Minister will accept and what I will be looking for in the amendments I will bring.
My Lords, it is always a pleasure to speak after my noble friend Lord Patel. I just wish that I had his experience. However, I can declare a relevant interest. Apart from being an academic at Imperial College, where I hold a chair, I am also the chancellor of Sheffield Hallam University, I am on the council of Surrey University and I am chairman of the Royal College of Music. As far as I am aware, I have not delivered a baby at any of these institutions. However, I think that that broad experience is quite relevant to this debate, as is the fact that over the past three or so years I have probably spoken in about one-third of British universities and have met overseas students from every Russell group university.
Therefore, I think I can say with some assurance that I am a bit surprised at the Minister’s apparent complacency with his speech. He is widely respected in this House and his lovely manner belies what is a pretty cruel Bill, which is a very serious issue for us. One of the things the Minister said was that this Bill strikes the right balance. In my view, it clearly does not, as pretty well every speaker has said. Secondly, the Minister asserted that the figures for overseas students had held steady. That is not true. Admittedly the overall 1% fall is trivial and could be a statistical freak but there is plentiful evidence that numbers of the key students who we really need in this country are falling, particularly in the STEM subjects where there is the greatest contribution to our national economy and that of our universities. Thirdly, he said that the NHS contribution is designed as a fair contribution. It is not a fair contribution because most students who come to this country are young, fit people who will not require National Health Service treatment. When I was a post-doc, I went as a research fellow to Belgium. I took with me not only my long-suffering wife, who is sitting near the Chamber, but also my baby daughter. One of the assurances that I had when going on that year’s trip was the recognition that if my daughter fell ill she would have free treatment. In general, that is something that has been an important principle.
If the figures for coming into this country as an overseas student are indeed almost holding steady, that is because of the outstanding education students receive at British universities. It has nothing to do with easier access to the UK, which is the implication. The access is quite clearly not easy. It is complacent to suggest otherwise.
It worried me, too, when the noble Lord, Lord King, seemed to say that this Bill was partly needed to appease—and I am paraphrasing, so forgive me—public opinion. I do not think that we should be appeasing public opinion if it is the wrong legislation.
I did not say that and the noble Lord was embarrassed when he tried to say that I did. I was simply saying that it is no good for the country to feel that there is no concern about problems that are coming up over illegal immigration and abuse of the immigration system. It is our responsibility in Parliament to help command public confidence, otherwise we will face a much more serious situation in the future.
I accept what the noble Lord said and I bow to his great experience as a previous Secretary of State. None the less, one of the issues, surely, is that we need to engage with the public so that they recognise what is good for the country and what is less good for the country. I fear that the Bill does not do that, which is a problem.
I do not want to repeat what the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, said in his outstanding speech, with all the figures that he gave, but the complacency is surprising. I know that it is out of order to show a document in the House, so I will not raise it to shoulder level. But a document from the Home Office, which is 167 pages thick, arrived this afternoon before the debate. There was no possibility of being able to absorb this information, which is so detailed, about why the Home Office justifies this legislation.
We should recognise that there is a deep-seated concern outside the United Kingdom about the way that students are greeted in this country. I say that as a regular visitor to Caltech, which is of course in California, and an irregular visitor to Harvard, Johns Hopkins University and the University of California, most recently. Invariably, in all the laboratories there are outstanding students—particularly Indian students—all of whom are convinced that we are not open for business. When we mentioned that to Home Office Ministers giving evidence to the Science and Technology Committee, it was consistently denied. It also transpired, when we asked the border control agency and the Home Office Ministers who were representing the Government at those inquiries, that none of them could give us clear figures about which students were going through customs, broken down into how many were from Russell group universities and how many were studying STEM subjects. That is a big deficiency because those are particularly the people we want to keep.
There is unquestionable evidence from students that they are concerned about the amount they pay for visas, and there is a suggestion that over the next 10 years that amount of money overall might raise around £700 million. Perhaps the Minister can correct me when he comes to reply. So £200 per annum for the National Health Service may not seem much to people like ourselves, who are, after all, well off. But let us cast our minds back to when we were students. Most of us did not actually have to pay fees. Students who are paying fees are looking for every single penny, no matter where they come from. The last thing they want to be is a burden on relatives or friends. If they can go somewhere where they will be less of a burden, they will undoubtedly increasingly choose those universities.
I want to tell the Minister what one of my students at Imperial College said: “Stop treating us like money machines”. That is a very real issue for our students. How is that £200 arrived at? What would it raise? How many students will use the NHS? Who will organise it through the NHS bureaucracy? What will be the cost to the NHS to make sure that this impost is paid? Lots of figures have been bandied around about how much extra those students from outside the EU bring in. It may be £7.9 billion or £11.3 billion, which is the biggest figure that I have seen. But even that does not take into account, for example, the entire intellectual property that is produced by overseas students. My colleague, Dr Carol Readhead and I have produced 25 patents and spun out a company at Imperial College. Most of the IPR was actually generated closely in conjunction with the university at Caltech, and without the patent lawyers in California I could not have established that company in London. That is an important point to be made.
Imperial College, like the Royal College of Music, is a good example of where it will be a colossal problem if the Bill goes through as it is. It is worth bearing in mind that 68.3% of Imperial College’s fee income comes from international students compared with 31% of the student body. We should look at those figures for a moment and understand what they mean. I hope particularly that our Liberal Democrat friends will recognise them when it comes to amendments. We have been left with a crashing problem with the rise in student fees. Frankly, international students are subsidising the education of British students to a real extent. At Imperial College, it will cost at least £30,000 to £35,000 for an engineering student and maybe more for a medical student. Of course, our students are paying £9,600. There is a real issue here about whether or not we maintain this as a business. If we threaten our universities, we risk serious damage. As it turns out, I am not particularly worried about Imperial College, but some other universities undoubtedly will have a massive problem.
I will finish because I have gone on for 10 minutes, which is longer than I intended. There is clear evidence that numbers are being reduced from some areas, particularly India, Nigeria, Japan and Turkey. We are talking a range of about 50% reductions from those countries. That is a real issue. Some 160 languages are spoken at Imperial College. The Royal College of Music is a much smaller place and 60 languages are spoken there. Those people have a huge and vital importance to Britain, not merely for its economy but for its future. We should be trying to encourage some of those scientists to stay in this country and support our economy in the future in all sorts of ways. At the moment, post-docs from my laboratory have left and gone—one to America recently and one to Asia. That is highly regrettable.
My Lords, I have long been of the opinion that immigration law is one of the best tests of the values and principles to which any country subscribes. It is also one of the best litmus tests by which to judge a country. I therefore wish to align myself with the comments made by my noble friend Lady Hamwee earlier on this afternoon when she spoke on the Bill.
The desperately sad thing is that we have been here before. In 2004, the Blair Government consulted on a similar proposal to exclude visitors from free primary healthcare. They did it as an excuse to try to deny failed asylum seekers access to NHS services, particularly secondary care. They never published the results of their consultation and quietly shelved the matter. Here we are again, all these years later, with another Government, under pressure from the right-wing press, coming up with the same set of proposals. It is a desperately sad reflection on the way we are asked to make legislation on this subject that we are yet again put in this position.
In July 2013, Jeremy Hunt admitted that he did not know whether health tourism was a problem at all. He said:
“The truth is that we do not know the cost”—
of unpaid NHS charges—
“which is why we are carrying out an independent audit this summer”.—[Official Report, Commons, 16/7/13; col. 908.]
The Government produced two pieces of quantitative and qualitative research to go along with these Bills. The conclusion that can be drawn from them is that there is currently no systematic data collection whatever on NHS use by migrants, chargeable or otherwise.
The quantitative data were a top-down estimate of migrant use, modelled from data that were sometimes of varying quality and from a large number of assumptions. They used, for example, the international passenger survey data. They did not give us any actual new information about use of the NHS by migrants. In the quantitative research, researchers repeatedly put caveats around the findings of their model, saying that,
“any point is just a likely value in a plausible range”.
That is to say, the much publicised figure of £1.76 billion, which has been bandied around, is about 50% likely to be wrong. I really do not think that this is a proper basis on which to bring about such a fundamental change in access to the NHS.
The quantitative survey was subtitled, “Observations from the Front Line”. It gave the impression that front-line staff in acute health services had come up with systematic observations about migrants and their use of the NHS. In fact, what it revealed was that there was no systematic observation, and that quite often people were simply asked questions on the basis of their appearance or nationality. Such a flawed basis of research is really no way in which to change the fundamental right of access to the NHS for all of us.
By creating a barrier to accessing primary care services, we open up a huge health threat to the whole population. It is entirely possible that there will be serious implications in the diagnosis and treatment of infectious diseases and in herd immunity for childhood diseases, for which we need immunisation of the whole population. There is a significant public health risk associated with restricting access to primary care, and it is not something that we should do lightly. There is not much evidence, I know, but there is one small study from Médecins du Monde—doctors of the world—which has a small clinic in Tower Hamlets that works with people who are vulnerable and do not have access to NHS services.
It is a very small study, but what MdM found was that its GP list of patients was pretty much like that of every other GP surgery. The majority of people who come to see the doctors do not require any treatment at all. A small, but significant, number of people require some minor medication and a follow-up visit. A fraction of patients require secondary care. Admittedly, this is only a small study, but rather than paying all our attention to some of the alarmist stories that we see in the press, we really ought to look at those small figures.
The biggest point that I want to make is that if we are to go ahead with anything in this Bill, we should do it solely on the basis that its implementation will be accompanied throughout by proper research and evidence-tracking, so that in future we will not be reduced to passing laws on the basis of what the Daily Mail might think is the truth.
In the time available to me, I shall pass on to one other issue. I thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester for his thoughtful speech. On the issue of sham marriages and civil partnerships, I understand that the Government believe that there are between 4,000 and 10,000—we are back to shaky evidence bases again. They say that in 2012 there were approximately 1,900 cases of sham marriages and civil partnerships under Section 24 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999. How many of those were sham civil partnerships, as opposed to sham heterosexual marriages, and what were the countries of origin of the non-EEA partners?
I understand that the proposal to extend the notification for civil partnerships and marriages from 15 days to 28 is to enable registry officials to satisfy themselves that they are genuine. Under this Bill, the Home Office will also be allowed to extend that period to 70 days for further investigation, if there is reason to believe that the marriage or civil partnership is not genuine. However, it is not clear to me whether there is any appeal process which people will be able to use if they have been wrongly adjudged to have entered into a sham marriage or civil partnership. Will the Minister enlighten us on whether there is an appeals process, what it is and how people will be enabled to use it?
Finally, I turn to one other issue. Noble Lords who read yesterday’s Observer will have seen that LGBT asylum seekers have been subjected to the most shockingly degrading line of questioning during their interviews. Does the Minister agree that demeaning and intimidating people just because they are gay has no part whatever to play in our justice system? Will he assure us that this is going to stop—and stop now? We are not Uganda. We do not treat gay people like that in this country, no matter how hard our times are.
My Lords, first, I declare my interest as a small landlord. Since the late 1960s, I have noticed successive Governments have used legislation for a more robust position on immigration, and it is always before the general election or even just before the European election. The debate should have been about the new EU arrivals from Romania and Bulgaria, but it is always the visible minority communities and people from outside the EU who will face the consequences.
I regret that I may be repeating some points so eloquently made earlier by your Lordships, but I will repeat them anyway. Parts 1 and 2 would remove due process protections and judicial scrutiny of immigration decision-making. Part 2 would also give immigration officials the power to demand biometric information from individuals. Officials currently believe they have the right to question during in-country spot checks. I am sorry that the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, is not in his seat, but I wonder how many of your Lordships have been stopped at an airport. The noble Viscount asked what was wrong with being asked to produce documents. I will tell your Lordships.
Last year I was stopped twice: once at Heathrow and a second time at Birmingham. At Birmingham in June I was asked to produce my documents, which I did, and I was then asked where I was going. I told them that I was going to Pakistan and why I was going there. I told him that I was going to attend the Prime Minister’s inauguration ceremony. Then he asked what I did, and I said, “I am a Member of the House of Lords”, and he asked, “In what country?”.
I made the point to the former Immigration Minister, Mark Harper, that that man needed some training. When I asked him whether he was targeting or profiling, he said that he was profiling. When I have asked Ministers and officials, they have said that there is no such thing as profiling. If that happened to any white, indigenous parliamentarian or member of the public, people would be appalled. That is my point. I can give you the dates: April and June 2013.
In November 2013, there was a raid in Rotherham at a restaurant, the Orient Express, the old train station. I just happened to be there when about eight or 10 officers walked in. Some of them stood near the door. The others went into the kitchen. They moved all the staff, who were very busy. They questioned everybody. I was watching, and then I asked one of the officers if I could speak to the senior officer present. He said, “Who are you?” and I told him that I was a just servant, a Member of the House of Lords, and I just wanted to ask what they were looking for. Actually, the raid resulted in nothing, because it was not based on intelligence but, having made that point, the officers, having come through the front door, went through the back of the restaurant and did not want to speak to me. That was recorded with the immigration officials in Yorkshire and Humberside.
Parts 3 and 4 would mark a huge shift in the British tradition of immigration control at the border, transferring responsibility to the daily lives of people across the country. Landlords, vicars, imams and healthcare workers will be asked to check on the immigration status of individuals who want to use their services, inevitably setting race relations back decades in the process. The point has already been made about the former Minister, for whom I have the greatest respect, but even he could not detect the immigration papers. How can we expect landlords, vicars and health workers to behave like UK Border Agency officials?
In my opinion, the Bill is a sinister piece of legislation. Building on our laws that define certain humans as illegal, it is intended to create an even more hostile environment for an already marginalised section of society. Consequently, people will be deprived of employment, bank accounts, driving licences, accommodation and family life. Legal rights for seeking redress will be severely curtailed, and courts will be instructed by Parliament on how to decide cases. At the same time, social media channels are churning out material, propaganda wagons have been sent to patrol the streets bearing a slogan of hate, and “papers please” checks on public transport and the streets are spreading.
Families will not simply accept their extermination. Lovers will not part because a bureaucrat makes an error. Parents will not abandon their dreams for their children because some politician says so. Children will not exile their parents to a distant and lonely death because compassion and rights are no longer relevant to modern public policy.
Nor will society return to the chalky white days of the 1950s, before all these inconvenient cross-border, cross-racial family relationships. The Government’s hostile environment is not just about purging those modern, loving families from our society; it is also about wishfully thinking that such relationships can be discouraged in future. The setting of minimum income for a spouse at a level that literally half the population cannot meet warns our young and poor people that love with a foreigner comes at huge personal cost. It is intended to dissuade.
The Government’s social engineering is unnatural and morally wrong. It cannot possibly work, but it can cause misery along the way. The Bill removes appeal rights against decisions made under the Immigration Rules. For more than 40 years, we have had immigration tribunals to correct administrative decisions profoundly affecting people’s lives. It appears that tribunals will continue to exist for tax disputes, school place allocation, parking fines and welfare benefits, but not where one is faced with permanent separation from spouse or children or removal from the country.
The Bill proposes the removal of the right of appeal to an independent judge, to be replaced with “administrative review”, as many of your Lordships have already mentioned, by the department’s own staff. Immigration appeals have an almost 50% success rate, according to the Government’s own figures. A recent freedom of information request reveals that, between July 2012 and June 2013, 6,096 administrative reviews were resolved and, of those, 1,077 were overturned. That is 18%. That is why the Government want to remove the right of appeal. It is the same reason why the Government want to reduce access to judicial review: they do not like losing. The Government would rather reduce access to justice and remove independent scrutiny than improve decision-making.
The Government propose to empower the Home Secretary to deprive a person of British citizenship acquired by naturalisation, even if by doing so she will render the person stateless. The Home Secretary will be able to use that power if the person,
“has conducted him or herself in a manner which is seriously prejudicial to the vital interests of the UK”.
Nearly 60 years ago, the Supreme Court of the United States decided in the Trop v Dulles case that it was a cruel and unusual punishment to deprive a person of citizenship, making him or her an outcast in his own land. Statelessness has been estimated to affect up to 12 million people worldwide. Possession of nationality is essential for full participation in society and a prerequisite for the enjoyment of the full range of human rights. Those who are stateless may, for example, be denied the right to own land or exercise the right to vote. They are often unable to obtain identity documents. They may be detained because they are stateless, and they can be denied access to education and health services or blocked from obtaining employment.
The evil of statelessness is a profound concern of the United Nations, which has produced two conventions on the issue: the Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons 1954 and the Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness 1961. The UK has signed both. Article 8 of the 1961 convention states:
“A Contracting State shall not deprive a person of his nationality if such deprivation would render him stateless”.
Although Article 8.3 allows the state to derogate from their obligation in respect of a person who,
“has conducted himself in a manner seriously prejudicial to the vital interests of the State”,
the UK has until now deliberately not relied on that derogation. Section 56 of the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act 2006, passed in the aftermath of the 7 July 2005 bombings, gave the Secretary of State the power to deprive a person of British citizenship on the grounds that that was conducive to the public good, but not if to do so would render the person stateless. I am puzzled by the use of the phrase,
“conducive to the public good”,
because it has been used arbitrarily and in a discriminatory manner.
Let me give you an example: a man called Moazzam Begg—a former Guantanamo Bay detainee—and a political leader from Pakistan both live in north London. In the case of Mr Begg, his passport has been confiscated due to his travel abroad, and I understand that he has been collecting information regarding the complicity of various authorities in the Syria dispute. He has never been charged with any criminal or terrorist activity anywhere, but he is now without a passport. In the case of the Pakistani politician, according to the BBC “Newsnight,” there are very serious allegations of murder, incitement to violence and money-laundering, which have been investigated by the Metropolitan Police. This man has no connection with British society. To the best of my knowledge he does not have a job or a business in the UK. Many people, however, have been killed in Karachi after his telephonic addresses, when he speaks from London. Thousands of people have made complaints to the Met police and written to the British authorities on his activities related to violence in Pakistan, yet the Home Secretary has not made any efforts to have him removed. There are thousands of people who question me on every trip to Pakistan on why the British authorities have this double standard—why they treat some people differently. It is “conducive to public good”.
The Government’s plan risks the UK’s losing a proud position—a position of solidarity and a potential position of leadership—instead of remaining at the forefront of international efforts to reduce statelessness. I have a very long list of things that I wanted to go into, and I realise that I have gone over my time, but I hope that the Bill will be changed, at least in Parts 1, 2, 3, 4 and 6, including Clause 60. Amendments can make this Bill much better than it is now.
My Lords, there have been many times in our history when we have had a hostile environment for immigration. Perhaps one of the more justified ones was when my own family came from Denmark, a European state—but of course it was not then, in the years 800 to 1000. It was more of a Norse confederation when we came in, and we certainly pillaged. I do not know what else we did, but we took the lands of Suffolk, where my predecessors were—a wonderful county, much enriched by us Norse and the Danes. It was right that there should have been a hostile reaction to those boats coming across the North Sea into—well, it was not the land of Angles then, but Saxon England.
What concerns me is this theme that has come through of hostile environments, created not so much by the Government, though I will come back to that later, but by the public. It is a real issue. I would come back to the theme of leadership that my noble friend Lady Hamwee mentioned, and how we deal with that.
To me, one of the biggest symbols of that hostile environment being set by us, the elite of political power, was the immigration vans. What they said was, “Go home or face arrest”, and then, like some sort of buy-one-get-one-free ad in a supermarket, “106 arrests last week in your area”. You look at that and you think, “Well, actually, that is factually correct: if you are illegal, then we wish you to go home. That is right”. But what an environment, and what a way to state your message. Of course, that did not just go over the TV screens in the United Kingdom or on our own “News at Ten” and other bulletins. It went worldwide. That is the problem about the UK brand that has been created by some of these actions.
What we have managed to do through this, certainly over the new year period, is fundamentally upset our allies in the European Union, the leaders of Bulgaria and Romania. Perhaps even more important, we have upset Donald Tusk, the leader in Poland, one of our potentially greatest allies in Europe in much of what we want to deliver. Most of Eastern Europe was alongside us in our agendas around Europe. Much of that friendship, that work we have done in the past to encourage them into the union has been thrown away by the sort of attitudes that we have shown at a governmental level within the United Kingdom. I highly regret that.
I say to noble Lords opposite that I was filled with great sadness last year, I think it was, when the Labour Party apologised for letting in our colleagues from the new member states of Eastern Europe on their accession to the European Union. There we had a smart, competitive advantage. The best and the brainiest and the most valuable of those citizens came across, first, not to other parts of continental Europe and the eurozone but to us and to Ireland—to our countryside and to our factories, certainly in the far south-west. It was a great boost to our economy. I am very sad that the Labour Party has admitted being wrong and said sorry for that. I think it was one of the great things that Britain did in fulfilling what it said in terms of enlargement of the European Union being important.
My noble friend Lord King mentioned that perhaps we need to think again about mobility in Europe. Perhaps we do, but it was Great Britain that pushed the agenda of enlargement, knowing exactly what the rules were. We were the country that pushed enlargement most, and now, because of that move back again, we are looking very strange within a European context.
This hostile environment shows a country, economy and population that are naturally successful and confident as being inward-looking and fearful. That is not helped by our continued bickering over the rest of European Union.
I was privileged to come into this House in 2006, during the previous Government. One of the things that struck me then was that every year we would have what I called “panicked Home Office syndrome”. There would be a Bill coming into Parliament every session to make the Government look tough on terrorism, or tough on crime. Most of them would be incredibly long Bills, and they took a long time to go through—but most of the powers were already there, and once the Bills were passed they were not implemented. They were not about effect but about headlines; they were about the Government making themselves look tough. I worry that this might start again in terms of the immigration debate because, as noble Lords have already said, in many ways this is not an issue that needs to be dealt with by legislation. I am sure that some aspects should be, but really it is about the competent management of the government that manage these areas—in this case, primarily the Home Office.
In the provisions of the Bill—and many noble Lords have said this already, so I will not delay the House—I am concerned that there is a risk of pushing illegal immigration, which is wrong and needs to be solved, further underground. It is a problem of discrimination, potentially, by landlords in this case—probably not so much by the clearing banks and with current accounts, but certainly by landlords. It is also about the authorities. We have had a couple of examples. I know Chinese restaurants in the south-west that have been raided several times. I cannot think of one instance in which any European or British restaurant or fish and chip shop in Cornwall or Devon has been raided, but ethnic restaurants are targeted by the authorities. This degrades our authority. It is the wrong way to approach this, but it is a temptation. I suspect it will continue.
There are some good things, though. Exit controls clearly make a lot of sense. I quite like being able to walk through an airport where I do not have to check out, but I agree that it is quite a good control. Even there, we often forget as Members of this House that we are members of a common travel area. The UK wilfully does not have control over its own borders: we share them with the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man and, more importantly, the Republic of Ireland. I would be interested to hear from my noble friend the Minister whether the border checks and these various other aspects of border control are to be implemented by the authorities in the Republic of Ireland on the same scale and at the same time. I suspect that that is not completely the case.
On the NHS, I fundamentally believe that we should have a welcoming society which, on the whole, resists charging visitors for their medical conditions. If we have tourism with people coming for specific medical treatment, that is clearly wrong, but otherwise we should err on the side of generosity rather than trying to tighten up something that is probably not manageable.
Sham marriages are clearly an issue and need further attention as well, although a lot of those powers are already there. However, as my noble friend Lord Avebury asked, where is the legislation that also says that British citizens should have the unimpeded right to marry who they wish? I do not see that in the Bill. It would seem to be a fundamental right—something that we would want to offer all our fellow citizens—yet we cannot have it at the moment.
The main problem I see is one of fear. Yes, it is a fear of immigration but also of everything behind it. There are two main strands to the solution for that. One is the boring one of management: managing the process better and properly, not through legislation. The other strand, as my noble friend Lady Hamwee said, is that of leadership, in that we have to make it clear that the exchange of immigration and emigration—all the circular movement of people—is generally positive. It needs to be managed and not to be a drain on the UK economy. I am certain that it is quite the opposite of that. We need to put out that message, rather than being completely defensive about it.
I congratulate the Government, as other noble Lords have done, on our foreign aid budget, which makes sure that the problem of excessive migration will go down over the long term. I am also delighted to see that we are not following the example of Australia by using the Royal Navy to push North Sea ferries back into the territorial waters of our European colleagues. Neither are we committing asylum seekers to the island of Sark, which would be the equivalent of some of the Australian operations.
I will finish on this point. We have just had a report from the Government on flooding in the south-west. I come from Cornwall, where one of our big concerns has been to try to get the message out that Cornwall and Devon are still accessible. You can still come and visit us to enjoy our attractions. You can come and locate your business there and you will not be isolated. We have put out the hashtag #openforbusiness for the south-west. If we are not careful and continue with this hostile environment for migration, we will have to start to persuade people by saying strongly that we are open for business in the United Kingdom as well.
My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow my noble friend Lord Teverson. His combative style shows that his pillaging instincts, at least in a verbal sense, have not been forgotten, and I will come back to some of his comments in a moment.
The majority of the speeches we have had and the briefings we have received on the Bill have focused on two aspects: first, the risk that the Bill poses to the economic advantages that this country is said to enjoy as a result of immigration and, secondly, that the proposed tightening-up of the country’s immigration procedures represents an undue restriction on what my noble friend on the Front Bench called in his opening remarks “access to justice”. Those are serious charges, to which I wish to return in a few minutes.
At the outset, however, I may disappoint the noble Lords, Lord Patel and Lord Winston, because I want in this Second Reading debate to declare my support for what the Government are proposing today. For those of us engaged in the political process, there are few policies which our fellow citizens regard as being as counterintuitive, if not downright illogical, than those surrounding immigration rules and procedures. The regulars in the saloon bar of the Dog and Duck find it hard to understand how people who have come here illegally, and who may have committed crimes or enjoyed access to our non-contributory health and social services, seem to be able to avoid removal for an inordinate length of time. I am not suggesting that the only way to access political wisdom is via the saloon bar of the Dog and Duck but the regulars have a point. If we are not to be seen as being out of touch we need to address those concerns to maintain public confidence, as my noble friend also said his opening remarks. The Bill at least addresses some of those concerns and that is why I support it. I quite agree that there are issues and details that we shall need to explore and discuss in Committee but the Government are broadly on the right track.
I referred a moment ago to the question of access to justice. I attach great importance to that. Members of your Lordships’ House may be aware that I am a trustee of Fair Trials International and that I was extremely critical of the Government’s proposals to reduce the time in which an appeal can be made against a European arrest warrant from 14 days to seven days. That proposal formed part of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill which your Lordships’ House has just finished considering. My noble friend on the Front Bench felt the full force of my disappointment, which continues as he was not prepared to shift the Government’s position. The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, may be smiling but it was also pretty disappointing that noble Lords opposite would not support that either. When I hear them talking about how important it is to get these procedures right, the question worth bearing in mind is whether you are going to talk the talk or walk the walk. But—and this is an important but—I had to recognise that in the case of European arrest warrants, at least, there was a substantial proportion of unmeritorious appeals, which clogged up the system at considerable expense. I expect and fear that the immigration appeal process has similar characteristics and is therefore in need of streamlining. Therefore, while access to justice is very important, it is not a card that trumps all others. There are balancing issues of fairness to other law-abiding members of society and of the appropriate use of scarce resources in our health and social services. Finally, there are balancing issues of the interests of the long-suffering British taxpayer who foots the bill. No doubt we shall examine these balances in detail in Committee.
In the rest of my remarks, I want to set these proposals in the wider issue of the economic advantage that many claim the country enjoys from immigration. Here, I want to follow some of the themes that my noble friend Lord King of Bridgwater was developing in his interesting remarks earlier. I do so in the context of immigration as a whole. I recognise that the Bill seeks to address only immigration from outside the EU but, in this Second Reading debate, we should step back and look at the jigsaw as a whole—not just the piece that the Bill represents. I argue strongly that to consider immigration only as regards economic activity is to adopt too narrow a prism. We need to consider also the impacts of immigration on other issues, such as quality of life and social cohesion.
I should make it clear at the beginning—my noble friend Lady Hamwee made this point—that, lest my remarks should be misinterpreted, when I talk about the native population I am talking about the native population irrespective of race, colour or creed. The basic facts may be simply stated. The population of this country is going up by 1,100 people a day—a large village or a small town every week. Our population, which is currently 63 million, is estimated to reach 70 million by 2025. That is an increase of 7 million, or 14 cities the size of Manchester. “No worries”, say many people, “Only 5% of Britain is built upon”. It is probably about 12% of England but it is a small proportion, they say. However, the population is not evenly spread. England has now overtaken the Netherlands as the most densely populated country in Europe. Furthermore, the UK is expected to have the largest European population by about 2030, having by then overtaken Germany. Let us think about the position of the south of England when a goodly proportion of those 14 Manchesters come to be built, as I expect that they will be, south of a line from Bristol to the Wash. To suggest that there are no consequent quality-of-life issues is fanciful. The heated public debates that we are having about building on the green belt, expanding Heathrow Airport and the construction of HS2 are the first outriders of what will be increasingly challenging public policy issues.
There is also the issue of social cohesion, referred to by my noble friend in his opening remarks and by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester in his interesting contribution. If the default option is to encourage immigration, we run the risk of crowding out our native born. Crowding out can take many forms. If we consider football’s Premier League, an undeniably successful British activity that earns this country millions, we should also consider how few British players play in the Premier League. Does it matter that 200 or 300 young British males are unable to realise their dreams? In the grand scheme of things, it probably does not, although it matters rather more if you are one of the 200 or 300. It matters particularly to the black minority community, who proportionately provide a large number of those who play football at the highest level.
Universities UK may be briefing us, and undoubtedly has briefed us, about the impact of these proposals, but I hope it has read the report on higher education, published in October 2012, that drew attention to the increasing shortage of home-grown postgraduate students as a result of the increasing number of people coming from overseas to pursue postgraduate education here. Below those two quite small, perhaps rather atypical, examples are thousands of our fellow countrymen who may find their aspirations and ambitions if not shattered at least limited. We risk creating or perhaps reinforcing a sullen, discontented underclass—and especially where that underclass is a minority group, we risk creating an atmosphere in which extremism may flourish.
On Thursday 6 February, in the Moses Room, the noble Lord, Lord McFall of Alcluith, who is not in his place, initiated a debate on social mobility. The speeches focused, unsurprisingly, on what can be done to hasten the “up” escalator. But the darker side of social mobility, about which we prefer not to talk, is the “down” escalator. This one carries people who for a wide variety of reasons have found themselves disadvantaged. While the “down” escalator can apply to individuals, it can apply to countries too. The noble Lord, Lord Griffiths of Burry Port, talked about the impact of the “down” escalator in that we are perhaps attracting to this country skilled people who can help to stabilise less advantaged, underdeveloped failing states. Although we may benefit from that in the short run, in the long run we may be creating a yet more dangerous world.
Finally, there is the argument that we need immigration to look after our ageing population. The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, and I have discussed this issue in the past. If we follow such a course we will be, in the famous words of Sir David Attenborough, engaging in a gigantic Ponzi population scheme. For today’s young people become tomorrow’s old people. I should like to share some figures with the House. In 2003 the dependency ratio of workers to pensioners was 3.7 to 1—3.7 workers to each pensioner. We know that in 2050 there will be 17.1 million pensioners. If we maintain the ratio we will need 63.4 million workers. Yet on the same projection we know that we will have only 36 million. That is a gap of 27 million. That means that we would need a population not of 70 million, but of 100 million, which is 50% above our present level. These 100 million would in due course become pensioners, requiring still more people to look after them. These are not the remarks of a little Englander determined to pull up the drawbridge.
The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, is right. We could certainly change the ratio by increasing the pension age, but it would not remove the problem. It might obviate it: it might not be 27 million; it might be 20 million. But I accept that a change in the pension age will make a difference.
No one with any knowledge of the history of our country can be unaware of the vital contribution that new arrivals have made to its life: its vitality, diversity and dynamism. However, given the UK’s, and particularly England’s, geographical constraints, which do not exist in the same way for the United States, a country that is often used as an example for us to follow as regards immigration, we are approaching a point at which we must begin a balanced, calm debate about the interaction of size of population with economic advantage, quality of life and social cohesion. The Bill before us today is a first small step in the process to ensure that in principle those who come here legally make a reasonable contribution to our society while those who are here illegally are speedily removed. That is why the Bill has my support.
My Lords, if ever courageous, strategic leadership was required, it is on the extremely contentious and all-consuming issue of immigration. We need leadership that is determined to stand by values and principle, and has a sense of vision for the future of our society. We certainly do not want ambivalence or—worse—deliberately or in effect playing to myopic or xenophobic prejudice, or to lack of understanding, or to the sensationalism of the sinister, populist elements of the media. We must realise that we will never appease or contain such dangerous irrationality. We will be swallowed by it unless we stand up to it.
There are of course huge issues within the context of a consensus that an open-door policy is not a practicality. Migration is a global issue. The noble Lord, Lord King, spoke powerfully about this. There is a desperate need for internationally and regionally agreed strategies—not least within the European Union—within which individual nations can work out their own detailed policies and apply them. We also need a sense of perspective. When we get so preoccupied by the pressures of immigration in this country, do we remember the people of Jordan, Turkey or Lebanon? The immediacy of the issues facing them dwarfs any concerns that we have in this country.
The pressures are political, economic and climatic. They are also the consequences of an accelerating trend towards globalisation of the market, with freer movement of goods and finances, but not people. That is a gigantic flaw in a market. In a genuine market people go to where the work is. Unless we can agree international and regional strategies to meet the reality of the contradiction, so-called illegal immigration will be with us for ever in one form or another.
We also need to be honest with ourselves about immigration’s impact on our economy. It is really not acceptable that we should be proceeding with immigration policy on the basis of generalised hunches about its effect. There are clearly authentically different interpretations of whether immigration is a good thing for our economy. This needs to be thought out very clearly, and I suggest that it should be a prior requisite before one starts having new policies on migration.
Then there are the pressures on local communities, where the largest burden of immigration falls. What are we doing to ensure that where there is the largest influx of migration, the public services get special attention and support? What are we doing to ensure that valiant work on integration is receiving the kind of level of support that is essential for it to be as successful as it should be?
On security, an issue that has constantly concerned me, we need friends in the world, not embittered and alienated people who can become prey to extremist recruiters. That is why the fairness and justice of our immigration policy and its implementation must be transparent. That is why those implementing it must at all times do so with sensitivity and humanity—of course because these are central to a decent Britain but also because it is unforgivable, in our closely interwoven and fragile world, to be building up resentment. If we do this, when it all goes wrong we cannot put all the responsibility and blame on those on the front line; again, we need strong and consistent leadership that sets the tone.
On the issue of asylum, let us strip all the detail away. What is the underlying drive in our asylum policy? Is it, when everything is said and done, to deny asylum and keep people out? Or is it a commitment to the principle that asylum is something crucially important in the name of humanity for people who have been persecuted and are subject to oppression? Surely the ideal for Britain would be that we should bust a gut to ensure that if a person has a case for asylum, it is upheld and sustained, not that everything is mobilised by the state to try to prove that there is no case. Some of the recent stories about what goes on in what amounts to the interrogation of asylum seekers makes me almost at times ashamed to call myself British.
With regard to the issue of employment, what nonsense it is, when people are waiting for a decision, to deny them the dignity of supporting themselves and contributing to the British economy. Many of them could contribute very powerfully to the economy. Then there is the issue of the well-being of children. Yes, we are signed up to many of the conventions and international charters on the rights of the child—indeed, we were pioneers—but surely, just as Britons, we want to live in a society where the well-being of the child is paramount in all situations, and not just another difficult element to be managed. How do we help the child who is caught up in the dreadful complexities of a situation?
On the issue of universities and higher education, others have spoken powerfully and I know that other noble Lords will speak in this debate. I am involved—marginally, these days—in the governance of three universities. Of course we need to win friends in the world by their experiences here in higher education, and of course there is a contribution to the financial well-being of our universities by students from overseas, but the issue that always preoccupies me is this: how, in our highly interdependent world, can we have a relevant centre of higher education and excellence that is not international in character? The very international community that makes a university enhances the quality of the education that is going on there, and indeed enhances its relevance. I wish that we could talk more about this.
Then there is the issue of family. We like to preach about the importance of families and to argue that they are fundamental to the stability of society, yet we can condone immigration policies that in effect break and wreck families. They are almost designed to do so, and are sometimes operated with a callousness that is unbelievable. If we really believe in families, our immigration policy should reflect that.
Then there is a vast array of legal issues, as well presented by the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association. They will all need careful scrutiny as the Bill goes forward: removal; enforcement; bail; biometrics; appeals, especially the practicability of appeals from abroad; access to services, including private rented accommodation; not least the possible stimulation of racism; bank accounts; penalties on employers; the deprivation of citizenship; and, underlying everything, the upholding of human rights. There is a lot of work to be done on this Bill.
As the Bill is given detailed scrutiny, there will be a need for constant awareness of the implications for real people and the real situations out there, away from Whitehall and Westminster. It is therefore essential to listen to those in many of the valiant front-line NGOs that grapple every day with those realities. How we operate immigration policy has tremendous implications for successful race relations within the UK itself. I believe that creation is about diversity. I also believe that we need to celebrate diversity in our society and recognise, overall, the hugely positive impact on the UK of immigration across the centuries.
As some colleagues will know, I recently spent time in hospital and am now undertaking quite intensive physiotherapy. My God, I have seen internationalism at work in our health service—I have experienced it in hospital, and now, where I am undertaking my physio, one of my physiotherapists is Asian. Her grandfather was Indian, from Tanzania, and her husband, a doctor, is also from that part of the world. I could not have a more first-class physiotherapist than she, except that my physiotherapist at home is also outstanding—and that makes another point about recognising potential in society, as he is blind.
I want us to have an immigration policy that genuinely reflects the realities of the international pressures and challenges that we are up against—we cannot be escapist—but is something of which we are proud: part of a profile of a decent United Kingdom, moving forward in strengthening the reality of international co-operation.
My Lords, a great deal has already been said that I was planning to say, and all I plan to do now is add a few details. At the very start of the debate, many hours ago, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester said that there had been concern about immigration before and that this was nothing new. I do not entirely agree. At the moment there is a very ugly mood of xenophobia in Britain, much stronger than anything that existed before. The Daily Mail, the Daily Express, UKIP and even some Conservative Back-Benchers have created a picture of immigration that poisons the discussion of a very serious subject. It is a picture of a huge wave of immigrants who come to Britain to take our jobs, thus increasing unemployment and depressing wages, to abuse our National Health Service and to take advantage of our social services—in a word, to scrounge on our welfare state. It is now suggested that millions of Bulgarians and Romanians are coming to invade us. It is a mood that says, “We want our country back” and “Keep out the foreigners”. It is a very dangerous mood because it is coupled with a total rejection and mistrust of all politics: illustrated by Russell Brand and, “We shouldn’t vote”, “They’re all the same” and “They’re all in it for themselves”. It is a very dangerous mood indeed.
It could worsen because at the moment it is foreigners who are the objective. This mood is behind the strong rise in support for UKIP. At the moment, it is foreigners who they single out, but there could be others soon. It could in time be different races or ethnic minorities. It could be Jews. It has happened before in the history of other countries.
As my noble friend Lady Hamwee and many other noble Lords pointed out, there is a need for leadership. The European Commission has complained that there are Ministers who seldom provide that leadership. A lot of the speeches and rhetoric about immigration are based on myth. This is certainly part of the perception abroad. The Government lead the way, but there are some voices in government who seem to pour fuel on the flames. One of the examples given by my noble friend Lord Teverson and others was the appalling, terrible bus advertisement. That was fortunately withdrawn. It suggested that there is a far greater problem with illegal immigrants than there is—we do not know exactly how big it is—and the whole tenor was thoroughly nasty and anti-immigrant.
Recently, the Prime Minister shelved the report on migrants commissioned by the Home Secretary. It was supposed to be an answer to the Commission’s complaints about the way that the topic is being dealt with in this country. The Commission has said that there is concern in many countries, but nowhere is the debate so full of distortion. It seems that the report was completed by the Home Office at the request of the Home Secretary, but it has been shelved. Why? What on earth is the reason? Is it perhaps because its answers did not stand up? If it is suppressed, it will add to the suspicion that there is more than just a whiff of xenophobia in the Home Office itself. There have been too many cases of officials in the border agency being condemned because of their treatment of people due for deportation and their insensitive and unjustified refusals of applications by asylum seekers. My noble friend Lady Barker referred to the kind of questions asked of gay asylum seekers from Uganda fleeing from the persecution there. There is a very nasty whiff of xenophobia as well as anti-gay prejudice.
As many noble Lords have said, this Bill should ease worries about immigration, but instead it may well increase the chance of injustice being suffered by immigrants. It will need very careful scrutiny and serious amendment. One of my sadnesses, which is shared with my noble friend Lord Teverson, is about Labour attitudes. In the other place, during the passage of the Bill, it seemed that the Labour Party was interested only in making restrictions on immigrants tighter. It was not so much concerned about the libertarian issues at stake.
The other subject that has come up, which has been very eloquently explored, in particular by the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, and by my noble friend Lord Clement-Jones, is the question of students. I am rather mystified about the position of students because I now understand that there are separate statistics about students and non-students but that we cannot exclude students from the official immigration figures because of some international objection. What about the Americans, the Australians or the New Zealanders? What happens in their case? Why have they been able to say that they exclude students from the immigration statistics? It makes a huge difference, not only because the way we have approached the question of students has led to the extraordinary situation that the numbers are marginally declining. It is an appalling situation and most unexpected.
Everybody has now said how important students are to this country. It is not only the billions—lots of different figures in billions have been given—that they bring to the Exchequer but that they add enormously to the attraction of our universities by their presence. When they return home, as most of them do, which is why they are swelling the immigration figures, they are ambassadors for the services this country has to offer, and if they stay they are enormously important not only to the health service but to industry which needs the skills which are in short supply. My first question is: what about these immigration figures? Why is it that we cannot follow the example of America, Australia and New Zealand? It seems an obvious example to follow. Secondly, is there going to be some way, as some noble Lords have suggested, in which we can exclude students from this Bill because that would be a wonderful achievement?
Finally, I want to say something about appeals. It has been said that the reforms will clog up the immigration tribunals because of all the cases of judicial review. Clause 4 substitutes for 17 previous grounds of appeal against decisions such as refusal of leave to enter or to remain or decisions to deport only three grounds: refusal of a protection claim or a human rights claim or a decision to revoke a person’s protection status. An immigration expert I know tells me that the effect of these changes will be that many will now rely on human rights grounds of appeal, which will make for many more complicated cases and will swamp the work of tribunals, so two factors may swamp them: the increase in judicial reviews and human rights cases. If grounds of appeal are constricted and so many of the appeals succeed, officials will have even less incentive to be circumspect because they will know that their judgment is absolute and final and cannot be challenged.
It is clear from the many points made in this debate that this Bill needs the kind of scrutiny which it did not get in the other place. It needs serious scrutiny and serious reform, and I hope there will be success in substantially amending this Bill.
My Lords, this Second Reading of the Immigration Bill is not taking place in a climate of public debate which is particularly propitious to the calm and balanced consideration of an extremely sensitive issue. Quite the contrary, there are screaming headlines in the tabloid press, paparazzi turning up at Luton Airport to interview any Romanian or Bulgarian on whom they can lay their hands and the two main parties being tempted into a race to the bottom with UKIP which they cannot hope, and should not want, to win. These are now the drivers of a debate which risks doing this country lasting economic harm and overwhelming our traditional values of tolerance and openness.
Amendments to the Bill were moved in the other place which would, if they had been adopted, have been contrary to our treaty-based international obligations. Fortunately, they were not so adopted, but senior Ministers did not oppose them. I am sure that this House’s consideration of the Bill will not go off down that dangerous road, and I pay tribute to the Minister who started the debate today on a note, which I thought was thoroughly admirable, of calm and cautious reflection. I just wish the substance of what he was introducing was a bit closer in conformity to the tone he used in introducing it.
I hope that in this debate, as we have already heard, people will be prepared to look more objectively and dispassionately at the arguments for, as well as those against, this country remaining reasonably, but not irresponsibly, open to immigration. There is a crying need for more research and an evidence-based approach to this issue, and for it to be looked at in a wider context than just that of our own national prism. About 18 months ago your Lordships’ EU Select Committee published a report on the EU’s general approach to migration and mobility, which highlighted not only the real threat from a rising tide of illegal immigration but also the need—if Europe is to compete effectively in the world of tomorrow—to continue to attract and admit skills from outside to supplement those of our ageing populations.
However, the main thrust of my intervention in this debate is not those broader issues, but rather the negative impact that some of the measures in this Bill could have on our higher education sector and on students coming to this country for full-time undergraduate or postgraduate education. In doing so, I declare an interest as a member of the council of the University of Kent. I begin, however, by giving credit to this Government for having taken action against the abuse of our immigration controls by dodgy language schools. That action was necessary and justified, even if the revelations of tonight’s “Panorama” programme show that there is still some way to go.
Other aspects of the Government’s immigration policy have not, however, been so benign. There is now a real threat from that policy, to what is by any calculation one of our largest and potentially most buoyant export industries: the provision of undergraduate and postgraduate education at our universities. I am sorry to repeat the figures, but I feel, particularly since I did not manage to recognise at all the one figure provided by the Minister when he opened the debate, that they are really alarming. The Higher Education Statistics Authority, whose figures for the academic year 2012-13 came out just last month, showed an overall drop of 0.9%—not huge I agree, but the first drop since the authority began setting figures in 1994—and a drop of 1% in students who were actually starting their education courses in the present year. The drop in postgraduates was 4.5%, and that is extremely important because it is a very profitable part of the universities’ offer. Figures for students coming here from India, as my noble friend Lord Bilimoria pointed out, have dropped by 49% in the last two years; from Pakistan by 21%; and from other non-EU countries by smaller, but still significant, figures.
This is all taking place at a time when our main international competitors are expanding their position in what is a rapidly growing market. The US figures for the same period are up 7.2%; the figures for Australia are up 6.9%. Those figures, surely, should be a wake-up call to the Government about their policies. Let us not forget that the negative aspects of this Bill have yet to come into play at all. This is what has happened on the basis of existing policies, and now we are piling Pelion upon Ossa. A number of the measures in this Bill are likely to make that trend worse, not better. They include the removal of the appeal rights for students and staff applying for further leave to remain; the introduction of a surcharge for access to NHS services; the requirement on private landlords to check the immigration status of their tenants; and the scope for the Government to further raise fees for visa and immigration services. That is quite a list of disincentives for anyone who is sitting there weighing up the relative merits of this country against others as a possible place to go for their higher education.
All this is completely unnecessary, if only the Government would heed the pleas of no less than four Select Committees of both Houses to stop treating full-time undergraduates and postgraduate students as economic migrants for public policy purposes. This is not a statistical problem. It is not a matter of a statistical quibble. The Minister addressed that aspect in earlier debates that we have had, but that is not the heart of the matter. The Government can, if they really wish, or feel obligated to do so, continue to include students in their submission of statistics to the United Nations or whoever it is they believe they are obligated to produce those statistics for, but they do not need—and that is a matter totally in our own hands—to treat these students as economic migrants for public policy purposes.
It is not even as if bona fide undergraduate and postgraduate students are the focus of the rather febrile public debate that is going on over immigration; they are not. If most people were asked whether such students, who contribute substantial sums to our economy and are actually creating jobs in higher education for our own citizens, are economic migrants, they would rightly be completely baffled. So why has the Government not simply stopped treating them as such?
There are serious questions to be answered here, and I hope that when the Minister comes to reply to the debate, and in Committee and on Report, we can hope for a more considered response from the Government than they have hitherto provided. Why cannot such students simply be excluded from the scope of this Bill? We are talking about a sector of the economy which is responsible for massive invisible exports—£10.2 billion in the year 2011-12, and more by now—and which is currently second in the world league table of a market that is growing rapidly. We do not have that many industries like that, frankly, and certainly not so many that we can lightly afford to further damage their prospects by what I accept are inadvertently and unintendedly conceived government policies.
My Lords, it is a privilege to take part in the debate this evening, and to hear the wide range of opinions, but one thing surprises me—neither of our UKIP members is here or taking part in this debate. Usually when we debate in this House we debate matters that affect us in this country. Yet this Bill looks beyond our borders, to those in different circumstances, with different needs and from different cultures; those used to different ways of life that may seem strange to us. These are people who, because they are different, may seem difficult to understand and respond to. Because of this difference, people are suspicious of them and questions arise. This can lead to hostility, because traditional ways of life seem to be threatened and disappearing.
We live in a changing world, a different world. The Welsh word for looking to the past and longing for it is “hiraeth”, and there is a hiraeth here for what used to be. I could go on for hours about Wales as it used to be, some 50 or 60 years ago. But it is not like that any longer. Things have changed, and in spite of the memories, we have to face this changing situation in which we find ourselves. I could remember—well, I do not really—the Liberal Wales of 1906. That would have been a tremendous time to live in Wales. But that is yesterday, and yesterday changes and we are here in a new century.
Suspicion and hostility are natural things, but they can be replaced by trust and acceptance. This owes a great deal to the media. If they foster hostility and poison, it does a great disservice to us in so many ways. Our future is to have people who understand and accept each other, which means that our national curriculum should have that sort of emphasis—that we accept, learn and share experiences, and schools are places where hostility ends and where children of different nationalities and backgrounds blend together. We should say how much we appreciate the work that goes on in so many of these schools in overcoming what would be a hostility. But the newspapers that are read at home create that hostility. We cannot legislate for that, of course, but we must try to influence it so that, when people read about it, they know whether they are reading a balanced account of what is happening.
Does this Bill help or hinder? It is a question which we hope, as the Bill passes through this House, we might be able to answer by saying that this is a Bill about hospitality and not hostility. Much of the Bill deals with and affects those seeking asylum in the UK. I am proud to be president of the Liberal Democrats for Seekers of Sanctuary. There are many questions that I would like to raise, and which will be raised as the Bill proceeds through the House. Let us look, first, at the question of work. I have a Private Member’s Bill which has had its First Reading—whether it will go any further I do not know—and which tries to reduce the time from 12 months to six months that asylum seekers have to wait before they can try for a job in the United Kingdom. In an ideal world, there would be no need to worry about adding such an amendment about reducing the time from 12 months to six months; no asylum seeker would be waiting for a decision for such a long time.
Successive Governments have utterly failed to come close to what I would suggest is the ideal. We force asylum seekers to be dependent on the state; many of them try to exist on £36.62 per week, because of decisions, through no fault of their own, that keep them out of work for all this time. If we had this reduction, we could reduce the burden on the taxpayer, as asylum seekers who are able to work will no longer need to be supported. They may instead contribute to the economy through taxes and consumer spending. I know that my coalition partners always stress how wonderful it is to have hard-working families; in every broadcast and every speech they talk about hard-working families. Yet they are denying people who would be hard-working families from undertaking any job whatever.
Eleven other European Union countries already permit asylum seekers to work after six months or less: Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain and Sweden. They all permit this to happen—so why do not we also? The EU reception conditions directive has reduced the period when asylum seekers can be excluded from the labour market to nine months. But we have not signed up to this directive. We are putting ourselves so out of step with other nations. Let us not forget that 5,500 asylum seekers have been waiting for more than six months for a decision on their asylum claim. I suggest that we have a lot of catching up to do, to catch up with other European nations, as we go through Committee.
Secondly, I want to mention the children’s aspect to this Bill. I supported the coalition at the beginning because we promised to end the detention of children for immigration purposes. At its peak, there were over 2,000 children a year in immigration detention, often in the most heart-breaking of circumstances. This has been reduced; in December, it was down to 24 children between the ages of five to 17. I hope—and the suggestion has already been made—that this detention will now be enshrined in statute and that no longer will any child be detained for immigration purposes.
I also suggest that this House must review the Bill’s current definition of who counts as an asylum-seeking child. A number of clauses seek to limit the definition to those who are British-born or who have been here for seven years or more. Worryingly, this excludes most asylum-seeking children, many of whom come here as teenagers. There were 1,125 applications from unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in 2012 and 835 applications in the first three quarters of 2013. Troublingly, the vast majority of these would be excluded from the definitions in the Bill. So I hope that the Minister can give me an assurance that they, too, will be included. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Children Act 1989 make the best interests of the child a primary consideration in any decision that concerns children. The Home Office has a duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of children. That must remain the case—and, again, I ask the Minister to confirm that point.
Another problem that is arising now is the fact that free legal advice and representation is no longer available for immigration purposes; that has been the case since 1 April 2013. Only cases in which an individual has an asylum or protection claim are covered, while non-asylum claims have been cut. I suggest that lack of legal assistance undermines a person’s ability to put forward the necessary evidence and legal arguments and have their cases fairly determined. For example, to make an application under Article 8, it is necessary to gather extensive evidence demonstrating the extent to which a child has developed a personal life and connections within the UK. Expert evidence from psychologists is often required, as might be evidence from a child’s carer, teacher, therapist or medical professional. It is vital not only to understand and obtain evidence but also the child must be able to present it appropriately. This requires guidance from legal professionals to ensure that all relevant matters informing a best interests assessment are addressed. In the face of such difficulty, there is anecdotal evidence that some young people who came to the UK as unaccompanied asylum-seeking children are, thanks to cuts in legal aid, being forced to try and represent themselves. Is that the best that we can do for these children?
Up until their 18th birthday, asylum-seeking children are protected in this nation but it is a sad state of affairs that then, on their 18th birthday, everything can change. They are here for most of their formative years, developing their personality, friends, and language as well as culture, and then suddenly they are deported. Suddenly, they are not welcome—suddenly, they do not count. I can hardly imagine. We speak of the withdrawal of citizenship—is there anything worse than this withdrawal, at the age of 18, of the status of children and young people? I hear tales of terror and desperation—how one lad pushed a wardrobe against the door of his bedroom in case a dawn raid descended on him. These are stories that make you weep, because they are not in our tradition of being humane and respectable in every way towards those who are most vulnerable in our communities. I am very proud of so much that has been in the past. We can deny and reject that or we can continue our historic contribution to ensuring that every individual who seeks to visit, study, settle or claim sanctuary here is treated with respect and compassion.
I shall end my speech with something that I have said before. An asylum seeker, failed or successful, is a human being—just like every one of us in this Chamber.
My Lords, my name was mistakenly left off the speakers list, although I had put it down last week. I understand that the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, has withdrawn from the debate and the government Chief Whip has permitted me to step into her slot. I hope that your Lordships will consent to that.
I have been glad to see that we have looked at this issue in the round and recognised that the impact of poor immigration reform has a very real impact on the future of our country. Like others, I wish to emphasise the incredible impact that it has if we lose whole generations of students who choose to go to other nations where they are not facing the kind of hurdles and hostilities that seem to them to be presented if they apply to come to a British university. The consequence is that we lose important relationships—friends who take on leading roles in their countries, not just in politics but in professions, education and all manner of roles. We lose all this social and diplomatic capital as well as any financial benefit. It is short-sighted of government not to recognise that.
However, I wanted to concentrate our minds a little on a conflation that takes place. We all speak proudly of our tradition on asylum and say that we provide a safe haven for those who have been persecuted; yet, at the same time, we often confuse their position with that of economic migrants who may have come on a visa to visit, overstay and become illegal. Their position should be considered differently, because most of my work in the immigration field has been with people who have sought asylum, sometimes for different reasons, and their asylum application has failed—not always because they have not been persecuted but simply because providing proof has become difficult.
It is important that this House knows that this country detains more people under immigration powers than any other country in Europe, apart from Greece. While Greece detains more, it does so for much shorter periods and at the point when people arrive at the border. We are unique in that we detain indefinitely. We do not have a cap on detention, as other countries do. That experience of indefinite detention causes profound mental anguish to the individuals concerned. We use detention in ways that cause enormous distress. People who have often already endured horrors beyond our imagining end up in custody. My experience is particularly with women who have claimed asylum and then been detained. Their suffering is a disgraceful indictment of our system. Lots of detained people show signs of mental health problems during detention. We cannot remove them because their homeland is unsafe, they have no travel papers or there is some other reason. Many of the women have experienced sexual violation and degradation of the most terrible kind, even if, because of a lack of corroboration, they have been unable to cross the barrier of the culture of disbelief that exists within the UK Border Agency.
The organisation Detention Action has reported on long-term detainees and found that ultimately only a third were moved or deported because, in the end, they manage to persuade the authorities that they should be allowed to stay. However, that happens often after years, or certainly many months, in detention. I am afraid that the United Kingdom is one of the few countries in Europe that has no time limit on detention. One thing that is a source of surprise to me is that Sweden manages to negotiate the voluntary departure of 82% of refused asylum seekers. Why is that possible there but not here? We exacerbate the situation of vulnerable people if we remove bail, as is intended in the Bill.
I strongly urge the Minister and Members of this House to read a report called Detained, produced by Women for Refugee Women, an organisation that I know well. Read it and your hearts will break. So many of these women have experienced terrible persecution, yet the process they face in this country is neither fair nor just. We take a pride in ourselves as being protectors of liberty and believers in the rule of law. Unfortunately, we do not see that happening in many of these cases. The stories in that report are hair-raising. I feel strongly that any woman who is claiming that she has experienced rape, sexual violence or other forms of torture of a sexual nature should not be in detention. Where these issues are raised in a claim, the woman should be released to continue her claim in the community. There are groups which will provide the kind of support that they need. Certainly, no men should be employed in roles in places such as Yarl’s Wood where they come into contact with women who have experienced this kind of abuse. Just think how hard it is for traumatised women who have experienced multiple rape, often at the hands of men in uniforms, to then be surrounded by men in uniforms.
It should go without saying that pregnant women should not be detained. If a woman must be detained prior to removal, it should be for the shortest possible time after alternatives to detention have been meaningfully considered and explored. I urge on this House that we should be arguing in the debates on this Bill, and in Committee, for the introduction of a 28-day cap on any detention, after which people would have to be released into the community to continue their claim. The whole system is a bit of a farce. Proper legal advice has to be available to people who are seeking to make asylum applications, and I am fearful of the implications if that is not available.
We pretend that we have a fast-track system. That is not just an abuse of the human beings involved; it is an abuse of the English language—fast it is not. All we hear are claims about abuses of the system and the high numbers of appeals. Others have said, and I repeat, that the reason for the high number of appeals has been that the quality of decision-making at first instance is disgracefully poor. The high success level on appeal is not because we have a simpering judiciary who are all soft touches; it is actually because they consider these appeals and find in favour of the asylum seekers because they find that their cases have real and genuine merit.
Those who hyperventilate about criminals being allowed to resist deportation because of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights fail to realise that the numbers who succeed on that ground are very few indeed. It is perfectly reasonable to deport serious offenders who come from other parts of the world, but it is also important to consider how long a man or woman has lived in this country because we are sometimes talking about people who came to live here as children and then talking about deporting them to places that they do not even know and where they do not speak the language. We are also talking about people who have formed relationships; sometimes whole families would be torn apart by deportation orders or forced into upheaval if they are to go to the place to which the father of a family is being deported. Wives and children have to accept what is really deportation of them, too, when they have done no wrong. Children also have rights, and we must bear that in mind when we are considering these issues. This whole business of saying that we should almost automatically deport people flies in the face of the things that we should be proud of here in Britain—proper due process, individual consideration of cases and judicial discretion being applied.
Finally, I want to deal with the disgraceful decision to remove citizenship from those who have received British nationality. I know that the story is that only those who are a threat to national security will be endangered, so the rest of us can sleep easy, and that those who have acquired citizenship can sleep easy, because only people who have become British citizens will be affected. I ask those noble Lords who have become British citizens to think hard about what this means. We are told that it will rarely mean being rendered stateless. I want us to think about statelessness. This was a real issue after World War 2: the notion that someone could wander the earth without nationality and lose the protections that come with national identity. Why does it matter? It is because if we are abroad and some desperate situation befalls us we can call upon the help of our embassies. We can insist on our rights being protected. Without such assistance, who knows what could happen to us?
I will tell you what can happen. I have been acting for someone who had his citizenship removed 18 months ago while he was in Somalia, where his grandmother lives. His parents received this information in the post then, in a phone call, they were told to inform their son that he had 28 days to appeal. Making phone calls to Somalia is not very easy. The claim was that he was now a threat to national security: when asked how they knew this, no help was forthcoming. So we have to conjecture that the Government has somehow become privy to shared intelligence. This is unlikely to have been done by the Somalians; more likely by American intelligence. There is no embassy functioning in Somalia because it is in such chaos, so he was advised by his family, having received advice from the border agent who phoned them, to head for somewhere where he might be able to access consular support to lodge an appeal. He crossed the border into Djibouti and, blow me, was picked up by the secret police there. Could it be that locational intelligence came from the telephone contact with his parents? He was then thrown into jail, interrogated up hill and down dale. When asked his nationality, he said he was British. The guards returned to inform him that they were sorry but he was not being claimed by the British. He was no longer British: we had washed our hands of him. Having been interrogated by the Djibouti police, he was handed over to the United States security services present there. He was interrogated further, put on plane, a hood put over his head and flown to the United States of America. There was no extradition procedure; no due process in any court; no disclosure of the reasons for any of this; nothing. That is what happens when you are rendered stateless.
In this new world, where is law? Where is the rule of law of which we are so proud? No American citizen can have their citizenship removed, ever. We have no publicly available evidence as to what my client is supposed to have planned or done. Some countries do not allow dual nationality and Somalia was one of them. Since this happened to my client, that has now been changed. However, just think about it: he is a British citizen who has lived here since he was a tiny child. My client was rendered stateless when his citizenship was removed and Britain made it possible for a whole set of lawlessness and serious abuses of human rights to follow. It does not matter to me, at the moment, whether he is a threat to national security. What should concern this House is the removal of legal protections and safeguards, which is what statelessness means.
I am ashamed that we have sunk to this and will certainly be opposing aspects of the Bill. I hope the Minister will listen carefully, because we do have certain proud traditions in this country; we do offer asylum to people in need of protection; we do believe that people should be brought before courts if they have done things that are wrong. We do not believe in putting hoods on people’s heads, seizing them and transporting them to other places without any kind of court process. That is not what Britain stands for. That is not what we should allow. That is what statelessness means.
My Lords, it is not a good economic or political climate for immigration. With so much conflict in the Middle East and north Africa and more people on the move, this year will see increasing pre-election prejudice against immigrants, some of it in the House of Commons and some in the European Parliament. We have passed through such waves of xenophobia before. The media are full of stories about Greece’s leaking borders, record numbers of babies born to Bulgarians, Italy’s indomitable boat people and the Swiss—the Swiss—resisting migrants even from EU member states. In this atmosphere, the Immigration Bill cannot be dismissed as merely pandering to the UKIP wing of the Conservative Party, although it does that too. It is responding to a genuine public concern that, for all sorts of reasons, we are allowing in too many people.
It has been said that immigration debates are usually based on inadequate information, but a few years ago this House apparently offered a beacon of light. The Lords Economic Affairs Committee was recently described as a,
“bright spot in our political darkness”.
It takes a lot of careful reading to work out its real point of view. Its 2008 report on immigration challenged even my long-held belief that economic migration has been a benefit to this country. I had to think again whether it was right for the Government to put a cap on immigration numbers.
What concerns me today is that, in our laborious but legitimate efforts to reduce illegal migration, we are handing out harsh treatment to other people: genuine migrants, asylum seekers and students. In his unique contribution, the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, reminded us of the bigger picture. Asylum seekers should be seen in a category of their own since, in general, they seem to be genuinely fleeing from persecution and claim our sympathy provided they do not breach the rules. I trust that the Minister is not part of the coalition that sees human rights legislation, here or in Europe, purely as a vehicle of illegal claims for asylum.
UK Governments, of all persuasions, have come down on asylum seekers with successive and excessive legislation on matters such as detention and removal—as we have just heard—judicial review, legal aid, bail and access to healthcare. The noble Lords, Lord Avebury and Lord Roberts, and the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, have drawn attention to the length of time people now spend in detention centres without proper redress. This Bill is no exception to the trend. Let us take healthcare: Clauses 33 and 34 require certain immigrants to pay a so-called immigration health charge. As the JCHR says, this is not confined to illegal migrants but catches people who are lawfully in the UK. Clause 34 enables the Government to charge anyone without indefinite leave to remain for healthcare, even in emergencies and in most areas of primary health, although GP consultations will remain free.
The problem is that charging has been shown to discourage the more vulnerable patients, a point made powerfully by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. Médecins du Monde found that 73% of such patients in east London were not registered with a GP, over half of them had a poor understanding of the rules and 40% were unable to gather the necessary documents. Another study of 112 asylum seekers in Brixton found that 54% of such patients entitled to free healthcare had been turned away from mainstream GP surgeries. Health professionals have also written to express their concerns about the implementation of these proposals, whether they are feasible and how the cost of administration is going to be met.
The situation of children, especially those whose parents face deportation, has been mentioned several times by the right reverend Prelate and others. The Home Office recognises that this is a problem, but the Bill makes their plight even worse. Nearly one-third of appeals against deportation succeeded in 2012-13 and yet, under Clause 12—against the advice of the JCHR—people may be prevented from challenging their deportation. As the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, said, much more needs to be done to improve initial decisions. We have said this for so many years. If people have children in the UK and they are forced to appeal from abroad without any access to the usual advice, this is bound to be damaging to the family. Judicial review is also going to be limited to those who do not pass the residence test. How can the Minister explain his claim that the Bill can protect such children?
Clause 14 seems to be an attack on Article 8 and Article 3 of the ECHR. This is a typical situation where a law, discredited by a few criminals, comes down on innocent families, especially on children with no control over their own situation. I fully accept that it is often a fine judgment, because it implies balancing the best interests of the child against the public interest concerning the parent. However, as the right reverend Prelate said, many children become victims of social exclusion when they are so treated. How does this clause tally with the Chikwamba case? That was an important decision by the House of Lords which means that a test of reasonableness now has to be applied before illegal immigrants are forced to return to their country and family situations must be examined on a case-by-case basis.
Recently, we debated cuts in legal aid again, and this was mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, just now. These cuts are hitting detained asylum seekers as well as vulnerable young people. They will inevitably mean more unrepresented appellants. Meanwhile, I understand that the role of the non-legal members of the Immigration and Asylum Tribunal, in both the First-tier Tribunal and Upper Tribunal, may be under threat from further cuts. These are experts who sit with immigration judges and they are essential to the process of hearing appeals against decisions to refuse entry or to deport. With the increasing volume of cases, it seems quite wrong to reduce the numbers dealing with them at this time. There are only 32 of them. There has already been public consultation on this decision. Now, I can only hope that the Minister will look favourably on the tribunals, even though he may not be able to make reference to them today.
Finally, turning to the subject of students, the Minister will remember my concern that the bona fide colleges were suffering considerably from the Government’s policies, rather more than the universities. Bogus students have been rightly targeted, but I am referring to the effect of previous legislation, as well as this Bill, on genuine students in our colleges and universities. All of us who want students taken out of immigration numbers—and I know that the Minister will make the OECD point again—have watched this country lose revenue today, but we will see the loss of revenue and our international standing tomorrow. At the same time, colleges and other institutions are being turned into agents of the Home Office, and now landlords are going to join them.
The Minister mentioned ensuring competitiveness, but he will have heard my noble friends Lord Bilimoria and Lord Hannay speak about the competition in Australia, Canada and elsewhere. Like my noble friend Lord Bilimoria, I am especially worried about the loss of Indian students. I wonder whether the Minister saw the Indian High Commissioner’s interview in The House magazine last week. He said that restricting students’ opportunities to work during and after their studies was especially counterproductive. I wonder whether the Home Office has talked to the high commission about this.
Students who study practical subjects such as catering or design technology—and there are many from the subcontinent who do—are now branded as illegal workers, although they have a very limited chance of getting work experience, which is essential to their courses and careers. They need to see how things are done in the high street. In view of the strength of feeling in this House, is it not high time that the Government confronted this issue once and for all?
I am a patron of the Haslar Visitors Group in Portsmouth and I have just received an invitation to its next AGM, which has the theme “How do we avoid becoming the nasty country?”. I sincerely hope that the Government, in their search for solutions, will remember that this country has had a deservedly good reputation for hospitality to strangers over many centuries, and we do not want to tarnish it.
My Lords, it is a great privilege to take part in this debate. The Bill has many valuable features but there are also, as has been exemplified in this debate, some very valid and genuine concerns. As has been said, the debate was ably and fairly set out by my noble friend Lord Taylor of Holbeach.
It is important to put the Bill in its context. This country has become more vibrant, more diverse, stronger and better because of immigration. That was exemplified recently by the 2012 Olympics. Looking at the Olympic ambassadors, our troops, our spectators and certainly our competitors, you could see that they were from many different races, religions, traditions and backgrounds.
I agree with the points made by many noble Lords about the importance of asylum. Over the years under different Governments we have been a haven for refugees and asylum seekers, from Uganda and recently from Syria, and we have also looked at special cases—for example, the Gurkhas. It is also important to say that this Bill is not the full picture. Quite rightly, it looks at how we control immigration but there are other important aspects. Just last Friday we dealt with a Bill—admittedly it is a Private Member’s Bill but it has had unanimous support from all quarters in the Commons and the Lords—making it easier for some troops to qualify successfully as immigrants in this country. That is the other important facet or the other side of the coin. I also look forward to the modern slavery Bill, when we will see provisions for tackling some of the abuses in relation to people who seek to settle in this country. That is another important part of the picture.
I look at this Bill in two senses: we have to ask whether it is potentially fair and potentially effective. Some parts of the Bill fulfil both criteria. On removal or deportation, if we can aim for a quicker, more streamlined but fair system—noble Lords have made the point about the need for speed—that will be good. Similarly, it will be good if we have a streamlined, fair and effective system for appeals. Also, provided that there is provision for the destruction of some of the materials in appropriate circumstances, the provisions on biometric information will bring our system into the 21st century. Other countries have biometric testing and I see no objection per se in that provided that it is properly controlled and fair. Tougher provisions on sham marriages and civil partnerships would, again, be welcomed. If they are sham and inappropriate marriages or civil partnerships, we need to act. I also welcome tougher powers against illegal or unfit immigration advisory bodies and organisations. These provisions are to be greeted with acclaim.
I have some concerns about the health service charge in relation to students—a point that has cropped up repeatedly. However, again, I think that a health service charge properly administered and at an appropriate low level is fair and reasonable. It is practised by other European countries. Of course, it is paid up-front; it is not paid when somebody goes to the doctor—it is certainly not paid to the doctor because they are exempt. I do not think that it is paid at the hospital door; I think that it is a provision that is made when somebody makes an application. Therefore, once paid, it should not act as a deterrent from going to a hospital. Certainly, we will need to look at that to make sure that it is fair. I have concerns in relation to international students, both in that area and more widely.
Something that has not been discussed at great length but, again, is important so that we can assess the effect of immigration and whether people are returning home is proper exit controls. That provision was widely welcomed in the Commons across all parties. It is something that we need to do, it is relatively easily done and it should not hold things up. Most people leave by plane, so we will get a full and proper picture if that check can be done at exit—something that has not been effectively done until now.
That brings me to two areas of the Bill which cause me concern and which I think will need proper scrutiny as it goes through Committee. The first relates to the services section of the legislation, if I can call it that, in relation to driving licences, bank accounts and particularly accommodation. There are some problems here regarding fairness and effectiveness. It may be unfair both on the person doing the checking and on the person being checked, and it may also be unfair to people who are not being checked and who are going to be hit as collateral damage. The DVLA and the banks have the capacity—they are large enough—to be able to create a small bureaucracy to deal with this, although I ask my noble friend to say in response, if he can, what documents are going to be looked at. I have concerns about this. If we do not have ID cards in this country—and this is not a plea to have them; there are great concerns about them—how can people demonstrate that they are nationals of the UK or that they have a right to be here? As has been said, many people do not have a passport so, short of that, what documents are going to be needed? I can see the argument that we do not want to encourage people who are here illegally to be able to set up a bank account or obtain a driving licence.
I have greater concerns in relation to landlords and landladies. Some of these will be people who have got a small house where they are letting out rooms. It is extremely unfair to put them in a position where they have to police the immigration service and check what these documents are. Will the Minister say how this is going to be dealt with? Short of ID cards—which I do not want—I cannot see how you can have an effective system in those circumstances.
The danger is—and this point has been made by other noble Lords—that there could be indirect and unintentional discrimination. The tenancy example is perhaps the most serious one. People will go for tenants who they think have a right to be here. Alternatively, some of the most vulnerable in our society who do not have passports but who are nationals will suffer collaterally as well. This area causes me concern. There is potential for indirect discrimination and I should like to probe further as to how this is going to work.
However, my greatest concern is something that has been touched on by other Members of your Lordships’ House. It relates to the deprivation of nationality, particularly where the person has no other nationality. If they have dual nationality then clearly it is not so serious, but if the deprivation of nationality leaves them stateless, then I have serious concerns both about fairness and efficacy. It seems neither fair not effective. If they are in this country there is nowhere we can legally deport them to if they are stateless. Britain has a proud history of fairness and I believe my country to be better than this proposal.
There is much to welcome in this Bill, but there is much to scrutinise as well. I look forward to doing so as the legislation proceeds. I trust we shall be able to improve this Bill.
My Lords, the immigration debate was recently described as “rancid”, as politics has descended into what the article described as,
“the stinking gutter of xenophobia”.
The author was Ian Birrell, a former speechwriter to David Cameron. The stinking gutter of xenophobia diminishes us all, and that is the context in which this Bill has to be understood, as a number of noble Lords have already eloquently underlined. When publishing the Bill, the Home Secretary said that it was designed to
“create a really hostile environment for illegal migrants”.
The fear of organisations working in the field is that it will indeed create a hostile environment, but for migrants and minority ethnic groups more generally. The UN High Commissioners for Refugees has warned that it will lead to further stigmatisation of, and discrimination against, refugees and asylum seekers.
The Joint Committee on Human Rights, of which I am a member, has likewise cautioned that a disqualification from renting or occupying private sector accommodation on grounds of immigration status will heighten the risk of wider, even if unintentional, racial discrimination in lettings. Moreover, it could give rise to homelessness in the case of people who have no right to remain in the UK but who face genuine barriers to leaving. This potentially risks breaches of the right not to be subject to inhuman or degrading treatment under Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
I am not reassured by the Government’s response to the committee and I am even less reassured having received the Residential Landlords Association briefing, which argues that the proposal is unworkable and will have unintended, negative consequences. This is reinforced by having listened to the noble Lord, Lord Best, who is such an expert in the area of housing. While I welcome the fact that there will be some form of piloting before national rollout, can the Minister explain how that will work and say what steps will be taken to monitor the impact from an equalities and human rights perspective?
Among other concerns raised in the JCHR’s legislative scrutiny report are the significant limitation of appeal rights, which we believe,
“is not compatible with the common law right of access to a court or tribunal in relation to unlawful immigration decisions, and the right to an effective remedy”.
This is particularly so in the light of the relatively high success rate for such appeals,
“due to the well-documented shortcomings in the quality of decision-making … the importance of appeals as a means of enforcing the children duty in s. 55 of the Borders, Citzenship and Immigration Act 2009; … and … the likely cumulative impact of proposed changes to legal aid and judicial review”.
I hope that the Minister was not implying that the Joint Committee has been peddling myths when he included that in his little list of myths in his speech. In the context of what is happening to judicial review, the Committee was also not satisfied with,
“the Government’s reliance on the continued availability of judicial review to challenge the Secretary of State’s certification that a human rights appeal can be heard out of country”.
Secondly, we expressed our unease about Clause 14, which is,
“a statutory provision which purports to tell courts and tribunals that ‘little weight’ should be given to a particular consideration”,
in any “judicial balancing exercise”, as is proposed with regard to Article 8 claims concerning the right to respect for private and family life. This appeared to us to be,
“a significant legislative trespass into the judicial function”.
Thirdly, we raised the possible implications of the Bill for the duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of children under Section 55 of the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act. We welcomed the Government’s clarification that nothing in the Bill changes that duty but warned that it is not clear in practice how the Bill is to be read alongside it. I also welcome the clarification in the Government’s response to our report that the Section 55 duty will apply to children who do not come within the Bill’s definition of a qualifying child.
Nevertheless, I share the concern raised by the Refugee Children’s Consortium and BID that Clause 14 does not explicitly include the best interests of children in the list of public interest considerations to which courts and tribunals should have regard, even though it is accepted by the Government that courts and tribunals must treat the best interests of children as a primary consideration in line with Article 3 of the UNCRC. The consortium has warned that,
“the Bill will have significant detrimental consequences for children”.
That point was raised very eloquently by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester.
Fears have also been expressed about some of the Bill’s health provisions and the associated proposals for NHS charging outlined in the Department of Health consultation. While welcoming the retention of free access to GP and nurse appointments, the Refugee Children’s Consortium warns that any treatment needed as a result could now become chargeable. It believes that this,
“will serve to discourage refugee and migrant children and families from accessing healthcare services”,
with a very likely,
“detrimental impact on children's health, well-being and safety as well as on public health”.
Other organisations point to likely damaging consequences for HIV testing.
Doctors of the World raised particular concerns about children not receiving vital immunisations and the risk for their futures if their mothers do not receive any or timely antenatal care. The Royal College of Midwives and Maternity Action also express their fear that these proposed changes will deter some pregnant women from seeking and accessing maternity care. They point out that the negative impact on the health of these women and their babies could perversely lead to a need for more medical care at a greater cost.
I also want to express my concern about Clause 60. I very much welcome what the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, said about that. As ILPA warns, the removal of the,
“‘right to have rights’ … is a retrograde step indeed”.
I add that it is the more so because it would be retrospective. Liberty condemns it as an archaic punishment rendering the individual completely voiceless and vulnerable to human rights violations. I therefore agree with Sarah Teather MP that,
“making people stateless is simply wrong”—[Official Report, Commons, 30/1/14; col. 1079.]—
regardless of how many people are involved. We have heard from my noble friend Lady Kennedy what that can mean in practice.
I hope that in Committee we might be able to consider some of the issues raised by the JCHR’s inquiry into unaccompanied migrant children and young people and the Children’s Society’s parliamentary inquiry into asylum support for children and young people, of which I was a member. Among the latter’s recommendations were reform of the asylum support system and permission to work for asylum seekers who do not receive a decision on their application within six months, a point which was raised by my noble friend Lord Judd in his marvellous speech and by the noble Lord, Lord Roberts. The inquiry expressed its shock at evidence it received of children left destitute and homeless, entirely without institutional support. The fear is that this Bill could lead to even more widespread destitution and homelessness among these children and others, as well as infringe important human rights.
The more unpopular the group, the greater the responsibility on your Lordships’ House to look dispassionately yet sympathetically at their needs and their rights. Many outside organisations which campaign tirelessly on behalf of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers are now looking to us to speak up on their behalf and to amend the more damaging provisions in this Bill. I hope that we will not let them down.
My Lords, it has been a pleasure to listen to this very important debate in your Lordships’ House. We have heard some wonderful speeches and I feel privileged to take part. Successive Governments have sought to grapple with immigration legislation, increasingly in a hostile environment. We all rightly want a fair and just system to protect those who are genuine migrants or asylum seekers and to treat them in a humane way in accordance with the proud traditions which our society has established for many years: namely, traditions of tolerance, integrity and fairness.
Unfortunately, in the race to be seen to talk tough on immigration, the whole debate and language has become toxic and xenophobic. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, who is not in his place, reminded us that we live in a world in which we have responsibilities that we cannot duck. He talked about what is happening in the Middle East, in dysfunctional countries such as Syria, and about how poorer countries are rising to the challenge. He mentioned Turkey, a country to which I have ethnic links, which is currently looking after about 560,000 Syrians. It does not call them refugees; it calls them guests and it treats them as guests. It does not stigmatise them. Many thousands are being looked after in the homes of Turkish people in a very different way from here. We have our duty but we must remember that other countries are doing far more than us. Some of the language suggests that somehow everyone is coming to this country and we had better pull up that drawbridge or we are going to be swamped.
Those of us from immigrant families who arrived in the UK in the 1950s and 1960s, will remember the language and the discrimination endured by our parents and family. Many of those migrants came on the invitation of the Government of the time to rebuild and contribute to the UK’s post-war services, infrastructure and economy. Waves of migrants have continued to make an enormous contribution to this country. Instead of the debate on immigration being framed around establishing a fair and just immigration system and ensuring that the system is not abused, we see the debate being framed in a quite different way. Unfortunately in recent years it has been more about chasing negative and extreme headlines, as other noble Lords have said.
A number of noble Lords have mentioned the shameful language used about Bulgarians and Romanians in the run-up to 1 January. Last week I asked an Oral Question in your Lordships’ House on the impact that that is having on the communities here. There is strong evidence that it is impacting on the children from those communities. They are living here, their parents are here and they are in our schools. They are being discriminated against. As ChildLine reported, there has been a 69% increase in children from those communities facing racism in schools. How must it feel to be a child these days from a Bulgarian or Romanian background? They have been talked about as if they are somehow inferior and not worthy of coming to this country, and not making a valuable contribution. I have an interest because my mother is 82 and her last two care workers were Bulgarian, as is the current one. They are fantastic people—hard-working, committed and cannot do enough. I am a bit biased when it comes to that sort of language.
I agree with my noble friend Lady Hamwee and other noble Lords. I wrote this at the weekend and many of us are thinking very similarly when we say that the debate must be about showing leadership. Those of us in Parliament and in positions of power and influence must be more responsible in the language that we use. There has to be responsible leadership. We need to lead and not follow. It is not a race to the bottom.
We know that all political parties look at the polls very closely and nowadays immigration is being talked about. If you ask people what their top concern is—surprise, surprise, it is immigration. In years gone by I remember it was the NHS, education, crime or community safety; now, apparently, the majority of people in this country are worried about immigration. When you ask them how it personally affects them, the figures are rather different. That is the test we need to apply when people are afraid of immigration. The impact is not as great as is being dictated by sections of the media.
I have real concerns about the negative impact and effects on some of the checks mentioned earlier by noble Lords, and I want to highlight housing, which was set out eloquently by the noble Lord, Lord Best. I have been told that many landlords who will be asked to do the job of immigration officials may well bypass taking part in the bureaucratic checks—they might be too expensive or time-consuming, or the landlords may not want to risk fines. If someone looks or sounds like a person from an ethnic minority or a migrant of dubious background we could well end up with a situation of ethnic profiling that our long-standing equalities legislation was designed to end. This would be extremely damaging to race relations and community cohesion. We could have a situation where we go back to the days I mentioned earlier. When my parents came to this country they were confronted by signs saying, “No Blacks, no dogs, no Irish, no foreigners”—that sort of thing. It was legal then. We could start rolling back hard-fought-for equalities legislation if we go down that road and I am very worried about that.
I am also concerned about the inappropriate detention of vulnerable asylum seekers, particularly women—a point that the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, set out very clearly. Many of these women have been raped or trafficked or indeed are pregnant. Recent reports show alarming abuse by male guards. In 2012, 6,071 women sought refuge as asylum seekers in the United Kingdom. Almost 2,000 of them were held in detention centres and the bulk of these vulnerable women—some 85%—said they had either been raped or tortured. Many had severe mental health problems.
According to the UK Border Agency, its policy where there is evidence of this type of abuse is that an individual should be detained only in exceptional circumstances—but in far too many cases detention is indefinite and is taking place and is unacceptable. Some 40% of women are being held for more than a month—and for some people it is up to a year—in degrading conditions. Does the Minister expect that the Bill will go some way to addressing that? How will the Bill tackle human trafficking victims? How will it tackle the exploitation of migrant workers by gangs, which we hear is taking place far too frequently?
I welcome proposals to tackle the bogus so-called immigration advice centres. Some of these are pop-up advice centres, and I have certainly seen them in my part of London over the years. They prey on vulnerable asylum seekers, charging large sums of money for often unhelpful advice that prejudices their cases. Regulation of those bodies is important, and I welcome that.
All too often, the rhetoric around immigration becomes inflated with negative language about criminals, bogus asylum seekers, health tourists, scroungers and so forth, but little is made of the enormous contributions made to the United Kingdom by migration over the decades. There have been contributions to the health service, as has been mentioned already, the economy and social and cultural aspects—the very fabric of the society that we now enjoy. Not all are or need to be the brightest and the best, but although we welcome them, we should also look at our social care sector, which I touched on earlier. We have an ageing population and the vast majority of care workers working in challenging jobs in care homes and in homes are migrant workers. They are working for the minimum wage doing thankless jobs in conditions that many people from the host community do not want to do. That has been the situation over many decades. Migrants come over here and do the jobs that other people do not want to do.
We should value the work that they are doing in the NHS and the care sector. They work in their thousands as care workers and cleaners in the NHS, and without their labour the social care services would undoubtedly collapse. Fairness, which befits our country—a country of great tolerance and a role model around the world—is vital. The Bill, as others have said, needs proper scrutiny and I hope that it will get it.
My real worry is that while we all want a fair and proportionate enforcement of immigration control, and it is important to have confidence in the system, a policy of forced destitution through the combined effect of homelessness and perhaps lack of healthcare, as we have already heard, as a tool of immigration control for those who may already be highly vulnerable and facing exploitation, has obvious and grave ethical implications for our society, and I hope that we will be vigilant before we go down that route.
My Lords, I understand the Government’s wish to reduce net immigration. But they surely need to increase the number of overseas students, particularly outside London, where the pressures are less. The background to the Bill, however, is that after five years of problems, the UK borders authority was abolished in March 2013, the Refugee Legal Centre and the Immigration Advisory Service have both closed and the number of reputable law firms willing to take on immigration and asylum cases has been sharply reduced. Legal aid has been savagely cut and may be cut still further, and fees for documentation are steadily rising while waivers and refunds are hard to obtain. Meanwhile, the director-general of the UK visa and immigration section told the Home Affairs Select Committee in another place that she did not think the organisation was ever going to be fixed.
That situation makes it ever more important that decisions in asylum cases and other immigration matters are got right in the first place. That will save endless trouble later with appeals, judicial reviews and so forth. Will the Government devote their energy to this? Will they ensure that high-quality interpreters are available when needed? Will they see that women are interviewed by women, unless this is against the wishes of the person? Will they always have accurate, up-to-date country information? I and many other noble Lords have been asking these kinds of questions for years without, I am sorry to say, much result.
I now come to children’s issues and follow the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester. The Refugee Children’s Consortium, a grouping of more than 40 NGOs which work daily with such children and their parents, estimates that there are 120,000 undocumented children in Britain—and the figure could easily be higher. That is, they have no agreed status and may be subject to deportation. The total is perhaps not surprising, given the backlog of over 30,000 asylum cases, some long outstanding. In addition, there are the children of overstayers and the steady trickle of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children.
I regret that this Bill will increase the risk of destitution and homelessness for such children and their families. Children and young people will be more at risk of exploitation and abuse. Fears of deportation and new restrictions on access to the National Health Service are likely to spread infectious diseases and increase maternal and infant deaths—as was clearly pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Patel, and the noble Baroness, Lady Lister.
The noble Baroness, Lady Barker, referred to Doctors of the World, whose practitioners have had a clinic in Bethnal Green for years. They have reported that many migrants are destitute, not registered with surgeries, fearful of arrest and that the children are not getting the immunisations they deserve. Will the Government consult consortium members, for example the Catholic Social Action Network, the Cardinal Hume Centre, the Salvation Army and the Baobab Centre in north London? Will they ensure that the Department of Health and all its local outposts in the health service know of the undertaking given by the former Minister, Mr Harper, on 12 November at col. 310 of Commons Hansard? It concerns both public health and access to treatment.
The Government must surely know their duties under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, particularly Article 2. They must not discriminate against children on grounds of race, nationality or parents’ status. This means that all children are equal in the sight of the law and their best interests must prevail. This is upheld by case law: for example, the judgment in ZH (Tanzania). Will the Minister say how the Secretary of State’s duty under Section 55 of the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009 will be carried out once this Bill becomes law? She has to safeguard and promote the welfare of children with respect to immigration functions.
I ask also what is being done about appointing guardians for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. This has been debated for a long time. Will legal aid be preserved for unaccompanied children and minors where trafficking is alleged or suspected? I ask the Government to pay particular attention to the recent report from Bail for Immigration Detainees, Fractured Childhoods. It recommends that,
“families should not be separated by immigration detention”,
and that where it is absolutely necessary, detention should be time-limited—as the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, asked—and that it should be subject to judicial oversight.
In particular, Immigration Rules 398 and 399 should be revised to reflect legal requirements to consider the child’s best interests. There are many other NGOs longing to make their expertise available. They include Detention Action, the Residential Landlords’ Association, the Royal College of Midwives and Still Human, Still Here, a campaign for destitute refused asylum applicants.
I congratulate the Government on proposing that the Bill be considered by a Committee of the whole House. That will at least allow some issues to be dealt with by votes early on. We know that airline staff and employers have for some years been pressed into service as unofficial immigration officials. I deeply regret that landlords, banks, carriers and port staff, registrars and GPs will all have extra burdens imposed on them. Here, I follow the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed. We shall have also to discuss the European Convention on Human Rights, Article 8, on the right to privacy and family life.
For those reasons, and for the well-being of innocent children, the Bill should be amended before it leaves this House. I beg Her Majesty’s Government not to let their mind be poisoned by the rantings of some tabloid newspapers. I have given notice of various questions and look forward to helpful answers. I conclude by agreeing most strongly with the noble Lord, Lord Judd, when he said that what we need is a policy that will provide fairness and humanity, especially for children and families, in our immigration system.
My Lords, I speak in this important debate to focus on some of the issues concerning children and universities. I declare an interest as the vice-president of Barnardo’s and as the chancellor of the University of Exeter, where we continue to encourage high-quality applications for science and engineering programmes from a diversity of countries, in line with supporting the UK’s economic growth in that strategically important area. Support is needed, and the UK needs to send out positive messages in this global competitive market. Therefore, I wish not just to express the concerns of Exeter University but to echo concerns shared by many universities throughout the country, on whom the proposals will have the most detrimental effect in terms of international student intakes and regional economic developments.
The international student sector will be one of the groups most affected by the Bill, as it makes up 75% of those who are already subject to visa controls and are most heavily regulated and monitored. However, this group makes the most significant contribution to the UK economy. Making the process harder for them would deter many potential students from choosing the UK as a place to study. I worry that by implementing these proposals, UK education is likely to go backwards on its long established tradition of international cultural integration, competitiveness and co-operation.
In Exeter, as in many other UK cities, international students and staff make a significant contribution to the local economy. As a university and as a city, we wish to encourage international students to come to Exeter. Our major concern is that a number of clauses in the Bill—for example, those on the introduction of NHS charges, the requirements for landlords to check immigration permission before letting their properties, and the removal of appeal rights for in-country visa applicants—give the message that the UK is a difficult place to which to come to study.
Exeter’s international teaching staff, who are vital to developing the international reputation of the university, already contribute tax and national insurance from their salaries. Under these new proposals, they will now also have to pay an up-front levy to use NHS services. Many come to the UK with their families, which will make this a significant cost and may discourage them from working here. This would be our loss. I ask my noble friend the Minister: has this been taken into consideration?
Our university invests a lot of resources into ensuring that all international students have valid immigration permission. We perform this role effectively and diligently. I ask my noble friend whether he believes that landlords, with no training, will be able to do the same. There is a risk that many landlords will cease to let their properties to international students, placing these students at a disadvantage against their UK counterparts and increasing feelings of marginalisation.
The Government must make sure that the Immigration Rules deter fraudsters, criminals and those who wish our nation harm, but the Government must also show that we welcome genuine candidates. It is vital that this positive message be sent out across the world.
I now turn to children and young people. Many of the proposed policies will indirectly affect children, such as those in detention centres and those without refugee status. I hope that any legislation the Government are considering involving immigration detention for children will make sure that the well-being of children is a priority and will include safeguards to ensure that pre-departure accommodation, such as Cedars, where support is given by Barnardo’s, is used as a last resort and for the shortest possible time, in line with international standards of human rights. Children deserve this.
I also draw attention to the concerns of charities such as Kids Company, which deals with many serious problems involving children and young people who are impacted by their parents’ unresolved immigration issues. Some of these children were trafficked, and at 18 their lives come to a complete standstill. They do not have the legal papers to get employment or be able to access further education or take up university places offered to them to help them better their lives and make a positive contribution to Britain. Kids Company has said:
“We have to support a number of young people by paying for their food and accommodation because they are not eligible for housing benefit or subsistence, and because they cannot access benefits or get employment due to their unresolved status”.
Many of the young people are being sexually abused by men who allow them to stay in their homes in return for sexual contact. They are very traumatised, undernourished, humiliated and excluded.
Another significant problem is the abuse by a few unscrupulous solicitors who, knowing these young people are vulnerable, take their money and do not process their legal papers appropriately. These victims cannot hold the solicitors accountable because they do not have the know-how, and they are not legally defined here in the UK. Consequently, Kids Company has to pay the fee required by the Home Office to legitimise these unfortunate young people’s legal status as refugees.
The Government’s strategy is flawed in this area and needs to be addressed, as the numbers who find themselves in this position are growing. Many of these non-status individuals resort to crime and prostitution to survive, not to mention the psychological damage that they suffer. Kids Company has stated that this group now forms its biggest and most high-risk client group. They are arriving at its doorsteps daily through word of mouth. It describes the scale and severity of this problem as catastrophic; a problem that requires an international refugee protection programme, which I hope that the Government will consider.
These are just some of my main concerns on this important Bill. Many noble Lords have expressed some of the views which I, too, feel. I also look forward to hearing the Minister’s response and I truly hope that he takes a holistic view, with a clear head and moral conscience, and with our great country’s interest and reputation close to heart.
My Lords, the economic and human rights issues raised by this important Bill have been effectively examined by noble Lords today. However, I and others well understand the Government’s need to find ways to reduce the impact of illegal migrants upon our hard-pressed health services and upon the British taxpayer. I also welcome the Government’s adjustments to the Bill following representations made over recent months. Particularly welcome are the exemptions for asylum seekers, refugees and victims of human trafficking.
Other noble Lords have spoken eloquently about the importance of perception and the need to avoid sending a message to the world that Britain is closed for business. I also want to refer to the powerful arguments against the creation of stateless persons; I simply endorse those contributions. I will touch only briefly on the provisions for private landlords and the NHS charging issue raised in Part 3. My aim is to raise a number of questions in the hope that the Minister can clarify the points raised before Committee, so that we might cut down some amendments that would be unnecessary in the debate at that point.
We need to understand the relationship between the existing system within the NHS to charge non-EU visitors to the UK for certain services and the combination of the proposed surcharge, payable before entry to Britain, with the plan to continue charging non-EU migrants for expensive health interventions. It seems that the Department of Health has been unable to assess fully the extent of the problem which these new provisions are designed to rectify. I recognise that a surcharge paid before entry to Britain is greatly preferable to charging people at the time of health treatment. If the surcharge were limited to short-term visitors and were the only charge, I would be inclined to support it. However, we know that the surcharge will apply much more widely than current provisions for visitors, and that migrants will continue to be charged as well for expensive treatments.
It is important to know what the threshold is for those charges for expensive treatments. If the threshold is in fact low, we could end up with a health surcharge and extensive charging for individual treatments. This would have equity implications for migrants and a significant cost implication for the NHS in administering the charging system. Most importantly, it would continue the unfortunate introduction of questions about affordability just when the person is going in for treatment. Personally, I am rather hostile to the very idea of introducing financial issues of affordability at the time of treatment, which is why I rather favour the surcharge idea. I hope that the Minister can clarify to what extent these charges will exist within the health setting.
A second question is whether charging longer-term migrants who are in employment and paying taxes and national insurance is regarded as reasonable by the Government. It would be helpful to know their rationale for this proposal. Have they undertaken an impact assessment of it on the willingness of overseas employees to come to this country and take up jobs here?
A related issue concerns British citizens who work overseas for some years and then return to this country many years later to take up employment here. It had not occurred to me that this Bill could conceivably affect them, but others have raised the question and it would be good to have the Minister’s reassurance that British citizens in this situation will not be affected.
In relation to primary care, can the Minister clarify whether access for migrants to initial GP and nurse consultations will include the prescriptions that would arise from many of these consultations, or will the prescriptions be charged in full to patients? The same question applies to community care. If a migrant with a mental health problem cannot access community care because they cannot afford it at the primary care level, have the Government assessed the risk of these provisions increasing the costs of secondary services that would, I believe, be provided free of charge in emergencies to migrants? They should be, but there is undoubtedly a relationship between providing good services in primary care and so reducing the impact on secondary care costs.
I put on record my strong support for my noble friends Lord Hannay and Lord Bilimoria and others who argue that foreign students should be exempt from the Bill. As others have said, higher education is an important export industry for this country. Yet foreign student numbers are falling fast, as others have pointed out. The Government plan to exempt halls of residence: if there is a rationale for that, then surely there is a rationale for exempting all student lodgings, for example. It seems that the Government are shooting themselves in the foot on that one.
On the more general issue of plans to use landlords as unpaid immigration officers, I share the concern of my noble friend Lord Best that landlords are likely to avoid by a very wide berth the possible hassle and fee, or fine, involved in unwittingly failing to spot an illegal migrant. This proposal could have a serious impact on the availability of private rented accommodation to all but the most obviously British of potential tenants.
The Government’s briefing indicates that the checks will be straightforward and quick for law-abiding landlords and tenants to comply with. Can the Minister clarify what is meant by “straightforward”? For example, if the landlord asked to see the prospective tenant’s passport, with a visa no doubt stamped inside, would that be sufficient to avoid future questions and investigations involving the landlord concerned? I hope that it would be.
The Minister referred to plans to protect vulnerable people. This is another area where I have to say that I am not convinced. Government briefing refers to “much simpler documentary requirements” for homeless and vulnerable people. The problem will surely be the absence of any documents in the possession of homeless people and of women fleeing domestic violence. I cannot imagine them having any bits of paper in their pocket in that situation.
Here we are assured that an e-mail Home Office service will provide the necessary information for some cases: if this has not been done within 48 hours the landlord can proceed and rent the property. For those with no documentary evidence we are told that there will be another option to obtain confirmation from the Home Office that the prospective tenant can rent a property, but no time limit is given for that process. Can the Minister explain the difference, again before Committee, because it really does not seem helpful? Some clarification at this early point could save the time of the House in Committee and I look forward to receiving the Minister’s information.
My Lords, the introduction to the recent BIS publication International Education: Global Growth and Prosperity says:
“There are few sectors of the UK economy with the capacity to grow and generate export earnings as impressive as education … Overseas students who come to Britain to study make a huge contribution to our economy”.
As we have heard, BIS estimates that in 2011-12 overseas students in higher education in the UK paid £10.2 billion in tuition fees and living expenses. It says that they boost the local economy where they study, as well as enhancing our cultural life and broadening the educational experience of the UK students that they study alongside. Bravo to that.
The conclusion of the BIS report is that it is realistic for numbers of international students in higher education to grow by 15% to 20% over the next five years. However, the report warns that for this to happen,
“we must show that the UK values international students, will provide a warm welcome and support while they are here and will keep in touch after they go home”.
That all sounds pretty good. It is a pity that the reality is somewhat different. Even the report admits that there are some problems. It says, somewhat euphemistically at this point:
“There remain some misunderstandings about visa rules and post study opportunities to work. We must signal clearly that there is no cap on the number of students who can come to study in the UK and no intention to introduce one. Nor is there any cap on the number of former students who can stay on to work as long as they have a graduate job”.
It is one thing to say that we are open to international students but quite another to take responsibility for the service that students are receiving—one for which they are going to have to pay an even higher premium price.
As I say, there are a number of areas where the Bill needs close scrutiny. Clause 11 restricts appeal rights to cases involving a human rights, asylum or humanitarian protection claim. International students lost their right of appeal for initial entry clearance by means of the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act 2006, but these new provisions will remove the remaining rights to appeal against a refusal of leave to remain. Applicants will instead be able to request an administrative review. Universities UK has suggested that the Government should retain appeal rights for applications for Tier 4 leave to remain and PhD-level jobs. Does the Minister agree that this proposal has some considerable merit?
Other noble Lords have already spoken about Clause 15 on residential tenancies. It is clear that international students already face difficulties in securing accommodation and are often made to pay large fees and advance rent payments. The Bill may result in landlords or agents refusing to even consider international students as tenants, or charging additional fees to cover the extra administration costs. In the student sector, tenancies are entered into often months in advance of the actual tenancy start date but that is something that international students may not be able to do, particularly if they have to prove their immigration status so far in advance.
While, as we have heard, the Explanatory Notes suggest that some student accommodation will be exempt—we will have to see the detail of that—there is concern that these measures will discourage private landlords from letting accommodation to international students and to university staff, particularly at peak times when they are under pressure to make decisions quickly. Given that many international students are young and living away from home for the first time, does the Minister not agree that this clause could cause considerable anxiety and add to the perception that the UK is unwelcoming?
Several noble Lords have expressed concern about Clause 33 on NHS charges and we, too, have some concerns about their introduction. As several noble Lords have said, there are concerns about public health. Universal primary care allows potentially serious health problems to be identified early, when they are preventable or easily and cheaply treated. This applies equally to long-term conditions as well as to infectious diseases. On an individual level, the proposals will make another change: international students already make a significant contribution to the UK economy, bringing in, as we have heard, more than £10 billion a year, while international academic staff, critical to our position as a world-leading university sector, pay taxes and national insurance while they are here. Why are they being asked to pay more? To add more trouble, the charge will have to be paid up front for the full duration of the visa.
Taken as a whole, the requirements for students who wish to study in the UK are in many cases more stringent than in competitor countries, particularly in relation to language requirements, academic progression, limits on study time, the ability to bring in dependants and police registration. Introducing a surcharge for access to the NHS will, ironically, remove one area of relative advantage that the UK can currently offer. In combination, these measures may create the impression that it is now harder to secure a visa to study in the UK than anywhere else in the world. It will of course add significant up-front costs that will make us even more different from our competitors.
It is difficult to see how the aspirations of international education, global growth and prosperity can ever be realised if the Bill is not improved while it is in this House.
My Lords, the fact that I am not addressing the wider implications in this Bill regarding students, detention caps and the positive contribution immigration makes does not mean that I do not have interest or concern in these important areas. I align myself with comments by my noble friends Lady Hamwee and Lord Dholakia and the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria.
As many noble Lords have stated, it is widely acknowledged there are significant delays and inefficiencies in the administration of immigration law, and this Bill will need to have greater clarity if it is not to add to this complexity. As the former Legal Services Ombudsman for England and Wales, I know the importance of having in place effective and efficient systems for casework and of ensuring good quality decision-making. Like other noble Lords, I note with some disappointment that the latest statistics at the Home Office reveal that 32% of deportation decisions and 50% of entry clearance applications were successfully appealed last year. This is a high margin of error in casework. Yet Part 2 seeks to erode independent oversight in appeal rights making them difficult to access and curtailing judicial discretion. On present information on the quality of casework, it does not seem fair or just. Can the Minister reassure the House that he will ensure that the current quality of casework will be improved before reducing the opportunities for people to challenge decisions as the current standards in casework are a great concern? As my noble friend Lord Teverson said, it is an issue for competent management.
Clauses 33 and 34 in Part 3 could also potentially create new layers of bureaucracy for the NHS, as well as having some serious implications for race relations in the country. This may have unintended consequences. The clauses as they stand may require individuals to prove their identity before accessing services. In practice, this will invariably include individuals who are British citizens. As the noble Lord said, this may create unnecessary mistrust and suspicion. I would be grateful if the Minister can address these concerns to ensure that the myth does not become a reality.
As someone who has worked in the NHS for many years, I understand why NHS staff are not best placed to check the immigration status of their patients or to check that any surcharge payment was paid when a visa was first granted. Indeed, immigration status changes constantly, and it will be difficult to ensure all patients’ information is kept updated or to make sure that healthcare systems are equipped to understand immigration issues. Nurses’ and clinicians’ duty of care is to their patient and should be entirely focused on assessing and treating their clinical needs.
What about the healthcare and treatment of the children of individuals who have not paid the surcharge who become ill? Can the Minister give some reassurance that children will always receive free healthcare whatever the immigration status of their parents, as is their right under law? Like the Royal Collage of Nursing, the Terrence Higgins Trust and others, I believe that unless there is clear evidence that non-EU migrants are placing a significant burden on the NHS, the main focus should be on improving the current arrangements for chargeable patients. I pose the question: why is this not working now and, indeed, will this Bill improve it? If evidence shows the current system is not working effectively, then steps should be taken to rectify this, rather than applying a blanket approach to charging longer term migrants, who—and I agree entirely with the Royal College of Nursing—if in employment, will already be contributing to the NHS through taxes and national insurance. This is neither fair not equitable, as the noble Lord, Lord Patel, said. However, I welcome the Government’s decision to maintain free access to GP consultations, and maintain the current exemptions to charging, and in future to the surcharge, and to continue to include asylum seekers, refugees and victims of trafficking. But charging for healthcare in Clause 33 and redefining who counts as an ordinary resident—Clause 34—could increase the number of vulnerable people living in the UK. Even though infectious illnesses will be treated for free, having a two-tiered system will create confusion, and could delay and discourage people seeking the most appropriate help or having no help at all. This clearly has implications regarding public health and may end up costing the NHS more, particularly as the surcharge paid by migrants may not find its way into the NHS purse.
The Terrence Higgins Trust states that the current proposals will also have a negative impact on the Government’s efforts to, “reduce attendance and admissions to A&E, reduce undiagnosed HIV, and reduce late diagnosis of HIV”, and “improve long-term health and wellbeing of the population”.
I would be grateful if the Minister would address these issues, as I, like the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, would prefer answers at this stage rather than having them debated in Committee. I am sure the Government would not wish to create a bigger problem than the one it is currently claimed exists in the NHS, and hope that they move to a more research and evidence-based approach to immigration.
My Lords, listening to this debate this afternoon and this evening, I have had a real sense of déjà vu, because the question of international students has been raised in the last two years, and the call for rational debate on immigration was first made by the Runnymede Trust when I was a director in 1982. But it seems that we never make much progress. At this stage I will inevitably be repeating what has already been said, for which I make no apology, because the strength of feeling is so strong it is worth repeating some of the points that have already been made.
This Bill seeks to create a hostile environment for irregular migrants. In so doing, I am afraid it will create a hostile environment for migrants seeking to enter or remain in the UK through legal channels. It will have a negative impact on international students, on public health generally, as we have heard, and put landlords in an invidious position. I fear the hostile environment it seeks to create for irregular migrants will be hostile to all of us. Proposals such as: administrative removal; extending immigration officers’ powers to use reasonable force by allowing them to do so in the exercise of all powers under any Immigration Act; indefinite retention of biometric information without justification and sufficient safeguards; removal of rights of appeal on any grounds other than asylum and human rights; denying any independent review to anyone else who makes an immigration application; and the introduction of landlord checks and new health charges for temporary migrants, raise not only practical questions but also questions of liberty and justice, principles on which we pride ourselves.
It is regrettable that in the other place a great deal of attention was paid to migration from Europe, but the most worrying aspects of the Bill were not properly scrutinised. It is very much to be hoped that this House will give sufficient time to scrutinise the Bill and its impact on migrants and society in general. I endorse the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Judd, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, about the question of leadership, because it is leadership that is required if we want a proper, rational and calm debate. I hope that this House will have a cool look at some of these provisions to make sure that they do not erode liberties and justice, and do not have a negative practical impact on some of the groups mentioned.
In my capacity as the president of UK Council for International Student Affairs, I highlight the impact that proposals such as the abolition of appeal rights and their replacement with a system of administrative reviews; the requirement for all landlords to undertake immigration checks; and the introduction of a health levy are likely to have on international students. I shall concentrate on some of the practical aspects.
As we know, international students and their dependants often need to appeal against decisions by the Home Office to refuse applications for visa extensions when completing their degrees or moving to higher-level courses, for a wide variety of reasons. It is now officially accepted that nearly 50% of appeals are upheld because the decisions were unsound in the first place due to technical errors, which does not inspire much confidence that the administrative reviews will work. The Government’s claim that administrative reviews have been successfully introduced for entry clearance decisions overseas does not hold. They point to the small number of reviews that result in decisions being overturned, but evidence from members of UKCISA tells a different story. Given the time required for these reviews and when the students have so little time, very few risk going through the process, preferring to submit a repeat application at an additional cost. Furthermore, attempts to limit Article 8 will have an adverse impact on students as they will not be able to rely on this in future applications, or challenges to refusals or removal action.
We know of no evidence of tier 4 students abusing the appeals system, but there is extensive evidence of errors by the Home Office staff. The danger is that similar officials would conduct administrative reviews and could come to similarly erroneous decisions. Removal of appeal rights is not only unjust but ineffective; natural justice demands that that this should be preserved for all, and not just for students.
The proposal for immigration checks by landlords is fundamentally flawed. Let us look at the facts. There is no evidence that international students present any difficulty in this area. International tier 4 students have their immigration status checked by the sponsoring educational institution as part of their compliance procedures, so why duplicate? We have seen that even the now former Minister for Immigration had difficulty verifying the immigration status of his cleaner. Even employers with professional HR departments have very considerable difficulty assessing immigration status and the vast variety of schemes and immigration stamps that exist; it is very easy to make mistakes. It is, therefore, difficult to see how landlords will be able to make appropriate judgments. The majority will play safe and consequently those of different colour, accent or origin will suffer. Where is the justice in that?
Then there are concerns about the availability of documents when visa extensions are being processed for those continuing to higher education courses, just when the same paperwork may be required for new accommodation. The requirement essentially to have a visa before renting accommodation, a process which is often done online, will make it difficult if not impossible for international students to arrange accommodation securely in advance of arrival. I know that there is now an exemption in the Bill for university-managed accommodation, but this does not address the potential problems as the vast majority of students are in privately rented accommodation. This proposal should be withdrawn altogether or at least all students should be exempted.
I turn to the health service levy. The principle of introducing any sort of health service charge for international students is unnecessary and unjustified. International students already pay the full cost of their education and all their living expenses, amounting to total earnings of £13.6 billion annually for the economy. They support local economies, paying VAT and tax on part-time earnings. They are, therefore, making a major financial contribution to the UK. There is no evidence to show extensive abuse of the NHS or health tourism.
As the levy, if imposed, will be paid with the visa application, it will be seen as an increase in the visa fee—yet another disincentive. The Government argue that other countries do this, but this does not take into account the fact that other countries have taken positive steps to attract international students. In our case, it is the cumulative effect of our policy towards international students—biometrics, entry clearance, institutional immigration checks and police registration—that acts as a major disincentive.
Consequences are evident. The Russell Group universities say that in 2010-11 new intakes of postgraduate students from India at Russell Group universities dropped by 21%, with a further 18% drop anticipated in 2012-13. They say that even the growth rate in new students from China has now started to taper off. By contrast, Indian postgraduate student numbers to the US increased by 40% in 2013. Visas granted to Indian students across all levels in Australia rose by 22% in the year following the introduction of a more open immigration policy. Visas granted to Indian students in Canada rose by 8%.
We all know that after many years of growth, 2012-13 saw the first reduction since records began in the number of non-EU higher education students and, for the second year running, a reduction of 25% in students from India and 19% for students from Pakistan. In April 2012, India’s Commerce and Industry Minister, the honourable Anand Sharma, reminded UK Ministers that Indian IT companies were considering relocating from the UK as a result of difficulties in the UK immigration system. He also emphasised wider issues such as visas for business trips and restrictions affecting Indian students hoping to study in the UK. That was two years ago.
The Government, in their report, International Education Strategy—Global Growth and Prosperity, said that their approach was a warm welcome for international students, and explained that there was no cap on the number of international students who could come to the UK, and that they would support students when things go wrong in their home. However, the proposals in the Bill run contrary to the intentions of this strategy. Because students are part of the overall government target to reduce migration, they are getting caught in these measures.
On a number of occasions, as my noble friend Lord Hannay said, EU Sub-Committee F, of which I am a member, has said that international students should be removed from the public policy implications of the Government’s policy of reducing net migration. We have argued that nothing short of this will enable the UK to remain competitive in attracting international students. The IPPR report published in December 2013 argued that the Home Office’s net migration target had created a perverse incentive for the Government to reduce the number of international students officially counted as migrants in order to achieve an overall reduction in migrant numbers. They said that this was harming the UK economy. This is an opportunity to change the policy, remove international students from this target and stop them getting caught in these proposals. I very much hope that the Government will pay heed to these issues and that I will not have a sense of déjà vu 10 years on.
My Lords, it is about time that this country had a sensible, calm and balanced approach to discussing immigration and asylum. We seem over recent years to have indulged in hysteria, false facts and scaremongering. That does not help us as a country to make sensible decisions.
Perhaps I may share a little experience and give this issue a lighter touch. Recently, I was in a café-restaurant with some friends and, from her accent, the waitress was clearly not British—she was from somewhere in eastern Europe. As I usually do, I asked, just out of interest, “Where are you from?”. She said that she was from the Czech Republic. We asked, “What are you doing here? Are you here to work, study or what?”. “No”, she said, “I am here to have fun. That’s all. When I have had fun, I am going back to the Czech Republic”. I thought that that just about put it in the right perspective, when compared with all the hysteria about these people coming here. She just wanted to have fun because she saw London as a place where she could do so, perhaps more fun than in her own country.
On the whole, however, this debate does not have much fun to it. It is gloomy and the climate of opinion on migration and migrants has been generally hostile. There are, of course, problems. None of us believes in sham marriages. We should deal with illegal immigration, provided there is evidence, not just accusations. As my noble friend said, we have to have a basis for any policy so we know what we are doing and why we are doing it. We know that immigration has been of overall benefit to this country. The difficulty is the imbalance between the contribution made by immigration to Britain and the economy, compared with the local areas where people settle and where there may be more pressure on services. Although the country as a whole benefits, the areas where migrants—or some of them—tend to settle need a bit more help with housing, health, education and transport. If there was no such imbalance, the whole thing could be managed better. A lot of the skill in immigration policy is in dealing with this imbalance so that we go on benefiting, as a country, but local communities are given the help to which they are entitled, given that they are contributing to benefits for the whole country. That should be the basis of a policy followed by any British Government.
I turn to some details of the Bill. I am concerned that some policies may be intensive in staff time at the Home Office and elsewhere and there may well be problems with the adequacy of resources. Other noble Lords have mentioned rights of appeal. There must be a concern that cuts in legal aid will make these less effective or meaningful. The Joint Committee on Human Rights talked, in its report, about constraints to the right of a tribunal to consider a new matter. That constraint has been applied, in Clause 11, so that the Secretary of State decides whether any new matter can be dealt with by a tribunal. Why can the tribunals not decide themselves what is sensible in relation to cases before them? The Bill will also increase the potential for judicial reviews, some of which may have to take place on behalf of people who are no longer in the country. That is virtually impossible to do. In any case, the Government are increasing the likelihood of judicial reviews at a time when the Lord Chancellor has protested that there are already too many.
Many references have been made to difficulties with Clause 15 and later clauses dealing with residential tenancies. It is very unpleasant for individuals to have to check on others and say: “Produce the evidence so I can let my flat to you”. This is neither the topic of the Bill nor a popular cause, but I sometimes wonder—without advocating them—whether ID cards might have dealt with a lot of these things painlessly, fairly and sensibly. However, the country has moved away from that, although ID cards would have helped on this and a number of other things too. Anybody coming to the country could have been given a temporary ID card to cover them while the basis of their stay was being resolved. There is a difficulty with residential tenancies and I fear that some of the policies might lead to more homelessness, especially for children.
In his very nice opening speech, the Minister made the Bill seem much blander and nicer than it actually is. This is a skill on his part but does not help us very much. He said it was the Government’s aim not to have children in detention. I cannot remember what the position is at the moment. Some of us have campaigned for years, both under the previous Government and this one, arguing that children should not be detained under immigration powers. What is the position and, if it continues, when will it be phased out?
I turn to the subject of health. As has already been mentioned, the prospect of charging for maternity care is alien to the best principles of decent healthcare. It would, surely, be right to exempt all pregnant women and children from charges. Starting antenatal care after 20 weeks is a risk factor, as is not attending antenatal appointments and screening. There is also a risk to the health of the child and an increased chance of infant mortality. Should not all pregnant women and new mothers have a GP and other primary care services for free, including access to prescriptions and whatever else is necessary? I think that it would be right to exempt from charges asylum seekers, refugees, children in local authority care and victims of trafficking. What will the position be as regards refused asylum seekers and undocumented migrants? Will they face NHS charges, including for primary care and A&E treatment?
I turn to the question of victims of trafficking. Admittedly, if they have been recognised as victims of trafficking, they may be helped by the Bill, but of course we know that quite a number of such victims are afraid to present themselves lest they be treated as illegal immigrants. I have heard this from NGOs and others in all parts of the country. There is a real concern about this. If we are to deal with victims of trafficking, we must not allow the authorities or the powers-that-be to make them criminals. They should be seen as victims and not as criminals. Therefore, the registration system for assessing eligibility for NHS treatment must not be linked to the Home Office in such a way that accessing treatment can be used as a means of immigration enforcement. The danger is that that will happen.
We know that it is hard for a homeless person to register with a GP. The result is that homeless people attend A&E six times more often than the general population and they stay in hospital for three times as long. This is at a time when everybody is trying to find ways of reducing pressure on A&E departments, yet the consequence will be to increase it.
Of course, there are problems with charging systems. The chair of the BMA council regarded the proposed charges as “impractical, uneconomic and inefficient”. I understand that the Department of Health did a piece of qualitative research among health professionals last year, and there is a concern that,
“the cost of setting up a new complex infrastructure may outweigh any increase in income”.
If that is not enough, the headline on page 24 of today’s Evening Standard—I am not sure how authoritative this is—reads: “GPs turning away refugees to avoid ‘staggering’ task of registering them”. That bears out the point that I have just made.
I turn briefly to the question of work. I think that it would be right to allow asylum seekers to work if an initial decision in their case was not made within six months. It seems to me that letting people hang on unemployed, unable to work and in very poor circumstances is not sensible either for them or for the country. My suggestion is limited to those whose cases are not decided initially within six months. If they worked, there would be a lesser burden on taxpayers and a route out of poverty for asylum seekers. I understand that at the moment 5,500 asylum seekers have been waiting for more than six months for an initial decision and are still unable to work. It would also avoid the negative consequences of prolonged economic exclusion and forced inactivity. Those would all be bonuses. Surely it would be more sensible to let asylum seekers work in the circumstances that I have described.
Before I finish, I want to say a word about the deprivation of citizenship. I understand that this should be strictly limited to instances where a person can immediately gain another nationality, but, as I understand it, nothing in the Bill would prevent deprivation of citizenship taking place. Sometimes, citizenship can be taken from a person while that person is not in the country. There have been instances of that—not many but a few. It seems to me that it would be quite wrong if we took away citizenship from an individual, who would be left high and dry and effectively stateless.
The way that we deal with vulnerable people, immigrants and asylum seekers is a test of what sort of country we are. It is a test of our commitment to human rights and it is how we are judged on the international stage.
My Lords, as my noble friend Lady Hamwee said, this Bill is not one that a majority Liberal Democrat Government would have brought forward. We have worked in coalition to improve this Bill and it is clear from what noble Lords have said that more needs to be done.
It is important that this Bill should be put into context. What is it trying to achieve? I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, that most reasonable people do not believe that there is a danger of this country being overwhelmed by a tsunami of immigrants. We do, however, have to be very careful about the way in which we use statistics in this area. My noble friend Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts talked about population growth. Can the Minister confirm that, in 2012-13, only 20% of the population growth in the UK was due to immigration?
My noble friend Lady Hamwee also suggested that we should examine what underlies hostility and fear towards immigrants. Perhaps the most commonly raised issues from those who oppose all further immigration are the claims that immigrants are taking our jobs and homes. As my noble friend Lady Hussein-Ece described in relation to the care sector, there are so many areas of industry and public services that would grind to a halt if it were not for those workers whose origins are overseas—whether they are first or subsequent-generation immigrants. It is not a phenomenon unique to the United Kingdom that immigrants, children and grandchildren of immigrants become the mainstay of the workforce in certain sectors. As my noble friend Lord Dholakia said, one in four NHS doctors is a migrant. Those who oppose immigration do not talk about the many thousands of jobs that immigrant entrepreneurs create by bringing investment and innovation into the country. Not only do immigrants as a whole contribute more to the British economy in taxation and national insurance than they take out in benefits, they also start businesses that employ many thousands of British people from every background.
As far as taking our homes is concerned, I wish there were more homes that immigrants could be accused of taking. The appalling lack of social housing and what, in some areas, is laughingly called affordable housing means that they are effectively out of the reach of hard-working families. Vast swathes of housing—particularly newbuild in London—are snapped up by overseas investors who have no intention of becoming immigrants. These are the real culprits, not immigration. It is much easier and politically expedient to blame immigrants for the housing crisis which successive Governments have created by their failure to build homes, particularly in the social sector.
There is no hope of considering this Bill objectively—as my noble friends Lord Avebury, Lord Taverne and Lord Roberts of Llandudno have said—if it is done against the distorted backdrop painted by UKIP, the Daily Mail and their sympathisers. They may have convinced too many of the electorate that the consequences of the economic recession for the labour market and the failure to build our way out of the housing crisis are the fault of immigration. It is easier to blame others than it is to blame ourselves, but we should not fall into the same trap. Listening to this debate, I am pleased that none of the Members of your Lordships’ House has done this.
We must have sensible, reasonable and practical controls on immigration; these are needed to address real problems with our existing rules and practices. We must, however, not have irrational, draconian and impractical measures to address the fictitious spectres created as scapegoats for the real challenges faced by families in this country.
The large number of noble friends who have spoken has made the depth of feeling and the concerns we have about this Bill very clear. As my noble friend Lord Teverson said, it is not just the measures; it is the damaging message that we are hostile that a Bill such as this sends to the rest of the world. Many in your Lordships’ House today, including my noble friends Lady Benjamin and Lord Clement-Jones, have expressed concerns about the effect of the Bill on overseas students, whose numbers should not be included in overall immigration figures in any event. We have learnt about the practical difficulties, particularly for overseas students seeking accommodation, that would be presented if this Bill goes through as it is.
The most important reform that we wish to see has nothing to do with this Bill. We want the correct immigration decisions made when the application is first considered. The UK Border Agency clearly was not working effectively and we welcome bringing immigration issues back within the Home Office. But, no matter what the grounds for appeal are or the number of appeals that are allowed, if currently 50% of appeals are successful the Home Office is not getting it right first time. Many of the problems with the current system—delays, indefinite detention and the detention of children—are the consequences of not getting it right first time.
Government effort and energy should be focused on improving the current system before implementing some of the changes proposed in this Bill. We want changes that work and, where we do not know whether they will work or not, we want them piloted. That is why the Government have agreed initially to limit the power to require landlords to check a tenant’s immigration status to one pilot area, rather than nationwide, as suggested by the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon. Over the weekend, we saw how difficult it is to check someone’s immigration status. Clearly that will be a major difficulty and we need to see how it works in practice.
Not much has been said about the fact that this Bill allows immigration officers to use reasonable force in the exercise of any of their powers, not just for removal. Coupled with the ability to take biometric information from those whom they suspect of being illegally in the country, that makes these high-profile raids on businesses run by people from traditional illegal immigration areas such as the Hong Kong Chinese even more worrying.
Detention without trial also is a serious issue, as Parliament has made clear even where terrorism is suspected. Not to allow appeals against detention within 14 days of proposed deportation without the authority of the Secretary of State is a worrying development. Replacing appeal to a judicial tribunal against a refusal to allow entry with an administrative review, when current appeals are running at about a 50% success rate, is again a concern. As my noble friend Lady Manzoor has said, were the decision-making in the Home Office already of a very high quality, we might be more relaxed about this measure. That may be a useful way forward in addition to, but not instead of, a right to appeal.
My noble friend the Minister no doubt will say that, with 87% of applications already being granted, there should be a higher degree of confidence in decision-making in the Home Office. However, the fact is that the 50% of appeals which are granted are the only ones subjected to a rigorous review. We do not know whether the decision-making in the 87% of cases is correct.
While many would support “deport now, appeal later” in relation to foreign criminals, allowing the Home Office, with its current record, to be the sole arbiter of what constitutes,
“a real risk of serious irreversible harm”,
as the only grounds for not going ahead with it, and extending the power to those whose presence the Secretary of State alone considers to be not “conducive to public good”, seems to give powers to a body that currently has a poor record of judgment.
Clearly, the Article 8 right to a family life needs to be balanced against the public interest—it is not an absolute right—but for the courts to be instructed what weight Article 8 rights should be given appears to me to be an interference with the balancing judgment that has previously been the sole responsibility of the courts.
It may be right that some of those from abroad who have not paid national insurance contributions should be charged for treatment under the National Health Service, but surely this should not apply to those who come here legally to work and who will in effect be paying twice through the charge proposed by this Bill and through their own national insurance contributions.
The Liberal Democrats want to support rational and practical steps to ensure that a firm but fair immigration system is in place. We need to be convinced that the measures proposed in this Bill will actually work without unintended and unacceptable consequences.
My Lords, I declare a number of immigration interests. As Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons I was responsible for inspecting all places of immigration detention, during the course of which I found much wrong with the system, such as the use of inappropriate detention rules which, fortunately, I was able to correct. From 2007 to 2009 with my noble friends Lady Mar and Lord Sandwich I was a member of an independent asylum commission which submitted three reports to the then Government, containing detailed analysis of what was wrong with the asylum system and numerous recommendations for improvement.
In 2008, I forwarded a carefully researched dossier to the Home Secretary, entitled Outsourcing Abuse, which listed details of more than 70 cases of injury to failed asylum seekers undergoing enforced removal. In 2010, I was a member of a government advisory board on the use of child detention, whose recommendations I hope to see realised in this Bill. Finally, in 2011-12 I chaired an independent commission on enforced removals whose recommendations were forwarded to both the Home Secretary and the chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee. This followed the death of an Angolan, Jimmy Mubenga, in an aircraft at Heathrow at the hands of G4S escort officers and on which the coroner’s inquest verdict was unlawful killing. Therefore, I hope that noble Lords will forgive me if I focus tonight on the clauses and schedules in the Bill to do with enforced removals.
Before that, I must declare my acute disappointment that yet again a Government have failed to tackle a major millstone that prevents the immigration system from being able to function properly: namely, the 502,412 unresolved cases, of which more than 190,000 were in the migrant refusal pool in July 2013. I was first introduced to this problem one day in 1997 while visiting Birmingham prison, where I was told that a number of foreign national prisoners had gone on hunger strike. When I went to see them I found that they were not foreign nationals who had committed offences, but Asian people who had been living in England for more than 20 years, most married with families and many with their own businesses. They had suddenly been rounded up, mostly in Yorkshire, and taken to Birmingham purely because it appeared to have space, so that their details and their right to remain could be checked. The trouble with having such a millstone around a system’s neck, particularly when resources are limited, is that progress is impossible because so many staff have to spend their time trying to keep its head above water. By progress I mean such things as introducing time limits on the completion of essential bureaucratic processes.
I was faced with a similar, but far smaller situation, when I was commanding troops in Belfast. Every base had a card index for everyone who lived, or had been questioned, in an area, going back several years, which was used to verify the identity of anyone stopped on the streets. Then we were issued with a computer system, but no guidance as to how it was to be loaded with data on literally thousands of cards. The only possible solution was to ground all my military policemen for two weeks and sit them at computers until they had transcribed every detail.
The only way that the Home Office will remove its millstone is to do something similar and draft in temporary staff until the millstone is cleared. Only then will there be time and space for change and improvement. Because of the avoidable damage that a chaotic and dysfunctional immigration system—which seems likely to be made worse by some of the proposals in the Bill—does to the national image, I would have expected that to have been appreciated and actioned years ago. I await the Minister’s comments on that suggestion with interest.
I turn now to Clauses 1 and 2 of Part 1, Clause 58 of Part 5 and Schedules 1 and 7. One of the depressing things about submitting a report to the Home Office, however constructive and well researched, is that you know that no one there will take a blind bit of notice of anything that is not produced in-house. My commission was appalled to find that the restraint techniques used by contracted private sector escort officers were required by the Home Office to be used only in prison. No one had bothered to check with the NHS, which had rejected the pain-compliant prison techniques, devising its own pain-free ones that were more appropriate for patients. Neither had the police, who come under the Home Office and who had developed pain-free techniques suitable for use in crowded and restricted public places such as river ferries been consulted. No training requirements were laid down and escort officers were neither accredited nor licensed. No one in the Home Office is qualified to do this, but no one had thought of approaching the Security Industry Authority, which is.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, said, the standard of casework is abysmal. All too frequently, escorts are told nothing about the characteristics of the understandably concerned people whom they are to escort until shortly before a flight.
Independent oversight was totally lacking until the Chief Inspector of Prisons was invited to observe a return flight and was appalled at the way in which escorts talked openly to and about returnees in front of him and them. Extraordinarily, independent oversight is said to be the responsibility of the Home Office Professional Standards Unit, which is incapable of doing what is required and bizarrely is itself overseen by the Independent Police Complaints Commission, which has nothing to do with asylum casework. It is hard to imagine anything less fit for purpose. We also strongly recommended improved powers for the Immigration Services Commissioner to deal with rogue advisers.
As this detail had not been found by the Home Affairs Select Committee, which had published a report previously on enforced removals, I discussed our findings with its chairman in the fond hope that he might take them formally into evidence in a reopened inquiry, in which case the Home Office might take them seriously, too. But despite assurances from time to time, he has not yet done that, so I hope that amendments to the Bill will provide the vehicle. I do not believe that Clause 1, or paragraph 5 of Schedule 1, which allows untrained and unlicensed immigration officers to use unspecified but allegedly “reasonable force”, when there is such an authentic catalogue of unreasonable force being used by those on Home Office contracts, including a charge of unlawful killing, should be allowed to stand. I go further by suggesting that it would be wholly irresponsible of this House not to try to ensure that current practice is wound up in favour of something more akin to our claim to be a civilised nation.
There is much else in the Bill about which other noble Lords have already expressed their unease. Yet again, we seem destined to spend long hours trying to improve legislation produced in haste and rushed through the other place without sufficient time for scrutiny. Bearing in mind how many Members of Parliament have regular contact with immigration problems in their constituencies, I am surprised that so little was done to amend what was laid before them. No doubt making up for that deficiency is a prospect to which the Minister looks forward with eager anticipation.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Chief Whip for suggesting that I might step into the gap for a moment or two and I shall be very brief indeed. What we have just heard from the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, gives us great concern about the extension to all immigration officers of the power to use so-called “reasonable force” to bring about whatever the order before them is. I suspect that the noble Lord knows better than almost anybody else in this House how all these things operate. Unless we consider closely the illiberal power that we are effectively giving to every last immigration officer, this House should seriously ask how far it can possibly go along with it.
The second thing that I want to say is that, if noble Lords wanted proof of the huge contribution that immigrants have made to this country over the years, they only need to look around this House during this debate. I should declare my own involvement as, along with my noble friend Lord Dholakia, I am a patron of the Gatwick Detainees Welfare Group. One of the most amazing occurrences is the group’s ability to recruit hundreds of volunteers from the neighbourhood of Gatwick, who come to be with, befriend, speak to and advise those who are locked up in that detention centre. That shows that, as my noble friend Lady Hamwee said, given the right leadership, the people in this country are capable of responding in the most warm and generous way.
I will conclude by asking three direct questions of the Minister, who is thorough in paying attention to the views and opinions in this House, which are always taken seriously, as they should be. The first relates to the interesting and detailed suggestions made by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton. How far have those been taken into account in reconsidering what the first tier should be able to bring to its attention in making the kind of decision that might actually be unquestionable, good, accurate and able to last? In all my life in politics—since I was myself a Minister of State at the Home Office—this has been the holy grail. Can we not find an answer in the first tier, to avoid the endless agony of paying legal costs and all the rest of it for a second, third, fourth and fifth tier? My first question therefore is: how far will the solid suggestions made by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, be part of the changing and reform of that first tier?
The second question relates to the health surcharge. Here, my noble friend Lady Manzoor made extremely important points, but I want to add another. The BMA, the British Medical Association, which represents all doctors in this country, and the National Aids Trust, NAT, which looks in particular at HIV, have both spoken as clearly as they could about the great danger of any kind of fee at this level. For example, people visiting A&E or going beyond the GP whom they first see who advises treatment would be brought into the area of having to pay. How much will that discourage people who are already desperate for money from going to their GP, let alone going to A&E?
Yet we have in this country two major threats in infectious diseases. One is HIV, which is relatively easily transferred, and the other, which we have not so far mentioned, is drug-related tuberculosis, which is gaining ground every month that passes. This is partly because people are coming from parts of the world where there is extensive drug-related tuberculosis. This must be caught early, to ensure that it is not passed on. My noble friend Lord Patel—who, along with several others who came to this country in the last generation or two, has made such a contribution to the health service—knows very well the dangers that we are talking about.
The third question relates to something that we have not talked about at all, strangely enough: a distinctive flaw in the flow of immigrants to this country. To put it bluntly—and I do not mind being blunt in this brilliant debate—it is relatively easy at the moment for somebody who is truly wealthy to get into this country without too many problems with immigration. At the present time there are whole blocks of flats, very possibly including a block of flats that may emerge from Battersea power station, being auctioned in Hong Kong, Singapore and elsewhere for people who want a second home in London. That is not helpful to anybody. Above all, if the people who are part of that are people who have a lot of wealth in tax havens, it will not do immigration as such any good. However, if you are a poverty-stricken asylum seeker who has been fighting for democracy in your country, living with great risks, you will find it terribly difficult to get into this country, however hard you try.
I conclude with this. It was the late Aneurin Bevan, that great Labour statesman, who once said that you do not need to look into the crystal if you can read the book. Look around this Chamber, read the book, ask yourself what immigrants have brought to this country and be thankful for it, and let us make sure that we are not part of what one might call the narrowing of the British imagination by closing the door to the huge gifts and innovations and treasures that our flow of immigrants over the years have brought to this country.
My Lords, with the permission of the House, I, too, should like to speak briefly in the gap. I apologise, but I was unable to be in the House until six o’clock today, and so did not put my name down for the debate.
My major concern about the Bill is its wide-ranging implications for the safety and welfare of children, not least the proposals to limit children’s access to healthcare and housing. Those and other proposals run counter to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Further, Clause 14 would restrict Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, but I notice that the Minister asserts on the front of the Bill that it is compatible with the convention. I would like him to explain how that can be.
The Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act imposed a statutory duty on the Home Secretary to have concern for the welfare of children. It is a requirement for the Home Secretary to ensure that regard is had for children’s safety and welfare in the implementation of government policy on immigration, asylum and nationality. That clearly includes the Bill, but the Explanatory Memorandum makes no mention of children apart from a brief comment in relation to the provision on biometric information. I do not understand how that can be.
There are other crucial issues in the Bill, such as the restriction of appeals, the effect on higher education institutions, about which we heard from many noble Lords, and more general access to healthcare and housing to people unable to prove their status.
As we all know, cuts are being made to the level of staff in the UK Border Agency, but that does not make it in any way appropriate for the gap to be filled, at least in part, by asking nurses and landlords to become the gatekeepers. What does that say about this country and the whole question of the compassion that we offer? My noble friend Lord Judd spoke eloquently on that, and it is lacking in the proposals in the Bill.
By common consent, the Bill was denied proper consideration in Committee in another place. We have six days of Committee in your Lordships’ House, which offers the opportunity for that imbalance to be corrected and to deal with some of the ways in which the Bill needs to be amended. I look forward to contributing to that process.
My Lords, we have had a lengthy, interesting and, at times, passionate debate. Some noble Lords have addressed the general approach to immigration and the overall thrust of the measures contained in the Bill. Other contributions have homed in on the implications of specific clauses and proposals, such as limiting the right of appeal for First-tier Tribunal cases when the real problem that needs addressing is the number of decisions appealed that are determined as being wrong.
Among other areas of concern regularly referred to this evening have been the impact of the proposals on international students, undocumented migrant children and landlords and prospective tenants. However, in the comments at the beginning of the debate, my noble friend Lady Smith of Basildon pointed out that it is equally relevant in this debate to talk about what is not in the Bill.
Before moving on any further, it is worth pointing out that the Bill has not been subject to the most thorough of consultation processes. Prior to the Bill, there was no draft Bill, Green Paper or White Paper. The Bill also appeared to be delayed in the other place for reasons which may have had more to do with internal issues within the larger party in the coalition than any other factor.
Then, 24 hours before the four-and-a-half-hour debate that was Report stage in the other place, followed immediately by a very brief Third Reading, the Government published a major new clause on deprivation of citizenship for conduct seriously prejudicial to vital interests of the United Kingdom. This left little or no time for the Government’s proposed new clause, giving a significant power to the Secretary of State, to be considered in detail, including, for example, what would happen to people made stateless—my noble friend Lady Kennedy of The Shaws referred to this—and why there was no provision for judicial oversight. These were hardly the actions of a Government keen on providing the appropriate opportunities for scrutiny of their proposals by Parliament.
We also had the spectacle on Report in the other place of the Home Secretary’s speaking against one of her own Back-Bencher’s amendments, on deporting foreign criminals, to her own Immigration Bill. Having said that the amendment would be incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights, and would significantly undermine the United Kingdom’s ability to deport foreign criminals, the Home Secretary then failed to vote against it.
Finally, this weekend we heard that the Minister for Immigration, who proved himself not to be the greatest admirer of this House during the controversy on House of Lords reform, had resigned, since it appeared he had employed someone who was an illegal immigrant. This happened after the Government have repeatedly said that there will be no real difficulties for landlords in carrying out the new requirements in this Bill to ensure they are not renting accommodation to illegal immigrants. If a Minister for Immigration can get it wrong, there must now be even bigger question marks over the practicality of at least some of the proposals in this Bill and over the actual impact they will have on immigration in contrast to the headlines when they are first put forward.
My noble friend Lady Smith of Basildon made clear earlier our agreement that immigration needed to be properly and effectively managed, our agreement that we need to tackle illegal immigration and our agreement that we need to ensure that, when appropriate, foreign criminals are deported. On these important points, however, the Government have been wholehearted in their rhetoric and half-hearted in their actions. The infamous van and its advert, to which some noble Lords have referred, sums up this Government’s approach. Border and immigration staff have been reduced, the number of illegal immigrants deported has fallen and the number of businesses fined for using illegal workers has almost halved between 2009 and 2012. The Bill is silent on remedying the causes of these failures by the Government.
How much better it would have been for community relations in this country and for the whole tenor of the debate on immigration if the Government’s action had been wholehearted and the Government’s rhetoric half-hearted rather than the other way round. What is needed is a reasoned debate about making sure that immigration delivers positively for our country. That includes having appropriate measures to control immigration, tackling illegal immigration and abuses of the system, having an overall approach to addressing the impact of immigration on people’s lives—to give two examples, in the labour market and the housing market—but also recognising the benefits that immigration has brought to our country. That will not be achieved through legislation that was not properly scrutinised in the Commons and through legislation whose passage appears to be geared, as far as the Government are concerned, to deadlines related to elections in the middle of this year, if not beyond.
The Government have said they are going to reduce net migration to the tens of thousands by May 2015. The objective is presumably 99,999, even if that means its being secured at the cost, to our country, of people leaving whom we should want to stay and highly qualified people, including university students, whom it would be in our interests to attract, not coming to this country. Can the Minister tell us whether the Government are on track to meet their declared policy objective within the timescale laid down and what contribution the Bill is expected to make, if any, towards meeting the Government’s target on net migration and over what timescale?
Much of the Bill relates to illegal immigration, which is not covered by the Government’s “tens of thousands” objective. The Bill seeks to transfer some responsibility for controlling illegal immigration to specific groups of citizens of this country and, by implication, away from the Government. It does not, however, address the issue of exploitation and abuse of immigrants which, for so long as it is allowed to continue, contributes to the level of illegal immigration. Although we share the Government’s objective of wanting properly controlled and managed immigration, it does not let them off the hook of having to make the case for each one of their proposals in the Bill.
Making the case means providing hard evidence on the extent and nature of the problem or issue that the Government are seeking to address; providing hard evidence that the practical implications and feasibility of what is proposed have been thought through; and providing hard evidence that the claimed impact of what is proposed on the problem or issue that the Government are seeking to address is also a realistic expectation. For a start, the Government’s own impact assessment states, without any caveats, that the Bill,
“will make a significant contribution to reducing illegal immigration”.
That could be the case but I hope that the Minister will be able to provide the hard evidence and figures on which that statement is based, including telling us by how much the proposals in the Bill will reduce illegal immigration.
It will also help detailed consideration of the Bill if the Minister could indicate which of the measures proposed in it the Government consider will make the biggest contributions towards reducing illegal immigration or impacting on the net migration figure. It is only right that we should have that information because concerns have been raised about some specific proposals in the Bill and, in some cases, the potential unintended consequences on law-abiding British citizens, legal visitors and visa holders who contribute positively to our country. People need to be in a position to make their own judgment on whether the evidence on the changes that the proposals will actually deliver justifies the risk of any associated unintended consequences if these cannot be addressed. What will not help would be if it becomes clear that there are proposals in the Bill that are here for show rather than effectiveness.
One proposal on which there has been some comment is that defining public interest in relation to Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights when considering immigration cases. The Bill seeks to put on the statute book the terms of the most recent Immigration Rules. It is moving guidance or rules into law passed by Parliament, with a view to tying down how the judiciary interprets the public interest and the weight that should be attached to it in immigration cases. That is a significant development and the Minister set out the reasons for the Government going down this road in introducing the Bill. We have a whole raft of guidelines on sentencing across a range of offences and on the weight that should be attached to different factors. It would be helpful to know whether the way that the courts are interpreting other guidelines or rules is also a cause of concern to the Government and, if so, whether they are considering enshrining any of those in statute.
Coming back to the reasons for the Government including Clause 14, can the Minister give some indication of the number of judgments since the revised Immigration Rules came into effect which the Government have felt did not properly reflect the terms of those rules, in respect of what the public interest requires and the weight that should be attached to it? What number of judgments have there been which the Government feel have reflected the terms of those rules? Can the Minister also indicate what the Government anticipate will be the effect of passing Clause 14 into law on the number of people coming into and leaving this country in a calendar year?
Finally in respect of Clause 14, can the Minister spell out the evidence the Government are relying on to insert, as a statement of fact, its wording that,
“persons who seek to enter or remain in the United Kingdom”,
and who are able to speak English,
“are less of a burden on taxpayers”,
than—one assumes, although the Bill does not say it—those who cannot speak English and who are seeking to enter or remain in the United Kingdom? I am not saying that the proposed wording is factually incorrect but if such wording is to be enshrined in the law of the land, the Government ought to be clear about the hard evidence on which it is based and place it on the record.
In his introductory speech, the Minister spoke about policies and proposals in the Bill striking the right balance, and the Bill not making the United Kingdom less attractive to legal migrants. From the speeches today it is clear that most of your Lordships do not share this somewhat idyllic view of the Bill as currently worded. However, one opinion expressed by the Minister that will not be disputed is that over the coming weeks, as he said, this House will give this Bill the serious scrutiny that it now demands and needs.
My Lords, this has been a long but thorough, wide-ranging and thoughtful debate on a topic of great interest inside this Chamber and in Parliament in general, and to people outside. Immigration is a topic regularly discussed the length and breadth of this country.
As I said at the beginning of the debate, it is important that we recognise the positive contribution that migrants have made to this country. I could not agree more with my noble friend Lady Williams of Crosby. Migrants will continue to make a great contribution to this country. It is none the less right and proper that Parliament acts where necessary to bring the legal framework that underpins our immigration system up to date, and to ensure that the welcome that we extend to migrants brings benefits to us all.
I have said that this has been a wide-ranging debate and if I were going to cover a fraction of the points in my reply this evening, we would be here long after taxis—indeed, I suspect, long after midnight. This would perhaps tax my ability to give satisfactory answers. I will seek to address the general issues that have been raised in the debate, but I hope that noble Lords will allow me something that I have frequently sought in debate and that is to write a commentary, which I will also copy to the Library, for all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate and seek to address in detail the many questions that have been raised.
I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, who wrote to me and indicated those issues that he has raised. We can see that they are significant ones and I think that the whole House would like a response to them, but to go into that detail now might take quite a while. My noble friend Lady Manzoor suggested that we should try to find ways of responding before we get to Committee. The noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, made the same comment. So I will try to get a commentary on the debate to noble Lords for the beginning of the week when we come back after our recess, which will give people time to consider it before we go into Committee on this Bill.
Noble Lords know that my approach to legislation is to try to engage with and reassure them, and learn from them the points that they are making, and seek an understanding between the Government and this House. I have already had a meeting with the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, and my noble friend Lady Hamwee. I expect that that week when we return will be a busy one for engagement. I hope that any noble Lord who would like to see me for a chat about a particular issue will get in touch with me. I see myself as a servant of this House in that respect.
Before I go into any detail, perhaps I can start by referring to some speeches that I think tried to give the House a sense of the context in which we are discussing this issue. My noble friend Lord King of Bridgwater tried to put the issue that the Government face into context. We heard from the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths of Burry Port, a most excellent speech, if I may say so, which referred again to the bigger picture in which the policy decisions that we are talking about in the Bill need to be considered. My noble friend Lord Dholakia referred to the contribution of migration to this country. The noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, made a brilliant speech, if I may say so—not one in which I could agree with everything that he said, but it was good that he expressed that point of view. It is a challenge for us in government to respond to the points that he made.
My noble friend Lord Eccles sought a reasoned approach, which I hope this House will bring to the subject. It is very easy to get passionate about this issue because people’s lives are affected by decisions that Parliament makes, but I hope that we can discuss it in a rational and positive way; that is certainly the way in which I see the legislation and myself. My noble friend Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbots made, yet again, a remarkable speech, challenging some of the views of other noble Lords but, I think, putting at its heart social cohesion and putting migration—economic migration in particular—into some context, which challenged much of our received opinion on the issue.
Britain is now outpacing many of its competitors in its economic recovery. English is a global language and we have diaspora communities from across the world living in the UK. This is why it is not surprising that the UK is a destination of choice, not only for those who benefit our country but for many who wish to benefit themselves. We have many fantastic world-class universities drawing students to our shores but, sadly, not everyone who says they are here to study intends to do so. The National Audit Office reported that up to 50,000 students may have come to work, not to study, in 2009-10. Back then, student visa extensions were running at over 100,000 per year, with some serial students renewing their leave repeatedly for many years. So, while many have reminded me that student numbers are now down, we must remember why. The “Panorama” documentary broadcast—which, of course, none of us has been able to see, but about which we have heard much—would appear to have highlighted further abuses in the mainstream student route, rather than the student visitor route, as the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, suggested. If the student route is indeed so abused, that should remind us why we need to be cautious in considering suggestions that students should be excluded from the net migration target.
The UK has a great offer to attract the best international students. As the noble Lord, Lord Winston, said, this is principally because of the quality of the education that is offered here. Those with the right qualifications, sufficient funds to cover their fees and maintenance costs and a good level of English can study here. There is no limit on numbers. Visa applications from students sponsored by universities increased by 7% for the year ending September 2013. I accept the fact highlighted by the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, that the number of first-year Indian students in our universities declined slightly in 2012-13, but that followed a period of soaring numbers. The number of Indian students admitted to the UK doubled between 2008 and 2009. There may also be other factors at play; for example, the other day in Grand Committee the noble Lord himself mentioned the decline of the strength of the rupee. Further, in December 2013, the British Council published a survey of more than 10,000 young people across India. High-quality courses and institutions remain by far the greatest pull factor for students when choosing whether to study at home or abroad and—this is the most important thing—the UK was the most favoured destination and was chosen by 21% of the respondents.
The noble Baroness, Lady Warwick of Undercliffe, whose expertise in and knowledge of the university sector I recognise, reminded us that the UK is the second most popular destination globally for international students. We are conscious of this and of the need to continue to make the UK attractive. The Bill does not undermine that. While numbers from India are down, by contrast there was strong growth from China, where numbers were up 6%, Malaysia, where they were up by 3%, and Hong Kong, where they were up by 15%, which shows that there is nothing intrinsically wrong in policy terms that is putting off high-quality students.
There have been suggestions from many noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord Clement-Jones and the noble Baronesses, Lady Warwick and Lady Meacher, the noble Lord, Lord Winston, and other noble Lords, including, the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, with whom I have debated this issue before, that there should be exemptions from the health charge for students on the basis of the contribution they already make to the UK. My noble friend Lady Barker challenged the evidence base, but the Department of Health has estimated that the cost to the NHS of temporary migrants is about £900 million, and students would be responsible for a significant proportion of that. I accept that they are young and fit, but they still need medical treatment.
Not only should students make a contribution to what they take, but we are not alone in requiring a contribution. A student applying to Harvard in the USA would in most cases be required to pay a fee of $958 per year to access basic health services. To access Harvard’s more comprehensive health insurance plan would cost a further $2,190 per year. In contrast, it would cost a foreign student applying to study in the UK around £450 for three years of NHS coverage under these proposals.
The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, said the money would go into the Consolidated Fund rather than the NHS. It does say that in the Bill but Clause 33 allows the sums collected to be applied in a way specified by order and—to reassure noble Lords on this point—on 20 January the Chief Secretary to the Treasury confirmed to departments and the devolved Administrations that the money that is collected by these charges—£200 in the main and £150 for students—will go directly to health services.
My noble friend Lady Williams of Crosby cautioned us about charging for treatment and warned about its consequences. Indeed, a number of organisations have submitted their views on this issue. I hope noble Lords will allow me to respond to them in the commentary that I am sending.
I now turn to the question of housing and the point made by many noble Lords about the proposals relating to landlords. Students have nothing to fear from the landlord proposals. They have passports with visas which are easy for landlords to check. Landlords are used to managing lettings to students who have yet to arrive in the UK, and the regulations will not impede these arrangements continuing.
Noble Lords will have received a fairly thick, chunky, briefing document. I know it is rather late, but at least we have got it before Second Reading. We did not know who would be speaking at Second Reading. I recommend that noble Lords read it. There is a lot of detail in there for noble Lords.
I am grateful to my noble friend the Minister. Could he just comment on the fact that visas are quite often not available at a very late point? Indeed, some students suddenly find that, having arranged to come to this country, they cannot do so, because the visas are held up, or in some cases, withdrawn. Can he say how the Home Office can avoid that situation, which creates a great deal of tension and strain?
I am grateful to my noble friend for raising that issue. I cannot respond to it immediately, because I do not want to give a meaningless response, but I hope she will allow me to come back to her on that so we can have the full picture before Committee. I was just making a general point that students, perhaps, have less anxiety in this area, because of the nature of the visas that they have coming here.
The noble Lord, Lord Best, whose expertise in these matters I recognise, and my noble friend Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth, asked about the complexity of checks landlords will be required to conduct. The landlord check is undoubtedly simpler than that which employers must conduct. There are fewer technicalities, and with all migrants now being issued biometric visas, or biometric residents’ permits, the documentation is becoming much easier to manage.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester, the noble Baronesses, Lady Warwick and Lady Lister, the noble Lords, Lord Judd and Lord Hylton, and my noble friend Lord Roberts all raised how the Bill will impact on children. Section 55 of the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009 places a duty on the Secretary of State to safeguard and promote the welfare or best interest of children in the UK; Clause 14 of the Bill makes specific provision for it when the best interests of the child mean that the public interest does not require removal. The Bill does not change or undermine the Section 55 duty, which requires the Home Office to have regard to the need to safeguard and promote the welfare of children who are in the UK. The children duty continues to apply to all cases involving children in the UK. I hope that reassures noble Lords. Children in care are not subject to the NHS treatment charges. The Bill does not change that, and there will be an exemption from the surcharge for these children and other vulnerable groups. I will be providing more detail on the exemptions in time for consideration in Committee.
We will also address some other notions about access to childhood immunisation and other public health issues. I want to reassure noble Lords on that point, and I am sure I will be able to do so.
On the appeals measures in the Bill, we want to see faster, better decisions being made in the first place by the Home Office. All noble Lords would agree that that is a desirable outcome. The Home Secretary has made great strides in this area with her reform of the former UK Border Agency. The customer service that applicants receive has improved, and is improving further. We are not complacent, but the administrative review approach to be introduced is not novel; it is used for overseas visa applications, for example. Last year, 20% of requests resulted in the reversal of the original decision, so it does work. There is a proper scrutiny of the process, and 90% of requests were dealt with in less than 28 days.
My Lords, does the Minister realise that the figure he has just given is a cause of worry—that 20% of visa applications from overseas were found to have been successful by the administrative review process that now takes place, but formerly, when they had the right of appeal to the First-tier Tribunal, 36% of them were successful? Something is wrong with the figures there.
I do not think that there is, my Lords. My noble friend misunderstands the degree to which the appeal process has tended to be used to consider new evidence and new material that has been produced by applicants, which could be dealt with through an administrative process much more efficiently that would avoid the late delivery of papers and documentation, which has complicated many cases and prolonged their proper consideration.
The courts will still play an important role in cases that engage fundamental rights. I assure noble Lords on that. However, if an applicant does not qualify and their application is refused, an appeal should not be a way of prolonging their stay in the United Kingdom for months and, as noble Lords will know, in some cases for years. Many noble Lords have cited statistics on allowed appeals. My noble friend Lord Avebury did so, along with the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester, the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, and my noble friend Lady Manzoor, who cited that as evidence of poor decision-making on the part of the Home Office. We believe that just over half the appeals are allowed because of casework error, and administrative review will resolve that. After casework errors, most appeals succeed on Article 8 grounds. When someone believes that they should be allowed to stay in the UK on human rights grounds, they should make a claim on that basis to the Secretary of State. Refusal of that claim will give a right of appeal protected by this Bill. We also need to keep the appeal statistics in perspective. Some 89% of applications from students and workers seeking to extend their stay in 2012 were granted rather than refused.
The evil of statelessness is well understood and that is why, in the shadow of the two world wars of the 20th century, so much work was done to reduce it. The noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, made that clear. We have heard impassioned contributions from her as well as from the noble Lords, Lord Ahmed and Lord Rosser, on that subject. The proposal in the Bill on deprivation of citizenship is an important measure, one that we anticipate will be used in very few cases but which we consider to be necessary to protect the vital interests of the United Kingdom. The measure is very tightly drafted; it falls within the scope of our declaration under the UN Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness and goes no further. Where the power will be used is in the anticipation that the majority of persons concerned can acquire another nationality. The Bill will return our legislation in this area to the position that the United Kingdom held as recently as 2003. There are safeguards, and I know these will be further examined by the House in due course.
I think that we can take it that we will discuss this matter in some detail in Committee. The views expressed in Second Reading here this evening have given us at least the scope of the measure. Our assessment is that this is likely to be very rarely used, but it is for situations which present a threat to the vital interests of the country. I think that people might want the Government to be in a position to exercise that, which is why the proposal is in the Bill. But let us discuss it. As ever, when the noble Lord debates issues he makes a good point, and I shall seek to satisfy him before we get into Committee.
If I may say so, I am looking forward to debating this Bill, which is an important part of the coalition’s legislative agenda. I welcome the engagement that we have already had on the Bill, and I think that we have established, even in this Second Reading debate, a sense of dialogue that I hope we will be able to continue. I should like to think that we will have a number of meetings before we meet again in Committee, and I look forward to continuing these discussions. In the mean time, I commend the Bill to the House and ask it to give the Bill a Second Reading.
Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.
House adjourned at 10.41 pm.