My Lords, as a country we welcome the benefits migrants bring to our industries, educational institutions and communities. We know that most migrants are here lawfully and benefit our country, but some are not: they enter the country illegally, overstay their permission to be here, work illegally, undercutting the resident labour market, contribute to overcrowded housing, claim benefits and damage social cohesion.
It is true that the “bad apple” immigration stories often drown out the positive ones. Many in this House have rightly championed these positive stories and campaigned for policies to bring even more benefits to the UK. The challenge for both Government and Parliament is to implement policies which strike the right balance, keeping the door open to those who have something to contribute, while maintaining a firm response against those who abuse our hospitality.
Immigration is an issue of significant concern to the public. This Government remain committed to reducing net migration. This is down by nearly a third since its peak in 2010, with net migration from outside the EU down to 140,000. It is at its lowest level since 1998. We have tightened the immigration routes where abuse was rife, strengthened the system of granting students permission to enter or stay in the UK, reformed the family visa system and set an annual limit on the number of non-EU economic migrants admitted to the United Kingdom.
These reforms are not just about reducing volumes; rather, they have changed the character of migration to the UK. Although international student numbers are down by a third overall, the number of international students within our world-renowned universities has held steady. Indeed, the number of visa applications by students sponsored by a university increased by 7% last year. This Government closed the so-called highly skilled migrant programme, where research found that nearly half the migrants on the programme were in fact in low-skilled employment. However, we continue to welcome to our country migrants who have something to contribute, and the number of sponsored workers continues to rise. We have opened new routes for entrepreneurs and people of exceptional talent. In China, we now have more visa centres than any other country outside Asia, delivering the largest-ever increases in high-spending visitors.
This Bill will not undermine those important achievements; it will support them. The Bill does not make the UK a less attractive destination for legal migrants. Instead, it is about stopping abuses and making illegal migrants easier to remove. By dealing firmly with those who harm our country, it allows us to continue to welcome those who will bring benefits.
Before turning to some of the detail, let me say a little more about what the Bill does not do. Much rhetoric has been expressed about the Bill that is not borne out by closer inspection. The Bill does not undermine individual rights; rather, it strengthens them. The arbitrariness of whether the family life threshold has been met is replaced by clarity and consistency. We are giving the force of primary legislation to a framework set up to support Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights that the Court of Appeal has already supported in recent judgments. In doing so, we can ensure that serious criminals will be deported and that those deportations will be subject to less delay. That will not damage human rights but instead restore balance and public respect. It will address the erosion of public confidence in our laws.
The Bill does not undermine access to justice. Yes, appeal rights are being reformed, but that is essential. Visit any court in the country and listen to one of the 70,000 immigration cases heard each year, and you will not have to wait long to hear late claims that should have been made years earlier or claimants presenting new evidence not previously seen by the Home Office, thus turning the appellate body into a first-instance decision-maker. The Bill tackles this head-on but also provides an alternative, quicker, administrative remedy, while preserving a full appeal where fundamental rights are at stake.
The Bill does not deter legitimate students. Yes, they will have to pay a little more to access health services in future, but that is designed as a fair contribution, not a deterrent. We have consulted widely and given careful thought to this matter, taking into account the international market in which our universities compete. The extra cost to international students represents just over 1% of the total cost of their studying in the UK. The Government remain absolutely committed to ensuring that the UK is competitive as a place for the brightest and best to come. Nothing in these proposals will prevent us achieving that goal, but it cannot be right that the National Health Service is open to the whole world. By taking action, we are addressing some long-standing anomalies in a wholly proportionate way.
The Bill is also not about Europe, despite what may have been said in the House of Commons or in the media. We are dealing with the imbalances in European migration by other means, but not here, not in this Bill. This Bill tackles non-EU illegal migration. It streamlines the process of removing illegal migrants while protecting the vulnerable. The coalition’s programme has been clear that we will build a fairer immigration system, looking after children and families within it and reintroducing exit checks to allow us to tackle overstaying and people fleeing British justice. The coalition is rising to those challenges.
The Bill is not seeking a brand-new power to deprive British people of their citizenship; these powers already exist. The British Nationality Act already sets out the circumstances in which the Home Secretary can deprive a person of their citizenship. The limited change that the Bill contains is to allow a small number of naturalised citizens who have taken up arms against British forces overseas or acted in some other manner seriously prejudicial to the vital interests of the UK to be deprived of their citizenship, regardless of whether it leaves them stateless. There is a safeguard of a full right of appeal.
I hope that I have dealt with some of the myths surrounding this Bill. Let us return to some of the detail of what the Bill seeks to do. Part 1 of the Bill is about removals. The current process for enforcing the removal of people unlawfully in the UK is a complex one with multiple decision points. The system provides individuals with multiple opportunities to bring challenges throughout the process. This increases the risk of delay. We want to adopt a system in which only one decision is made. This will inform the individual that they cannot stay in the UK, and will enable immigrant enforcement to remove them if they do not leave voluntarily. We will, however, do this fairly, acting humanely, and ensuring all concerned have adequate notice.
Families being removed will continue to benefit from the coalition’s commitment to end child detention. Family cases are some of the most difficult that we handle, so it is right that they be given special consideration. The new family returns process, which was introduced two years ago, puts the welfare of the child at the heart of the decision and returns process. The coalition will reinforce the commitment to end the detention of children for immigration purposes by putting key elements of the family returns process into primary legislation. Amendments will be tabled in time for consideration in Committee in this House.
Part 2 of the Bill is about appeals. We are simplifying an overly complex system that forces people to bring expensive and time-consuming appeals. These reforms will incentivise those who wish to make claims to do so at the earliest opportunity and will strengthen the adverse consequences for those who make claims too late, in order to obstruct the removal process. We recognise that many appeals are allowed under the current system and there will be legitimate concerns. Many appeals are allowed because we take a different view from the courts on Article 8. The Bill will require the courts to put the public interest at the heart of their consideration of Article 8. We are achieving this in a way wholly compatible with the convention and fully maintaining our duty to promote and safeguard the best interests of children.
Many appeals are allowed because of administrative errors in decision-making. We believe that an administrative review can better correct those errors. We will debate the merits of the administrative review in Committee, but it has proven effective at resolving entry-clearance removals since 2008. A 28-day administrative process is substantially quicker and cheaper than the average 12 weeks it now takes to appeal via the tribunal and all the costs that this incurs.
Part 3 of the Bill is about migrants’ access to services. We want to ensure that only legal migrants have access to the labour market, free health services, housing, bank accounts and driving licences. Our proposals on housing attracted much interest in the House of Commons. We will require landlords to check the immigration status of their tenants. We know that this is a significant change to the law but the same was true when employers were required to start doing similar checks some years ago.
We will protect the vulnerable. We recognise that vulnerable people often possess less documentation to demonstrate a right to rent, so we have broadened the documents which prospective tenants can provide to manage this. We have exempted hospitals, hospices and care homes for the elderly as well as hostels and refuges for victims of violence and homeless people; they are all exempt. We will have a statutory non-discrimination code to ensure compliance with equality laws. Finally, we have committed to a phased rollout so that we do this safely and learn as we go.
On migrant access to healthcare, the current position in the UK—
There is no specific exemption for the small landlord or landlady any more than there is for the small employer, as noble Lords will know. None the less, we will have the opportunity to debate the detail of these provisions when we get to Committee. In introducing the Bill at this Second Reading, I am trying to present those general principles which underline it.
I was starting to talk about health insurance. On migrant access to healthcare, the current position in the UK is very generous. While temporary migrants do not qualify for state benefits, those coming to the UK for more than six months usually qualify for free healthcare on their arrival in the UK. Unlike many other countries, we do not levy access charges or require health insurance. The Bill will address this by requiring non-EEA migrants who come here for more than six months to pay a health surcharge. The money collected will be channelled directly to front-line NHS services. Visitors and illegal migrants will not pay the surcharge; they will continue, as now, to be fully liable for the full cost of most NHS treatment charges. We have exempted a number of vulnerable groups from having to pay.
The health charge has been designed to be simple and cost effective to operate, avoiding administrative complexity that would erode the financial benefit to the taxpayer.
Yes, I am sure that noble Lords would expect me to extol the virtues of the Bill—they would be sorely disappointed if I failed to do so. It will be for noble Lords in this House to discuss its provisions, but some of the commentary that I have read over the past few days on the Bill bears no relation to the Bill as drafted, or indeed to the intention of the Government. If I may give an example, claims that we intend to turn GPs into immigration officers are untrue. Claims that communicable diseases will spread like wildfire and that emergency care will be denied are far-fetched. Nothing in the Bill changes processes in our front-line health services.
Part 4 of the Bill is about tackling sham marriages and civil partnerships. These are entered into by a couple who are not in a genuine relationship for the purposes of circumventing immigration controls. They are a significant problem, as this House will recognise. The Bill will enable more of these cases to be identified, investigated and prevented from gaining an immigration advantage.
As the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, has said, a lot has been said about this Bill and a lot more will be said. I know that this House will give it serious scrutiny and I would expect nothing less. While we do that, I hope that we will separate myth from reality and spin from substance. The Bill renews the legal foundations for proper enforcement of our immigration laws. That enforcement is necessary to build public trust in the system. It is also necessary to enable us to reap the benefits of migration as a nation. I commend the Bill to the House. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his explanation of the Bill and for meeting me, my noble friend Lord Rosser and the former Immigration Minister last week. We know that there is considerable concern about immigration and we appreciate that at times its pace has been too fast. The duty of government is to manage immigration in a way that is fair and just to citizens and fair and just to those who wish to live and work in the UK. Even though we support some of the measures in the Bill, it does not tackle the issues that could really make a difference and are of the greatest concern. A number of the measures fall in what could be called the realm of unintended consequences in that they have a significant and disproportionate effect on law-abiding British citizens, legal visitors, and visa holders who are an asset and contribute positively to the UK.
The Government’s policy of managing and reducing migration is deeply flawed. Their net migration target is a measure for success, but does not target the right things. It means that highly qualified UK professionals who leave to work abroad are classed as a government success. Fee-paying students, including those studying for doctorates and undertaking valuable research, who no longer come to the UK but now pay fees to study and develop research in other European countries, are also classed as a success. That is not our definition of a successful, well managed immigration policy. It is not just about numbers. It is about people and the contribution that they make, and also our international humanitarian obligations, such as in the case of Syrian refugees fleeing horror, torture and rape.
We are in total agreement that we need to tackle illegal immigration. We need to do more to ensure that foreign criminals are deported, but illegal immigration is getting worse and the Government appear to have been remarkably lax in tackling it. Just last week Judge Richard Bray said that the Home Office and the Border Force were “hopelessly undermanned”, which had led to an Albanian national who, having been convicted of drugs and violent offences, was imprisoned and then deported three times on three separate occasions—and yet each time he returned to the UK to reoffend.
That is where real, determined and effective action needs to be taken. The number of foreign criminals deported has fallen by more than 13%, from 5,471 to 4,700. Between 2011 and 2012 the number of businesses fined for using illegal workers plummeted by nearly half, from 2,269 to just 1,215. So under this Government the number of people stopped from entering the UK at our borders has halved, the number of people removed for breaking the rules is down by 7%, and only half as many businesses have been fined for employing illegal workers. Either the extent of the problem has been vastly reduced under this Government or they are incompetent in managing our borders and addressing the problem of illegal immigration.
The response of the Government is not to look at tackling the problem at source. It is not to seek in this field to manage borders effectively and combat people trafficking. It is not to examine whether the Government have deployed adequate resources or made cuts to the bone, making it harder for immigration officials to do their jobs. The Government’s response is this Bill. It is in effect to outsource their responsibility for illegal immigration to landlords and nurses, for example. We have said time and again that the Government’s focus in dealing with immigration is wrong and ineffective on illegal immigration. That leads to greater exploitation and abuse of migrants, has a far greater negative impact on the UK as a whole and undermines public confidence. So while the Government have deliberately presided over a massive fall in the number of university students paying to study in the UK, students who contribute intellectually and financially, they have been totally ineffective in tackling the shocking abuse in student visitor visas, as highlighted in tonight’s “Panorama” programme.
There are real concerns about some of the measures in the Bill but we have grave concerns about what is not in the Bill. Where are the measures that would really make an impact on illegal immigration? Where are the measures to protect workers from being undercut on wages or being put at risk from lax working conditions, or from gang masters exploiting the weak and desperate to work?
We welcome a sensible debate about managed migration and immigration and its impact on the lives of citizens and migrants. Where measures are sensible they will have our support. For example, we all want to see stronger action against sham marriages. We will apply three tests to the Government’s proposals. First, we will look at the evidence base for the proposals that the Government are bringing forward. Secondly, we will look at the practicality, workability and proportionality of the proposed measures. Thirdly, we will look at the effectiveness and impact of those proposals, including on the wider population. For example, the Government claim that their measures to tackle illegal immigration by in effect co-opting landlords as immigration officials will reduce the housing available for illegal immigrants and therefore increase the number leaving the country. However, they also admit that the costs exceed the benefits that they can quantify and they have no idea how many illegal immigrants would be affected. They have no idea whether there would be any impact on the number of homes available to rent.
The Bill is clear that landlords should not act in a discriminatory way. How is that going to work in practice? Most landlords already undertake checks. The Residential Landlords Association fears that:
“Landlords will have to cover their backs and avoid accusations of discrimination by examining identity documents of all potential tenants”.
Will all potential tenants need to have a passport with them? What about the 17% of British citizens who do not have a passport? What other documents will be acceptable? How will landlords know what documents they should use and recognise? What about the woman fleeing a violent home who does not have access to any documentation to prove her citizenship? What about students who, although studying here legally, will be unable to present their passports to prospective landlords until they are in-country but need to arrange accommodation before they arrive?
As conscientious as law-abiding landlords will be, the Government know that it is possible to get it wrong and make a mistake. When the Minister, Mark Harper, employed his cleaner, he was confident that he had undertaken the appropriate checks on her nationality. He is an intelligent man. He knows the law and would have done his utmost to comply with it. But he made a mistake. He got it wrong. How many landlords could make a similar mistake? If the Immigration Minister can so easily get it wrong, how can the Government possibly think that each and every landlord in this country, whether renting 100 properties or, to echo the point of the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, just one, is qualified to act as an immigration official? Good legislation has to work in practice, which is why we will table amendments for a UK-wide pilot to be undertaken and will forensically question the Government on this and other measures.
Clauses 33 and 34 on health are narrower than the Government’s spin doctors have implied, and indeed narrower than what the Government have already produced proposals on, including charging for access to GPs to tackle what Ministers call “health tourism”. These proposals are more limited but still require further examination. Clause 33 makes provision for a new charge as a condition of certain visas and Clause 34 redefines who is liable for charges—that is those without indefinite leave to remain.
The principle that visitors to this country who are not entitled to free healthcare can be charged by the NHS is already established but, according to the Bill, the money collected via the visa system does not go directly towards NHS healthcare but to the Consolidated Fund. The Minister said that it would go to special projects. I do not know whether the Government will be bringing forward an amendment to that effect. Bizarrely, this could lead to greater costs and less income for the NHS if you take into account that a number of those would pay or have insurance. The Government now intend to replace this with a visa charge that will not do direct to the NHS. It would be helpful to develop further in Committee how that charge will go to the NHS and what it could be used for if it cannot be used for their treatment. Will redefining those liable to pay mean that those legally working in this country and paying taxes will also have to pay for healthcare? There are a number of areas to probe further in Committee on access to services.
There are two further issues I wish to raise with the Minister today. The first is in Part 2. Clause 11 removes the right of appeal for First-tier Tribunal cases. We know the system is a mess. Successive reports from the Home Affairs Select Committee and the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration have highlighted problems. There are serious delays and the quality of decision-making is poor. The most recent statistics reveal that 32% of deportation decisions and 49% of entry clearance decisions were successful appealed last year. These are cases where the Home Office got it wrong, but instead of trying to address the initial decision-making problems, the Government are now seeking to remove the right to appeal these wrong decisions. I think the Minister said that they want to get it right the first time. That is right, but what happens is that the Government do not like losing appeals so they want to abolish them. If we get decisions right the first time, there would be no need for so many appeals. Given that the Government’s own estimate of the cost of the new system of judicial review that they seek to put in place is around £100 million, would it not be better to put more effort and resources into getting the initial decision right?
When this Bill was debated in the other place, just 24 hours before Report a new amendment was tabled by the Government, which has now become Clause 60 of this Bill, on deprivation of citizenship. Currently, Governments can remove citizenship from individuals in certain circumstances but only if they have citizenship of another country so that they are not left stateless. The Government’s new proposals remove that condition so that the Home Secretary can deprive a naturalised citizen of their citizenship if the Home Secretary is satisfied that it is conducive to the public good as that person has conducted themselves in a manner prejudicial to British interests.
We accept that there can be a problem with those who become naturalised British citizens as adults and then abuse that right and may not even live in the UK, but there are serious questions, including those about the impact on national and international security, that must be addressed as it is a very extensive and significant power to give to a Secretary of State. We will table an amendment that this clause should include judicial oversight.
Our approach to this Bill will be to support sensible, practical measures. We will question those measures that appear ill thought out, unworkable or place disproportionate burdens on law-abiding citizens without seriously addressing the real problems. We will suggest improvements where we consider the measures proposed are fundamentally flawed and we will propose new measures that really could help tackle problems of illegal immigration. I hope that the Government will listen.
My Lords, is there any area of policy more prone to misinformation and misrepresentation than immigration? As the Minister said, one of our tasks in looking at the Bill will be to be clear what it is and is not about. We also have a number of other objectives, including scrutinising and questioning the whole spectrum from probing to opposition and from seeking assurances on issues of concern to ensuring that what we end up with is workable in practice. I suggest that we have another objective, which is to provide leadership on the issue of immigration. I say that because immigration is so often a proxy for xenophobia and discrimination and it behoves us to argue for what we regard as morally right and to concern ourselves also with why the subject of immigration provokes such intense reactions. We need to unpack what underlies the hostility and sometimes the fear.
It appears that although very many people say that immigration is a problem, far fewer regard it as a problem in their own area. There is considerable overestimating of the numbers of migrants, and of the numbers of migrants claiming benefits, so leadership must include bringing reality and perception a great deal closer. One of the realities is the enormous benefit Britain derives, and has derived, from migration. I have always disliked the term “brightest and best”, because it implies some sort of narrow limited categories, but I am in no doubt that migration is important for Britain’s success. In an interconnected world, Britain will be best placed as a country of one society but many cultures. So I abhor some of the rhetoric that we hear, and am distressed by some of the messages taken from that rhetoric.
This is one of those Bills where it is impossible at this stage to cover, or even refer to, all of the issues. Nor is it possible to do justice to the considerable amount of briefing that we have all received. Through the medium of Hansard I say to all those who have contacted us that not repeating their points does not mean that they are ignored. The detail will come in the days to follow, and my Liberal Democrat colleagues—there are 12 or 13 of them—will be among those who will deal with different issues both today and during the course of our debates. As so often, it is the practice as well as the policy which is important. Your Lordships have already touched on this. We know that the Government are well aware of the importance of improving the standard of service—because it is a service—as well as the mechanics of border control and all aspects of immigration.
I do not imagine that it is a lot of fun working in the Immigration Service. Upskilling, and recognition of the professionalism needed, could go towards better decision-making. We require immigration officers to deal with high volumes, high stakes and constantly changing rules. Every noble Lord will have heard tales of poor decisions which have caused at best, delay; at worst, considerable distress and injustice. Capturing useful and accurate data is obviously important in itself and because of the misperceptions to which I have referred. It will take a while for exit checks to give a full picture of who is here, who is leaving and what they have done in the mean time. This is not least because people’s activities change over the years. However I very much welcome the progress on this score.
The presentation of data is also important. Student numbers, we know, will be an issue. I am one who regards the education sector as a very important export. We import students, but we export contacts, networks and reputation. We are required, internationally, to include students in the overall numbers, but I understand from discussion with the Minister that we publish student numbers separately. Those in a position to be clear about immigration do not seem to be energetic in trying to ensure the disaggregation of the figures. The disaggregated figures do not get the media coverage which would help us all.
Still on the theme of reality and perception, one point I want to make on health charges is the importance of not deterring people from seeking care and treatment to which they are entitled. This is because the message is inaccurate. The headline is the levy. This is a comparatively small charge, not requiring complicated administration, and is a good deal lower than any insurance premium than I have ever come across. But we need to look at what the entitlements are, at fairness and effectiveness, including ensuring accessibility for vulnerable individuals, and public health concerns. Migrants do not usually fit neatly into a couple of easily dealt with categories, and the most vulnerable, the most in need of healthcare, are likely to be the most easily deterred from seeking it.
Early proposals for the health service were cumbersome, bureaucratic and thought likely to give rise to more problems than solutions. It is fair to say that the Bill has gone a long way towards giving assurances on all of this—indeed there have been changes in the progress of this. But it is also fair to say that we have a way to go on giving reassurances regarding residential tenancies. I welcome the piloting of the provisions—and I do mean a pilot—with evaluation and assessment, not simply the first phase of a predetermined rollout. I would be interested to see how the nationwide pilot to which the noble Baroness referred would work. Evaluation must extend to the unintended consequences, which may easily mean driving underground people who are too easily exploited.
There is a lot in this Bill for our lawyers and for everyone concerned with human rights to get their teeth into—and there are some real terriers among them. I have long thought that an immigration system that requires so much legal assistance is not a good one. Greater simplicity and clarity must be desirable, but whether the change to the appeals system falls on the right side of the line is something that we will have to test. To me, it is logical to use review rather than appeal if review gets the job done—assuming that it is not properly done in the first place. But we need to understand how administrative review is both different from and better than the current arrangements. I note, of course, that appeals currently achieve a very high success rate, which must say something. We will discuss, too, out-of-country appeals. It must be more difficult to ensure justice when communication is more difficult. The rationale for changing the appeals regime is to rationalise and simplify it, which is not the same as reducing rights.
I am quite sure that the Bill will not do the courts out of a job. Some of the rhetoric around this that I find offensive is the criticism of lawyers—but perhaps I would say that. I do not want to go too far in questioning the phrase in the new clause on deprivation of citizenship,
“seriously prejudicial to vital interests”.
I had thought “vital” was about life and very existence, but I shall not question that too closely because I do not want to suggest lowering the threshold for executive decisions when innocence is not presumed. As well as the central proposition we will want to understand the consequences of such decisions for the individual and his family, both legally and practically, and how the decision will make the individual less of a threat.
There are many areas where humanitarian and cost considerations coincide, and immigration detention is one of them. I was intrigued to read of the Swedish model, based on engagement rather than enforcement, with apparently a very high rate of voluntary return and financial savings. On the theme of what is right, I look forward to statutory provisions regarding child detention. I want to put on record how impressed I was when I visited Cedars by the obvious good work undertaken there by Barnardo’s, which has my admiration for having taken that work on. It cannot have been an easy decision for that charity. This House can be relied on to concern itself with everything that affects children.
My final topic for today concerns both children and adults. The Minister will not be surprised that I take the opportunity of the Bill to raise again the family migration rules introduced in 2012 with new financial thresholds for sponsoring the entry of non-EEA partners and elderly dependants. There is an extraordinary range of circumstances in which British citizens and taxpayers have found themselves, maintaining relationships through Skype, if they can, and the impact on children separated from parents would defy even those who feared the worst when the rules were introduced.
People who come to our country do not fit a single picture. The irregular migrant population is a very diverse group. Some are in low-paid occupations in the informal economy, while some contribute far more to the UK economy through labour, taxes and spending than they take out in services. Who are illegal immigrants, of course, begs the question of what we choose to make illegal.
This may not be a Bill that either coalition partner would have chosen if left to itself, but I end by repeating that, on this multifaceted area of policy, the reputation of the UK—whom it welcomes and whom it protects, including the indigenous population—as well as the language and rhetoric that it uses are at stake.
My Lords, my contribution to this debate covers simply the issue of a requirement, set out in Chapter 1 of Part 3, on landlords to make immigration checks of their tenants. As has already been noted, there is widespread anxiety that the outcome will be entirely unsatisfactory from the perspective of tenants, landlords and the Government themselves. I feel on very safe ground in pursuing this matter, since I note that the criticism of landlord-led immigration checks comes with equal emphasis from organisations representing landlords and representing tenants, and from those taking an overview from both perspectives. I am grateful to the Residential Landlords Association, the National Housing Federation, Crisis and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation for their briefings.
There is a series of dangers and hazards in giving landlords these new responsibilities. Many private sector landlords will turn away legal migrants because they do not want the hassle and delay of having to make these extra checks. As I understand it, it will not be an offence simply to fail to check someone’s status, but only to fail to check the status of someone subsequently discovered to be an illegal immigrant. So if the potential tenant is very obviously not a migrant, no extra checking will be carried out. Many landlords will play safe and avoid all applicants who just might be migrants, including the legitimate ones. Indeed, UK citizens without a passport—not an uncommon position for those on low incomes—may be rejected by landlords not wishing to take any chances.
Already we know that nearly three-quarters of all landlords will not let to anyone in receipt of benefits. So this measure means even greater pressure on vulnerable tenants, many of whom are likely to end up with the exploitative landlords who all of us want to see driven out of business but who will ignore the law on this, as on many other counts. Last November, I joined police and local authority staff in Newham on a number of “raids” on properties where it was suspected that landlords were in breach of the law. I witnessed shocking conditions of overcrowding, breaches of health and safety regulations, and exorbitant rents for appalling conditions. Most of the landlords in this borough own just one property and, unsurprisingly, many are woefully ignorant of landlord-tenant law. One has to question whether this is a reliable group on whom the Government can depend for implementation of their immigration policies.
Good landlords, who have a reputation to maintain, will do their best to do what is right, but is it reasonable to add this regulatory burden to their workload? The Minister makes comparisons with the task given to employers, but this argument has some flaws. The UK Border Agency’s guidance to employers is 89 pages long; little wonder it is not always followed by small firms. The private rented sector is very much like the smallest of SME businesses, with nearly 2 million landlords agreeing 3 million new tenancies each year. Checking entitlement to work is easier than checking entitlement to residence. The sheer logistics are daunting. The Government’s consultation document lists 20 typical documents that landlords might expect to be familiar with. Perhaps as significantly, employers are not required to check on the status of other members of the employee’s household, but landlords will be expected to check out the immigration position of other family members and anyone else in the household, even though the landlord has no direct legal relationship with these people—hence the criticism that this is simply getting landlords to become UKBA agents.
Problems are particularly acute in shared accommodation let to several tenants with joint liability. In such cases, there is likely to be a fairly rapid turnover of tenants, and given that those moving in will usually be chosen by those already there, landlords will find it extraordinarily difficult to check the status of new tenants. Such are the greater obligations and pressures on landlords compared with employers: and we all know the hazards for employers, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, has already drawn attention.
The measures will also place extra burdens on local authorities, which will have responsibility for carrying out checks where they nominate the tenants to housing associations or send homeless families to private landlords. Demands on them to act as the point of referral and accept the immigration checking role seem certain to grow. The National Housing Federation raises another concern: tenants are to be given the job of checking on lodgers and may find that role at least as difficult as would a landlord.
All in all, I would echo the call for a proper pilot scheme to establish the viability of this policy idea. It needs to be established that this really is likely to be an effective measure before it is applied to nearly 2 million landlords.
My Lords, I am happy to declare an interest in this debate as the Bishop of Leicester, a city whose character, economy, culture and vibrancy have all been immensely enhanced by waves of immigration over the last 40 years. At last year’s 40th anniversary of the arrival of the Ugandan Asians expelled from east Africa by Idi Amin, we were reminded of an advertisement placed by Leicester City Council in 1973. It read:
“In your own interests and those of your family you should accept the advice of the Uganda Resettlement Board and not come to Leicester”.
It led to a headline in the Leicester Mercury: “No room here”. It is a reminder that general anxiety about immigration and the fears of politicians about public opinion on this matter are not new.
Thankfully, the Ugandan Asians ignored that advice and the city has become a beacon of good practice in which several thousand persecuted people were enabled to establish themselves in a short time without becoming any drain on public resources. The Ugandan Asians set an historic example to many other minorities who have followed and established a vibrant international network which has immensely benefited our city and our country.
We recognise that it is in the interest of the United Kingdom as a nation, and indeed it is right and proper, to control movement across borders. We recognise the rights to sovereignty of nation states and, as Christians, see the roots of this in the biblical record and the Judaeo-Christian tradition. However, this tradition also recognises clear obligations on the part of the nation state to all those who are within its borders. Many Christians would go further than this and affirm a positive duty of welcome to the stranger, recognising that, if justice is to be done, it must allow for the variety of needs and claims which people coming to the United Kingdom may present, not least in the circumstances associated with human trafficking, exploitation or domestic abuse. The needs of those vulnerable to these and other forms of oppression and deprivation will always be high in the priorities of this Bench.
On these two principles, I base a number of brief concerns about the Bill. First, Part 1 has wide-ranging implications for the safety and welfare of the thousands of children referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. The Government have said that the Bill is designed to encourage people who do not have a legal right to be in the United Kingdom to go home. However, we know that, for many children, returning home is not an option. There are an estimated 120,000 undocumented children living in the UK; the majority were born here and many will have spent their formative years in this country. This is the only home they know and they will have no lasting links or support networks in their parents’ country of origin. Many of these children will already be at risk of destitution and social exclusion. It seems clear that the environment for undocumented migrant children in the United Kingdom, and their ability to have their legal claims to remain considered fairly, will substantially deteriorate.
Secondly, I want to touch on Part 2 of the Bill in relation to appeals. The range of grounds for appeal which the courts are permitted to consider is reduced dramatically here, as courts can no longer consider whether a decision was wrong, contrary to domestic law or regulations, or discriminatory. Those unhappy with an immigration decision will have recourse to an administrative review within the Home Office. However, the scope for lodging an appeal to prevent removal is narrowed severely in the Bill, and it is very rarely practicable for a person to pursue an appeal from abroad following removal. Indeed, the restrictions that the Government are placing on legal aid and on judicial reviews elsewhere are likely to work together with the measures in this Bill to severely limit access to justice. The sheer number of current appeals may lead to a feeling that this flood must be stemmed, but the remarkably high success rate of appeals surely puts paid to any suspicion that they are generally unfounded.
Thirdly, the Bill raises a question about the administrative process and its present effectiveness. The Home Office’s figures show that 49% of managed migration appeals, 50% of entry clearance appeals and 32% of appeals against deportation are allowed. The decision-making process within the Home Office clearly does not stand up to scrutiny. Can we be at all confident that an internal review system will serve the cause of justice as well as an independent appeal mechanism?
Further, there are serious concerns generally about access to services. The Bill draws new boundaries in terms of access to a home, healthcare, bank accounts and driving licences. Migrant children and young people are an especially vulnerable group in relation to healthcare. The experience of torture, violence, exploitation and abuse that many children will have suffered will have been exacerbated by disrupted healthcare systems, passage through refugee camps or other experiences leading to long and painful journeys to the United Kingdom. Can the Minister tell the House how the Government propose to protect vulnerable, undocumented migrant children from new National Health Service charges, which they would be unable to pay and which could well dissuade them from seeking vital services?
Those concerns intensify the impression that asylum seekers, especially those who are undocumented but cannot be removed from the United Kingdom, will become an excluded group in an increasingly twilight world. The impact of all this is to contribute to a society that is divided into a country within a country, where those within the scope of civic entitlement are divided from those who are excluded from it, with social exclusion institutionalised in law. The Bill appears not just to police a border around our country but to erect many new boundaries within our society.
Finally, I want to speak about the provisions in Part 4 relating to marriage and civil partnership. We recognise that the strategic intention of this part of the Bill is to prevent the use of “sham marriage” to enable people to gain immigration status while circumventing the proper criteria. This is bound to create some conflict of principle for those of us who are Anglicans. The church, of course, wishes to offer the sacrament of marriage, reflecting the generous grace of God, and not to raise barriers on the basis of nationality. On the other hand, we are acutely aware of the dangers of sham marriage, including harm to individuals and to the very institution of marriage. We cannot know for certain the level of sham marriages presently taking place in churches, although there is some evidence that the bishops’ guidelines issued in 2011 have considerably improved the situation. There is no official Church of England position on this matter. Officials have worked with the Government to design processes which might work in law and in practice if the aims and general approach of the clause are accepted. However, it leaves open the question of whether this change is necessary or desirable.
There is genuine concern here that relationships between British residents and non-EAA nationals are now to be seen through a prism of mistrust which sends a dangerous message about mixed relationships in a diverse and multiethnic society. The Government’s impact statement claims that 2,500 removals from the UK will be generated in the first year by this provision alone. This will doubtless cause a large amount of stress, pain and anxiety to many genuine couples. It will also undoubtedly mean that the Government seek to remove and separate engaged couples whose marital plans are sincere. Even for those who do not face removal from the country at the end of the investigation process, it will be a stressful experience. A moment which should be a happy and fulfilling time in any person’s life has the potential to turn into a period of intense stress and pain.
We on this Bench recognise that illegal immigration is in the interests neither of social cohesion nor of those many migrants who make such an outstanding contribution to this country. However, we also recognise that there is a balance of social goods to be weighed. Many of the provisions in this Bill run the risk of generating serious concern, anxiety and tension among our diverse migrant communities. That may play well in parts of the press, but it will not be in the long-term interests of social cohesion in cities such as my own. In a global world where the drivers of migration are constantly strengthened, we need to ensure that this Bill does not erode our reputation for being a just and welcoming society upon which the prosperity and well-being of all citizens of this country depend.
My Lords, I echo the final words of the right reverend Prelate.
I wish to begin by expressing my personal sadness at the news that Mark Harper has had to resign. I think he has done the right thing, but I was pleased to see that both sides of the House expressed admiration for his work as a Minister. I am very sorry to see him go. I commend James Brokenshire, the new Minister, for paying this House the courtesy of listening to the opening speeches in this debate.
I have never spoken in an immigration debate before in either House. This is a Second Reading so I am not going to enter into any detailed discussion on particular items that will obviously come up in Committee, but I think that we have to recognise that this country is an increasingly attractive island in a world that is suffering significant convulsions, be they economic or political. One has to look no further than Syria, Iraq, Libya and Egypt, most immediately, to see areas where the number of failed states has grown most significantly in recent years.
If I was uncertain about whether to speak, interestingly enough two items on the news this morning covered both points that I wish to address. First, as the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, referred to, “Panorama” has apparently identified a further problem of significant fraud, with bogus exams in student visa applications and identity theft among those who wish to prove their financial status. The second item was the Swiss referendum. For many years, Switzerland—a very attractive location for many people—has been faced with the issue of how many people to let into that country. In a national referendum, the Swiss have now voted in favour of quotas, and have decided to move away from the free movement of labour in Europe to which they were previously committed through their agreements with the European Union.
This Immigration Bill is yet another measure seeking to tackle the latest series of devices of one sort and another that have given rise to public concern about ways in which proper immigration controls have been evaded. There has been reference made to sham marriages. There have been references to shed landlords. There is a proposal to restrict the right to request bail which has arisen from the way in which some of the legal processes have been exploited by some immigrants, illegal or otherwise. Then there was the more contentious one about the right to a private family life and the proposal that this should not be an overriding exemption but should have regard to the public interest.
Before we have even dealt with this Bill, the Home Secretary has now promised another Bill, which will deal with human trafficking and modern slavery. That is yet a further indication of the huge pressure from migration and the extraordinary difficulty of effective immigration control.
The noble Baroness asked about the number of illegal migrants in this country. I do not think that anyone at the moment has a clue about that. Of course, the longer that that situation persists, the more damaging it is to public confidence. As the right reverend Prelate rightly said, we need to preserve in this country a proud tradition of providing shelter for genuine refugees and genuine asylum seekers.
The right reverend Prelate referred to Ugandan Asians. I remember a redundant army camp at Watchet in Somerset in which we welcomed Ugandan Asians and made it available as a first base for them when they came here. It just shows how old I am that I can also remember helping to teach English to Hungarian refugees, who came out of the Hungarian uprising in 1956 and found themselves, rather surprisingly, in a redundant TB hospital on the Mendip Hills in Somerset. We have a proud tradition and we should be a free and open society which welcomes visitors and honours, wherever possible, free movement of labour.
Many noble Lords have referred to the benefits of migration, but undoubtedly there is major public concern and I think that that is recognised. I noticed that Yvette Cooper in another place referred to the need for “stronger controls” on immigration and the need for a lot more measures to “tackle illegal immigration”. Mr Ed Balls has said that the unmitigated and unplanned immigration from the European Union, when 5.2 million people were on out-of-work benefits, was a mistake of the previous Labour Government. That is a very honest statement to make. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary, Theresa May, has given the clear warning that,
“Fixing the immigration system cannot be done overnight”.—[Official Report, Commons, 22/10/13; col. 167.]
That is clear recognition of the problems we have.
As we bring forward this Bill, with the various measures in it, my noble friend will already recognise some of the problems that he will get. I notice that a number of noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Best, who has already spoken and identified an area of concern, have mentioned that every one of the things that you might try to do that might help is fraught with difficulties and uncertainties.
When one looks at the world, the old phrase, “The future is not what it used to be”, undoubtedly rings true. In terms of pressure from immigration, people now talk about migration and some go so far as to talk about mass migration. As regards the various ingredients in the world’s situation, it is the duty of noble Lords to look ahead and to see how things may develop. One issue is the population explosion. From 1952-53, I served in Kenya when its population was 5 million. It is now 36 million. That increase in population is reflected in other parts of Africa. The problems of climate change are making certain areas virtually uninhabitable. I have referred to the quantum leap in the number of failed states.
Another issue is globalisation and the ease of communication. As we see in the interesting report on today’s front page of the Times, social media are being used by Syrian jihadists, and they are also being used by those involved in human trafficking and by illegal immigrants. Those involved may quickly communicate where there may be a loophole or some opportunity. That makes the problem much more difficult to tackle. It is not just about Somalis, Yemenis, Iraqis or Syrians or any people who have many reasons for wishing to leave their countries; there is the issue of eastern Europe, which has already been discussed. Then you even get to the point that London is now the sixth largest French city in world. This is the movement of people with the challenges it poses.
I notice that my right honourable friend Nick Clegg has said that we should be generous and open-hearted but hard-headed. We can maintain our position as a generous, open-hearted country only if the people in our country believe that we have a system that is under control and effective. That is why it is important to deal with abuses and fraud, even with the difficulties they produce.
I referred earlier to Switzerland. I think that the issue of free movement of labour is inevitably going to be discussed much more frequently. As I have said before in this House, at the time that we joined, the European Community of six became a Community of nine. At that time, I represented the United Kingdom as Secretary of State for Employment on the Council of Ministers. To try to transfer without alteration the rules that were fixed for nine countries to 28 different countries—with Ukraine and Turkey perhaps being added to the list—will pose challenges. We may say that we must maintain our tolerance and generosity of spirit, but I think that it will pose major challenges for our people.
The noble Baroness opening for the Opposition made the point very clearly about national and international security and the importance of an effective immigration control. One reads the reports today about the amount of jihadists that apparently have been identified as having moved into Syria, which is becoming not a university of crime—as they used to say about Long Kesh in my time—but in effect a university for terrorism. We have to be very careful indeed to ensure that we have effective control there.
When the various measures are discussed in Committee, I hope that every Member of your Lordships’ House will bear in mind the importance of ensuring that we come out of it with a system that gives the public confidence that, in this dangerous and uncertain world, we are determined to maintain effective immigration control so that our country’s tradition of a generous welcome can be properly maintained.
I will perhaps bring a slightly different perspective to a debate that has raised a number of key issues thus far. I hope that we can, by an act of the imagination, put ourselves alongside the people who have either recently arrived here from other places or who find themselves here illegally. They are all people, whichever category they fall into. In my daily work I meet them in all sorts of conditions. My team and I, where we have judged it appropriate, have brought it to the attention of people who are here illegally that they are so and have helped them, largely with the help of the Refugee Council, to find an appropriate and humane way to go home. In other cases, we have worked very hard with people—who just do not understand the complexity of the process and cannot always find lawyers in whom they have trust—to pick their way one step at a time through the process. We have stood in court and given character testimony for others.
My finest story concerns someone who was here illegally but was pursuing the matter through the courts. While she was unable to have accommodation or financial support she was named volunteer of the year for the Borough of Islington for the work she did in our local school. She was also called for jury service. When she said to me, “Reverend, they have asked me to go on a jury, what should I do?”—she was here illegally—I said, “Go do it, girl. Go do it”.
The whole thing is so complex from the point of view of the people affected by it. Beyond those who fall into the categories that I have named thus far are all those people of recent arrival here who know someone or are related to someone in the darker side of these affairs and who are simply torn apart knowing how to act for the best, with loyalties of various kinds weighing heavily on them. If I can—and who am I to do it?—I want to speak as if I were the voice of those who live in this world, are affected by these decisions and are trying as best they can to find their way towards a proper solution of their problems.
In the Bill there are lots of things that will raise people’s fears and create the atmosphere of mistrust that has been referred to, such as the unnecessary checks on migrants seeking rented accommodation, for example. The noble Lord, Lord Best, is as well qualified as anyone in this House to talk about these matters. Other matters include taking out a bank account, driving a car, removing citizenship from naturalised citizens, or imposing charges for prospective use of the NHS. That is fair payment, says the Minister, and not a deterrent. But it does not always feel like that at the other end. The analysis is a fair one, but perception and feeling on the part of those affected by the decisions is a fair point to raise as well.
The Secretary of State’s ability to remove an individual from the United Kingdom before his appeal is heard is another one. The Minister mentioned how appropriate it is to remove citizenship from someone who has taken up arms against Britain. That is quite right. But at the moment I am dealing with a case of someone who took up arms for Britain. For the past 16 months, he has been in detention—having served several years, including in Afghanistan—seeking the right to remain in this country. The Minister talks about those who come illegally and undercut the local labour market. Again, that is quite right. But I am also dealing with those who exploit the illegal migrant to pay illegally low wages. There is a complex picture that must not be oversimplified. These are real lives lived on real streets by real people. I hope that we will keep that angle of view before us as we pursue the debates that will preoccupy us over the next several weeks.
I am the president of the Boys’ Brigade, a very noble and worthy young people’s movement. Last summer was the 50th anniversary of the Global Fellowship, which unites Boys’ Brigade movements around the world in many countries. We were going to have a jamboree at the headquarters in Hemel Hempstead and we had it in mind to have 150 or 200 people come from various places. But more than half of those we wanted to come were refused visas. Why? Because the boxes that were ticked as they applied for visas made it evident to those who had it in their power to grant the visas that they were not earning enough or secure enough in their places of work back home in these other countries. They thought that these people were really trying to slip into Britain to do all the dastardly things that we think these migrants are up to.
Similarly, I chair the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Haiti. Four years ago, there was an earthquake there of terrible proportions. Working with a number of NGOs and other well minded bodies, I was desperate to bring to this country people who could give us eyewitness accounts and help the British public better understand the plight of the country they came from. Once again, we simply could not get the visas because the people we were inviting were agriculturalists being paid $150 a month. Back home that is secure enough, but here, it is suggested that they wanted to escape from $150 a month in order to earn a jolly sight more at our expense. These are the feelings that prevail on the ground by ordinary people in the communities where the problems and the proper needs of the nation that we are talking about are to be played and acted out.
I will say one last word to pick up a point made a moment ago by the noble Lord, Lord King, about the convulsions in the world in which we live. I cannot think how, but I had in my hands a copy of the Daily Mail—in my trade, confession is something that we believe in. There was a story splashed widely across its pages about the floods at the moment in the convulsed part of the world of the noble Lord, Lord King, and that we should be taking money our of the “bloated” DfID account to put into the relief we might offer the victims of floods across the land.
We must see a bigger picture than the one we are looking at now and congratulate the Government on maintaining the levels of support for overseas aid. It is by bringing better governance and more secure instruments of state to bear in poor and fragile countries that we will diminish the motivation for people to come out of their countries into other places. We must see the bigger picture.
It sounds like boasting when I talk about all the things I do, but my work on Haiti, under the aegis of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, includes bringing a delegation of Haitian parliamentarians here in the autumn, with the likelihood of them reciprocating. At the request of the Haitian Parliament, we seek to increase capacity for a parliamentary style of government in Haiti, which has not really known it: our Parliament with their Parliament. I promise Members of this House that the work we do of that kind, with its long-term outcomes, will benefit all of us who are preoccupied with the number of people who feel obliged to leave their native heath. I plead with your Lordships to keep the bigger picture in mind and feel the heart that beats in the communities affected by these proposals.
My Lords, immigration features high on the agenda of all political parties. It has become one of the biggest public policy debates in recent times. It will also be one of the major issues that will dominate the general election in 2015. Immigration and asylum issues are fairly emotive. Despite the nature and effects of various immigration and asylum legislation in the past, the circumstances surrounding them remain contentious.
I do not dispute that all major political parties subscribe to fair and just immigration policies and procedures. The policy is to admit those who are eligible and to exclude, subject to the appropriate humanitarian principles, those who are not. However, the greater the emphasis on excluding the ineligible, the tougher are the rules introduced by successive Governments; and the more intensive these checks are and the more complicated they are to introduce, the more there is delay, denial and expense to those who are eligible. Is it any wonder that a culture develops over time where administrators are expected to deliver targets and results which often lack fairness and justice in the process?
Let me make it clear: we on this side of the coalition do not condone illegal immigration. We do not condone entry by those who do not qualify to be here. What I ask of the Government is to proclaim at the highest level the contribution that migrants make to the British economy. We need a shift in priorities towards greater emphasis on the rights of those who are eligible to enter the United Kingdom. It is time we stopped playing the numbers game and based our policies on the needs of our country.
Of course, it is right that migration policies take into account Britain's national interest, both economically and socially, and we must always put the safety and security of our citizens at the top of the agenda. There is no dispute about that, but we should avoid the temptation to ratchet up the system for political expediency. We must respond to the changes around us. The economy is no longer national, it is global.
Let me make one point. Whose brilliant idea was it to roll out immigration vans around our cities asking people to leave the country? The Home Secretary has recently admitted that that had not been such a good idea. I am not sure what the returns were, but little regard was paid to the hurt feelings of a large number of our diverse community lawfully settled in this country. I ask my noble friend to tell your Lordships’ House how many migrants returned as a direct result of that publicity. I am sure that the returns were not worth the cost of petrol used by the vans in our cities.
Have we reached the stage in this country when one has to carry one’s passport as proof of identity? The debate on immigration is so skewed that during Second Reading and Report in the House of Commons, not a single Member of Parliament outlined the benefits of immigration.
Let me declare my interests here. I am one of the vice-chairs of Migration Matters, a body ably chaired by Barbara Roche, the former Home Office Minister. It is a cross-party body that has done much to bring sanity to the ongoing debate on immigration. We have long believed that without a clear view of how immigration benefits Britain, it is difficult to understand the danger of indiscriminately cutting immigration or discouraging migrants from coming to the United Kingdom.
Let me spell out the three key benefits for Britain from properly managed migration. The first relates to skills. Britain’s public and private sectors need migrants’ skills. Figures from the Health and Care Social Information Centre show that more than one in four of NHS doctors are migrants. Without immigration, our health service would suffer. In industry, according to the CBI, we have major gaps in sectors such as engineering and IT. Without immigration, our firms would not be able to operate successfully or compete globally.
The second benefit relates to growth. Migrants’ contribution is essential for growth and reduces our debt. For example, the largest single group of migrants each year is international students. They make up almost 40% of new migrants and, according to the Government, contribute £18 billion in fees. This funds hundreds of jobs across the country, boosting tax revenues and reducing our debts.
The third benefit relates to investment. Investment in Britain by foreign businesses is worth billions of pounds to the UK economy. That is responsible for thousands of jobs. Do we really want to pass on a message that Britain is closed to business? Do we want to endanger that investment?
We ought to be clear. No one owes us a living. Either we remain as Little Englanders, or we play a full part in the global economy. The dangers of skewed public debate in the past few months are obvious. It has been characterised by hysteria and hyperbole, which makes rational discussion extremely difficult. The debate has been driven by UKIP in the run-up to the relaxation of transitional controls on Romanians and Bulgarians.
The Home Office is yet to produce any figures. No wonder UKIP is peddling figures which bear no resemblance to reality. UKIP leaflets claiming that 28 million Romanians and Bulgarians can now come to Britain have been pushed through letter boxes in Kent in the past few months. The reality and the evidence suggest that immigration from those countries will be moderate. I trust that the Minister will enlighten us with reliable statistics, so that we can nail such lies. The danger of such a toxic debate is that it sends a hostile signal to the rest of the world—in particular, to international investors, students and skilled workers, who boost Britain’s economy by billions of pounds each year—that we no longer need or want their contribution.
There are aspects of the Bill which we welcome. Then there are areas of concern which will require probing amendment in Committee. My noble friend the Minister commands great respect in this House, and I am sure he will listen to arguments that we will advance at that stage. Our purpose is to avoid the shambles we saw in the other place. We welcome the provision to deal with sham marriages and sham civil partnerships and will support further legislative changes to eradicate these practices, which are designed to evade immigration controls.
The Bill proposes a new referral and investigation scheme for proposed marriages and civil partnerships involving a non-EEA national subject to immigration controls. Will my noble friend the Minister accept that this does not solve the problem of a non-EEA national’s entering into a sham relationship in an EEA country? Has the Home Office discussed this matter with our European partners? The Home Office has no powers to prevent such marriages taking place in these countries, and no powers to deny entry to the UK if the couple decides to settle here. Will the Minister reflect on this and advise how he will deal with such arrangements?
We also welcome the provision of a statutory code of conduct and registration with the Immigration Services Commissioner by providers of immigration advice. The exploitation of clients by unscrupulous advisers is a matter of serious concern. While a code of registration applies to those providing such services in the United Kingdom, it does nothing to stop such practices abroad. Surely this is a matter that should be the basis of bilateral discussion whenever Ministers are on delegation abroad.
Then there is the serious issue in Part 6 to amend powers to deprive persons of British citizenship. We need to clarify how such powers are going to be used against those who do not have dual nationality. Will the Minister explain how a stateless person would leave the country? Where would he or she go? I note that this provision would affect only a small number of British citizens, and the matter is still a work in progress. It is right, however, that terrorists whose activities affect the safety and security of our nation should be dealt with by the full force of the law. We need to spell out if such a person has any residual and consequential rights similar to those of refugees and other stateless persons. The last thing we need, when we deprive citizens of citizenship, is for this to be used as a badge of honour by jihadis who cannot be deported. There are other issues which colleagues reflect upon. For the present, the Government have a golden opportunity to raise the level of debate on immigration matters. Let us hope that we will give a lead that will result in a fair and just immigration policy.
My Lords, over the past weeks, I have received numerous requests by journalists from around the world because one of the seven schools that I attended was the Hyderabad Public School. The 46-year-old chief executive officer of Microsoft, Satya Nadella, also attended the Hyderabad Public School. He then went to the United States for his education and is now heading one of the world’s largest companies, with a market cap of $340 billion.
Earlier this afternoon, I attended a talk by the Governor-General of Canada, David Johnston. A huge part of his speech was about education and about Canada wanting to attract the best students from around the world. Like me, he came as a foreign student to Cambridge to read law. Is it not sad that, on 16 January, the Times Higher Education Supplement carried the headline “Overseas student total falls ‘for first time’ as Indian numbers collapse”? It went further and stated that,
“the number of non-EU students at UK universities fell by 1 per cent last year, the first such decline ever recorded”.
An NUS survey of more than 3,000 international students conducted in January found that 51% of non-EU students thought the UK Government unwelcoming. Meanwhile, in Canada, the Government aim to double the number of international students in Canadian educational institutions by 2022, raising the total to 450,000 yearly. In Australia, more than 74,000 student visa applications were lodged in the September 2013 quarter, 7.1% higher than the same period in 2012 and the highest for this quarter in the past four years. In France, the Government have moved to simplify the visa application process and to double the number of Indian students studying at French universities. Does the Minister have a target for increasing the number of foreign students in the UK, let alone of Indian students?
The Russell group has reported that the intakes of postgraduate students from India at its institutions dropped by 21% in 2011-12, with a further drop of 18% in 2012-13. Even the growth rate in new students from China has started to taper off. Meanwhile, postgraduate student numbers to the United States increased by 40% in 2013. Visas granted to Indian students across all levels in Australia have risen by 22% in the past year, following the introduction of a more open immigration policy, and visas granted to Indian students in Canada rose by 8% in 2012.
The Prime Minister talks about Britain having to take part in a global race yet the Government’s insistence is on following this madcap immigration cap policy and targeting bringing down the immigration level to the tens of thousands. This is shooting ourselves in the foot. What are the Government thinking of? Why do the Government keep including student numbers in the immigration figures when Canada, Australia and the United States—our immediate competitors—do not? Does the Minister agree that we should exclude foreign student numbers from the immigration figures? The Government might then hit their target but they should not do it for that reason: they should do it because this policy is sending out the wrong messages. The Prime Minister has said that there is no limit to the number of students that we want to come to study in the United Kingdom—I have heard him say that myself—so why are the Government not following the example of our counterparts in Canada and setting a target to double the number of foreign students coming into the United Kingdom?
In contrast, let us look at what is happening over here. The number of Indian students has fallen by 25% and the overall non-EU enrolment of overseas students has dropped from 173,560 to 171,910. The Government are sending out a negative message: that Britain does not want foreign students. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, referred to the perception of reality. The perception has become reality and the Government have been bringing out ridiculous ideas. When the idea of a £3,000 bond for foreign visitors was floated, it did not take long before the Government backtracked. However, it sent shockwaves around the world. I kept getting asked about this on every visit to India. Then the Government had the amazing idea of having vans going around the UK saying “Illegal immigrants go home”. I do not like quoting Nigel Farage but even he—a man perceived to be entirely anti-immigration—said:
“I think the actual tone of the billboards is nasty, unpleasant, Big Brother”.
There you have it.
There is no question that a lot needs to be done to reform immigration in this country. Illegal immigration is out of control. The noble Lord, Lord King, asked whether we know the numbers. Have we lost control of our borders? I think we have. The UK Border Agency was not fit for purpose and has been disbanded. Can the Government tell us the number of illegal immigrants in this country? I will let the Government round it up to the nearest 100,000 but I bet that they could not even give a figure. They do not even know whether it is half a million or a million. The coalition Government have given a manifesto commitment to reintroduce exit controls and there is matter in the Bill to address this. However, the Government should bring in mandatory scanning of all passports when people leave this country—whether they are British, EU or non-EU—and scan them when they come in. The technology is there for us to know who has come in, who has left and who has stayed when they should not be staying. We could then control illegal immigration. Why are the Government not doing that? The e-Borders programme is a step towards that but we could get to that step right now.
As the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, said, the Government are right to crack down on sham marriages, but they are wrong to bring in landlord controls and ask the landlords to do the job of the border authority. Even the Minister responsible for the Bill, Mark Harper, could not find out the status of his own cleaner when he had tried hard to do so. This is impractical and I fear that it will be another government U-turn.
The proposed NHS fees are unwelcoming. As a former foreign student in this country, I know how expensive it is to study here. The average international student will spend something in the region of £75,000 during a three-year degree programme. A PhD student coming in with a spouse and children could pay thousands of pounds in advance for this. These fees will seem like a penalty charge and could be a powerful disincentive. In a survey carried out by the National Union of Students, 74% of the non-EU students surveyed, who would be subject to the charge, said that an additional charge of £150 per year of study would make it more difficult or impossible for them to study in the UK. The Minister said that the figure is only 1%, but the perception, unfortunately, is the reality. More than 82% of those with dependants say that free access to the NHS was important in their choice to study in the UK. The current visa fees are really expensive in any case and the Government have just announced a 40% increase for some additional family members. Why do we need NHS charges? Most students are young and healthy and do not use the NHS much. The Government have been penny wise and pound foolish.
On the matter of the appeals process and the changes proposed in this Bill, Universities UK notes that more than 50% of appeals by students are successful. If these measures are brought in they will be deprived. In the House in 2007 I initiated a debate on the two-year post-study work visa. The noble Lord, Lord Adonis, was the Education Minister answering at the time. He listened, the Government responded, it was brought in and we saw international student numbers go up. Even the Business Secretary disagrees with government policy on this. Vince Cable has said that around £17 billion is generated each year by universities, £10 billion of which comes from overseas students through their fees and expenditure. At last year’s Liberal Democrat party conference he warned that a lot of students who would normally come to Britain would go instead to America and Australia where they thought a “warmer welcome” would be given to them.
If students here want to work after this expensive education it is important for them to be able to pay for it, gain work experience, pay some taxes, and build the generation-long links with this country and their countries—and on the whole they go back to them. Three generations of my family have studied in this country. Moosung Lee, a PhD candidate at the University of Minnesota, notes that 27% of world leaders have been educated in the United States. The Americans are streets ahead of us. We are missing out as a result of this and we need to start thinking long term. Shutting down the bogus colleges was good, but we do not need to create a perception that what was true for them is true for our good universities as well.
My recommendations are as follows. First, student figures should be removed from the immigration figures to send out a clear message that we do not include them in the Government’s madcap immigration cap target. Secondly, a system in which everyone’s passports will be scanned in and out of the country, at all ports of entry, should be introduced as soon as possible. Thirdly, the Government should bring back the post-study work visa. The mechanism at the moment is not fit for purpose. Can the Minister tell me how many graduates have taken up work after they have graduated under the new scheme that the Government have initiated? Fourthly, NHS charges for students should not be brought in. Students are spending huge amounts of money here already. A fee of £150 a year is a classic example of being penny wise and pound foolish. Fifthly, the Government should scrap the ridiculous and impractical idea of landlords having to make checks on foreign nationals and especially students. Landlords are not immigration officials. Finally, the Government should reform the appeals process that is already flawed. They should not be bringing in a system that will make it worse. Already 50% of appeals by students are successful.
As the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, said, Britain is a most amazingly fair and just country. London is the most cosmopolitan city in the world. Recently, I led a debate to mark the 150th anniversary of the Zoroastrian Trust Funds of Europe to ask Her Majesty’s Government how they have recognised and supported the role and contribution of faith and minority communities in Britain during Her Majesty’s reign. All of us who spoke in that debate were able to give scores of examples of the amazing contribution that immigrants have given to this country. We would not be where we are without the contribution of immigration. On the other hand, we know that people abuse this country’s generosity and the Government must clamp down on those excesses. However, the Government now have a system that creates negative perceptions and unfortunately those perceptions have become reality. The Government must stop going down this path before it is too late and this wonderful country is permanently damaged.
My Lords, it is a huge pleasure to follow the excellent speech of the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria. I declare an interest as a member of the Council of University College London.
Many aspects of the Bill have already been subject to debate today. I want to concentrate on its impact on overseas students, an aspect that the noble Lord touched on. I heard the Minister’s assurance today, but I have been unhappy with the direction of travel of government policy towards overseas students throughout the past few years and believe that the Bill exacerbates the impact of previous policies. Of course, nothing in what I say is designed to condone fraud of the kind uncovered in today’s “Panorama” programme, which the noble Lord, Lord King, referred to. I shall be drawing in particular on the briefings of both Universities UK and the National Union of Students, which are united in their views on the adverse impact of the Bill.
First, however, I join others in expressing my sympathy and regret at the honourable resignation of Mark Harper as Immigration Minister. I always found him extremely painstaking and courteous in carrying out his role. As the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, pointed out, this shows the difficulties inherent even among the most scrupulous people in complying with immigration legislation.
As noble Lords, with all their university links and responsibilities, will be well aware, international students in higher education alone contributed more than £10 billion to the UK economy in 2011-12, according to BIS. Their contribution to the local economies of university cities is enormous. The UK is the second most popular destination for international students. They are a crucial way for us to build cultural and academic links and to build global trade and investment relations for the future—soft power, in other words. They are a crucial resource for our higher education institutions and the UK as a whole yet, as UUK points out, new figures show that the total number of international students in UK universities fell for the first time on record by 1% in 2012-13—4.5% if China is excluded from the figures. Our share of a growing market is falling. We have yet to understand the precise causes, but many of us in this House have been warning the Government of the likely consequences of their changes to visa policy, particularly relating to post-study internships. We have already seen a marked reduction in students from India, as the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, has pointed out.
No one quarrels with measures designed to prevent abuse of the immigration system, but if we do not redress the impression that students are not welcome then we will see further reductions from other countries. The key areas where this Bill creates that impression, and bears down counterproductively on overseas students, are threefold. First, there is the removal of visa appeal rights. The removal of their remaining rights of in-country appeal against the refusal of leave to remain is under Clause 11. In 2012-13 there were 98,800 decisions on Tier 4 extensions. Of those, I am informed that around 13% were refused yet, as we heard earlier, 50% of appeals are successful, which means that decisions were not correct in the first place. Sheffield Students’ Union says that 99% of its appeals are successful. It says that many of these decisions relate to family members. The loss of these appeal rights will also affect postgraduates such as academics and researchers.
The new administrative view that is being offered in certain circumstances will not be independent, and in some cases will in fact be carried out by the official who made the original decision. How can that be right? How on earth can overseas students have confidence that these decisions will be reviewed fairly? Surely, as they say, instead of abolishing the right of appeal in this way the Home Office should lay emphasis on improving processes and decision-making so that the number of appeals is reduced. If that is not possible, why can there not be an explicit exception for overseas students?
Then we have Part 3 of the Bill, which deals with the provision of services. The Bill introduces a new requirement for landlords to check a prospective tenant’s immigration status, except for halls of residence.
International students already face difficulties in securing accommodation and are often made to pay large advance payments of rent. Bookings of accommodation for students often have to be made well in advance at a time when overseas students cannot prove their immigration status. Landlords will be discouraged from letting accommodation to international students and staff, and they will be relegated to the back of the queue in the search for accommodation.
How can causing this kind of anxiety to young people coming here for the first time be the right way to welcome them? How can this lack of certainty encourage overseas academic staff to come and work in our universities? The fear of the student bodies that have briefed Members of this House is that this will lead to more discrimination against black and ethnic minority students when looking for housing.
Why are additional provisions required for students in the first place? Surely being vouched for by their university when the accommodation is occupied should be enough. After all, the risk of losing highly trusted sponsor status, as the NUS says, means that higher education institutions with virtually no exceptions are scrupulous in their monitoring of overseas students. The Residential Landlords Association and the British Property Federation have pointed out the problems, and the noble Lord, Lord Best, illustrated them in considerable detail. The NUS survey this month showed that 40% of international students believe that these landlord checks will negatively impact on their decision to study in the UK, and the figure was greater in the case of PhD students concerned about their spouse and children.
Last but not least, there is the proposed imposition of NHS charges on overseas students under the Bill. Granted that there will be a lower rate for overseas students under these proposals compared to the full £200 per annum, but why are we charging when, as UUK says, they are already making such a big economic contribution? The charge, it points out, will need to be paid upfront for the full duration of the visa. As the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, pointed out, for an academic with a number of dependants, this could be a significant amount of money, far more than in other countries, and a real deterrent to taking up employment here. On its own, charging for NHS services would not necessarily have been a major disincentive, but in combination with other aspects of the Bill, it certainly will be. Indeed, it will take away one of the attractions of coming to the UK. Why cannot overseas students and staff be totally exempt from the charges?
So this is a triple whammy and causes more damage to our reputation. A recent NUS survey of more than 3,000 students conducted this year found that half of non-EU students found the UK Government not welcoming towards them, and the number for postgraduate students was greater. We need to alter the perception that overseas students are not welcome in the UK. As the Minister knows, I and many Members of this House have argued that the inclusion of students in the net migration figures sends out all the wrong signals, especially considering the fact that these students are only temporary migrants. Even if the Home Office does not accept that argument, why can we not exclude overseas students from the provisions of this Bill to prevent further reputational, cultural and economic damage? I look forward to the Minister’s reply.