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The JCWI believes that the figures I quoted are likely to underestimate the scale of the problem because of the nature and timing of the survey, but also because the problems are likely to be magnified much further in London, where there is a much bigger private rented sector and many more migrants. It says that
“these proposals will only…deepen the discrimination” that already exists against people like those in my hon. Friend’s constituency who are seeking a tenancy.
When is the Home Secretary going to publish these conclusions, and why are we in this position today? In failing to produce the evidence, she has simply not made the case for the measures that she wants the House to vote on tonight. This is a major change in the law and she has not made the case for it.
Thankfully, the days when landlords displayed unwelcoming notices in the windows of their lodgings are gone, hopefully for good, but these document checks could legitimise a new wave of discrimination which, by being hidden, could be far harder to challenge. Only last week at the Conservative party conference, the Prime
Minister highlighted how young people from black and Asian backgrounds face discrimination when they send out their CV, purely on the basis of their name. He was right to do so, and it was refreshing to hear it from a Conservative Prime Minister. But if he was really genuine, this question follows: why is he legislating to create exactly the same situation—the same everyday discrimination—in the housing market against people with foreign-sounding names? If he really believed what he said, he should ask his Home Secretary to think again.
Let me turn to employment—another area where there could be major unintended consequences if the Bill passes in its current form. I said earlier that we support measures to tackle illegal working that build on the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act 2006, which I helped to take through as a junior Home Office Minister, but we have major reservations about the new offence of illegal working in clause 8. In the words of Justice, “it is unnecessary and risks undermining important efforts made over recent years to address issues such as trafficking and modern-day slavery.”
Justice does not believe the assurances that were given to Caroline Lucas by the Home Secretary. The sanctions that could be applied to an individual range from confiscation of wages right up to imprisonment. Justice says:
“Fear of prosecution and imprisonment is likely to deter the vulnerable, such as trafficked women and children, who are working illegally from seeking protection and reporting rogue employers and criminal gangs.”
What evidence can the Home Secretary give the House to show that that would not be the case? More broadly, this new offence will merely strengthen the arm of unscrupulous employers and reduce the likelihood of any employee coming forward to report them. For that reason, rather than tackling illegal working, is not the Bill likely to have the opposite effect and potentially increase the size of the black economy?