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Immigration Bill

Part of Bills Presented – in the House of Commons at 3:17 pm on 13th October 2015.

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Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration, Asylum and Border Control) 3:17 pm, 13th October 2015

I, too, congratulate Andy Burnham on his new role. I agree with much of what he said. We on the SNP Benches acknowledge, are proud of the fact and prefer to emphasise that people who choose this country as their new home make a tremendous contribution to our public services, our economy, our culture and, most importantly for many of our citizens, our family lives.

From our point of view, the Bill does not deserve a Second Reading because—it is important to put this on the record—we regard the Government’s net migration target of tens of thousands as entirely unhelpful, as well as utterly unrealistic, and the Bill will bring its realisation not a second closer. Indeed, I genuinely doubt whether any member of the Government thinks that that target is achievable. That is why it is fundamentally dishonest to continue to go through the motions of pursuing it. A target that is virtually impossible for the Government to deliver can only further undermine public confidence in government and in immigration control. A Bill designed to pursue a bad target is likely to lead to bad law, and so it is with this Immigration Bill. In a sense, this is immigration theatre: the Government want to be seen to be doing something, so they go through the motions of yet another Immigration Bill—and to hell with the consequences.

That is our starting point in considering the Bill, and although that is clearly one of the key issues we need to address, the other issue that all hon. Members must consider, regardless of whether they agree with us about the net migration target, is different. For even those in the Chamber who want immigration to be cut back need to ask themselves: what will the Bill achieve in reality, where is the evidence for that and what will the cost be in terms of civil liberties, human rights, the rule of law, community cohesion and the other aspects of life in this country that we hold dear? Regardless of one’s starting point in this debate, when those simple tests are applied, the Bill fails them utterly. It therefore does not deserve a Second Reading.

The Bill fails those simple tests because if it is to be effective and achieve anything, it requires effective Government agencies. Is there any area of policy where the Government have proven less effective, reliable and up to the job than immigration? John Reid described the immigration directorate as “not fit for purpose” in 2006. Just two years ago, the Home Secretary said that

“the performance of what remains of UKBA is still not good enough.”

She described it as a “troubled organisation” that

“struggles with the volume of its casework”.

She criticised its IT systems and its reliance on manual data entry and paper files. She said:

“The agency is often caught up in a vicious cycle of complex law and poor enforcement of its own policies”.—[Hansard, 26 March 2013; Vol. 560, c. 1500-1501.]

She abolished the UK Border Agency.

Are we really to believe that UK Visas and Immigration is now so well organised that we can feel comfortable providing it and its officers with swathes of new powers and responsibilities, while sweeping away its accountability to courts and tribunals? The Home Secretary may be formidable but, with respect, she is not a miracle worker. Another round of viciously complex legislation is the last thing we need, as anyone who deals with UK Visas and Immigration, including hon. Members, will surely understand.

The Bill also fails the tests because to be effective, it will rely on civilians, including landlords and landladies. We are setting off down a road of amateur immigration control, as if we are to become a nation of immigration officers. Again, anyone who deals regularly with immigration work, including hon. Members, will be well aware of what a complex issue this is. It is not one in which it is appropriate for amateurs to be involved in enforcement. As with decisions of the Home Office, we search for vain in the Bill for proper rights of appeal and redress against amateur enforcement decisions. Indeed, judicial scrutiny of evictions is torn apart.

The Bill fails because it is not based on evidence of what is effective in ensuring that immigration rules are complied with, as the shadow Home Secretary said. The clearest example, which he set out, is the so-called right to rent provisions. The House was assured by Ministers that the right to rent legislation would remain light touch and be tested thoroughly, with the results of the tests being used to inform further development. Yet here we are, several months after the Prime Minister announced its roll- out, with proposals to move away from the soft-touch approach envisaged by hon. Members. The House is yet to see the results of the Government’s pilot scheme. I agree with the shadow Secretary of State that that is a most unacceptable way of treating the House.

What was the point of the Government consulting on asylum support, when the Bill was published just a week after the consultation closed, without any Government analysis of the responses, let alone a reaction? Much of the evidence that is available on employment, right to rent and asylum support suggests that the Bill will, in some respects, make immigration control more difficult by driving people and families away from regular contact with immigration authorities. This is a politically motivated, rather than evidence-led, piece of legislation.

The Bill not only fails the tests but becomes dangerous when we consider the costs that will come with it. Even if it might somehow shave a pitiful few thousand off the net migration figure, what price are we paying to do that? The effects of the Bill should appal traditional Conservatives. It will tie up landlords and landladies in immigration red tape and put them at risk of prison sentences. It will arm immigration officers with broad new powers. Most fundamentally, it will strike a significant blow against community cohesion.

The Home Secretary spoke about community cohesion last week, yet her Government’s explicit and almost dystopian goal is to create a “hostile climate”, as if we can hermetically seal off the bad migrants, while the rest of the multicultural UK goes about its business as usual. That approach reached its lowest ebb with the horrendous “go home” vans, which illustrated the key point that the hostile climate that the Government seek to create affects all of us who live in it.