Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

Immigration Bill

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

Alert me about debates like this

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

Once again, I agree absolutely with the hon. Gentleman. It has been a habit in the field of immigration to take the approach that if at first you don’t succeed, legislate and legislate again. We do not need constant legislation but to use the powers that the Government already have.

The Government must focus on enforcement. We agree that we should look again at further sanctions for those who exploit undocumented labour. We will therefore look sympathetically but carefully at the wording of the proposed amended criminal offence for employers.

We have significant concern about the proposals to criminalise undocumented workers contained in clause 8. The notion of criminalising a person for working is controversial, especially given that prosecutions are already possible for breaches of immigration law under section 24 of the Immigration Act 1971, as Sammy Wilson said. The problem is an absence not of criminal sanctions but of proper enforcement measures by Government agencies. We believe strongly that the speculative possibility of shaving a small amount off the net migration target will be outweighed by the significant danger highlighted by organisations that work with victims of trafficking, and that some of the most vulnerable workers will be put in an even more vulnerable position. The Home Secretary and the Government have done good work on trafficking, slavery and exploitation, and it would be sad if that were to be undone by pushing exploited workers even further underground because of the fear of criminalisation. If that is the effect, such measures will make immigration and labour market enforcement harder rather than easier.

Another area where dangers outweigh speculative benefits concerns the right to rent provisions. The shadow Secretary of State referred to the helpful study by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants. Its findings are absolutely stark, and include poor compliance and widespread ignorance among the unfortunate landlords and landladies who are supposed to police the right to rent. More significantly, those findings suggest that landlords are—perhaps understandably—less likely to consider someone who does not have a British passport, which includes more than one in six of the UK population. There were also increased feelings of discrimination among people who have been refused a tenancy. We therefore object strongly to these proposals as they can only exacerbate such problems. We are equally opposed to the fact that the new more punitive measures—and indeed other measures on licensing—can be extended to Scotland by subordinate legislation without full parliamentary scrutiny in this Chamber, and without the consent of the Scottish Parliament where decisions on housing should be made.

We have serious concerns about part 3 of the Bill which, in combination with other measures, would deliver a stunning extension of powers to immigration officers and others who are not part of the police force, and not trained or supervised accordingly. Although we intend to support the reasoned amendment, we have some difficulties with this area, and it would be useful if, when winding up the debate, the spokesperson for the official Opposition could say a little more about what new enforcement powers they want.

The Bill provides immigration officers with significant new powers to enter premises, search, seize, retain and arrest, and all in the face of serious reported abuses and evidence of the inefficient exercise of existing powers. We agree with Amnesty International that

“the Home Office should be concentrating on improving its performance with the powers it already possesses rather than being handed still more powers” and we would require the Government to make a strong case for each new power before we could support them.

Equally troubling new powers are provided to the Home Secretary on bail conditions, which we believe undermine the authority of the independent tribunal. We saw in September that there is widespread cross-party support in this Chamber for changes to immigration detention, but those are not the changes in the Bill. That cross-party support included demand for a 28-day time limit for immigration detention. If the Bill receives a Second Reading, we look forward to tabling an amendment that will include such a time limit, and we will happily work with others to secure that.

Continuing the trend towards a limitation of appeal rights, part 4 of the Bill provides for a sweeping extension of powers to require people to leave and appeal from abroad should an application for an extension of leave be rejected. Let us remember that huge numbers of these appeals are successful, yet they will become infinitely more difficult if appellants are moved hundreds, if not thousands of miles away from their lawyers and their appeal hearing—an unfair immigration trial in absentia. UK citizens will be affected, because if this issue principally concerns family life appeal rights, that disruption will be to family life with those British citizens—families will be split apart; valuable jobs and support will be lost.

Finally, we object to the fact that “destitution” is once more the immigration policy of choice in part 5 of the Bill. We share the concerns of British Red Cross that the provisions in this Bill, including an end to section 95 support for families with children who have exhausted their appeal rights, will force families with children into destitution and put them at risk of harm. Such a measure will also increase the risk of families absconding, and pass a significant increase in costs to local authorities who will still have a duty to prevent children from becoming destitute. The shadow Secretary of State rightly acknowledged a similar pilot project by a previous Labour Government, which found that 35 out of 116 families had disappeared, losing all contact with immigration services. Such measures make immigration control harder, not easier. Again, when the evidence is considered, it tends not to support the Bill.

These are not our only concerns with the Bill, and my hon. Friends will add to my criticisms. Declining the Bill a Second Reading is just a starting point, and the Scottish National party believes that we should be rolling back from the mistakes made by the coalition Government. We should go back to the drawing board to consider how we measure a successful immigration system. At very least we should recognise that it is utterly inappropriate to include refugees, people’s husbands, wives and children, as well as bright young talent and the leaders of tomorrow who want to come here to study. We should get rid of the so-called right to rent provisions, not back them up with criminal sanctions. We should roll back the financial thresholds imposed on spouse and partner visas that are driving couples apart and creating what the Children’s Commissioner for England has called “Skype families”, and we should end the routine use of immigration detention.

We should address the concerns and challenges that can be caused by migration trends, and instead of scrapping schemes such as the migration impacts fund we should look at improved versions. We should consider schemes that encourage new arrivals to live in those parts of the UK that require them and will benefit from them most, including Scotland. Let devolved nations and regions have powers on immigration.