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Immigration Bill

Part of Bills Presented – in the House of Commons at 5:40 pm on 13th October 2015.

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Photo of Gavin Robinson Gavin Robinson Shadow Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights) 5:40 pm, 13th October 2015

I welcome the opportunity to engage in this debate. Throughout this afternoon I expected much more heat than light. In fairness, this has been a thorough debate and one in which much detail has been discussed. I am, however, disappointed that in many of the contributions from the Government Benches—Richard Fuller is an honourable exception—there has been an unwillingness to hear and respond to some of the concerns expressed in the debate, and an unwillingness to appreciate how consensus around immigration, not only in the Chamber but in the country, would be much preferable to the way in which some Members have engaged.

I am not on the same page as some of those who backed the amendment before us, but I expect to hear an indication from the Minister and the Home Office that in Committee there will be an earnest willingness to address many of the difficulties that arise in the Bill. It is right that Members across the Chamber welcome the suggestion, for example, of a director of labour market enforcement as one notable proposal that is worth supporting.

Politically, there is good reason for us as parliamentarians to make it less attractive for people to breach our immigration laws and come here illegally, but in doing so we must ensure that we do not become unattractive as a people or as a country. Some of the proposals outlined in the Bill would do just that. There has been particular focus on the right to rent, and there is a flaw in putting the onus on landlords particularly. What does the Minister intend “reasonable steps” to mean? How are landlords to satisfy the authorities that they have taken reasonable steps? More importantly, the provision applies not just to those named in the tenancy, but to others in the dwelling. It is a de facto provision that someone could harbour an illegal immigrant and face the penalties for it. That is not only unnecessary, but its implementation will be filled with difficulty.

Lady Hermon disagrees with me about how best we should proceed, but a number of her interventions this afternoon have been incisive. She raised an issue about those trafficked and exploited, in the context of the penalties that will apply to illegal immigrants who are employed. The answer that she got from the Home Secretary indicated that there is already such an offence in the Modern Slavery Act. That may well be the case, but for comfort a particular provision should be inserted in the Bill so that as a Parliament we can reaffirm that should somebody be rescued having been exploited or trafficked in this country, the provisions will not apply. The acceptance of an amendment of that significance in Committee would be enormously helpful.

I was shocked by part 7 of the Bill, which sets out the language requirements for public sector workers, and that is for two reasons. First, I was amazed that the ability to speak fluent English was not already a requirement in the public sector. Secondly, as the hon. Member for North Down pointed out in an intervention on Rebecca Harris, these provisions will not apply to Northern Ireland. I hope that I am communicating well enough in English this afternoon, because it is the language of Northern Ireland. I think that it is beholden on a one nation Government to recognise that such provisions should apply to Northern Ireland and, more importantly, not to engage in a political exclusion of Northern Ireland. I say that because there is a burgeoning language sector in Northern Ireland and there are politics around that. Two minority languages—Irish and Ulster-Scots—are protected in north-south bodies, but English is our dominant and preferred language, and Northern Ireland should not be excluded from the provisions.

Part 6—I have discussed this with the hon. Member for North Down—deals with maritime enforcement and sets out who will be able to access vessels. It mentions a police constable and an immigration officer, but it does not mention the Belfast harbour police—the private police force that operates in Belfast harbour—who ensure that we can adhere to the provisions in the maritime context. I therefore believe that an amendment to include that police force is worthy of support.

Our view is that the Bill is worthy of progression to at least Committee stage, but I think that the compassion that the hon. Member for Bedford mentioned is incredibly important, and it is something that I would like to see a lot more of.