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We have heard much this afternoon about the serious flaws in the Bill. More than anything else, there is a complete lack of evidence for its proposals, and a large number of experts have highlighted their potentially damaging effects. It risks compromising community and social cohesion, putting individuals at risk in the process. I am particularly concerned about the impact of outsourcing enforcement functions to private third parties that are not subject to adequate levels of public scrutiny. Contradiction and conjecture are a recurring theme, and I very much hope the Home Secretary will explain why the proposals have been made when there is no evidence to suggest that existing measures in the Immigration Act 2014 are not working well enough or need to be extended.
Let us take as an example the extension of the “deport first, appeal later” provisions in the previous Immigration Act. They came into force only recently and as yet there has been no impact assessment to determine their effectiveness, but the Bill seeks to widen those powers. I am worried both by the potential consequences of such an approach and by what it implies about the Home Secretary’s motivation.
Anyone who heard the Home Secretary’s speech at her party’s conference earlier this month may share my concern. Despite the stated aim of clamping down on illegal migration, the Bill goes considerably further and extends the principle of “deport first, appeal later” to all immigration cases. Not only is there a complete lack of evidence that that is required, but it signals that the underlying intention of the Bill is to undermine the very principle of freedom of movement.
The Government also clearly stated that they would not go ahead with the ill-thought-out right to rent programme without conducing an evaluation of the pilot carried out in the west midlands. Yet here we are with proposals to extend that programme to the entire country and no sign of any comprehensive evaluation from the Home Office. Anne McLaughlin made an eloquent argument in those terms.
Moreover, the Home Secretary has failed to absorb the results of the evaluations that were carried out by independent experts. The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, for example, found that the pilot forced landlords to make poor decisions and that discrimination clearly occurred against both migrants and British citizens, including making landlords less likely to rent to anyone with a “questionable” immigration status—in other words, as other hon. Members have said, anyone with a name that sounds foreign.
What we do have evidence for is the economic benefit of immigration, including in the form of a warning from the chairman of the Institute of Directors, Simon Walker, who has said that the Bill will turn away
“the world’s best and brightest”.
The latest changes include those to the international English language testing system for eligibility to study. An estimated third of international students who come to study at UK universities could be at risk, along with an estimated 27,000 jobs in the UK. In Brighton and Hove alone, a minimum of 1,000 jobs could be lost, although given that two major pathway providers—Into and Study Group—have head offices in the city, the number is likely to be significantly greater. There is therefore considerable concern about the extent to which international students are being blamed for rising net migration—that is why I want to repeat my call for student numbers to be removed entirely from the net migration figures—and about the fact that many students on tier 4 visas will be criminalised under the proposals if they undertake paid work. The competitiveness of international markets is increasing and we can ill afford to reduce our attractiveness to international talent, particularly as such international students sustain our research output, which supports our economy.
The argument about international students is not only an economic one; it says something about who we are as a nation and what kind of people we think we are. Are we outward-looking, confident and welcoming, or are we fearful, inward-looking people who do not want to make the most of the huge opportunities that lie out there? Once again, the Government are pushing forward with their proposals without any impact assessment, nor do they seem to have any concern for the way in which their misleading and often divisive rhetoric affects individuals.
There is plenty in the Bill to object to, and there are also big gaps in what should be in an Immigration Bill, one of which is clearly the measures needed to tackle some of the problems in our current immigration system. The most notable problem is the Home Office’s long history of poor decision making on immigration cases, as demonstrated by the high rate of successful appeals. My surgeries are full of cases that illustrate the abundant delays in processing.
The Bill not only fails to take steps to improve the situation, but in effect removes the right of redress when the Home Office makes mistakes and individuals are wrongly identified as illegal migrants. The knock-on effects may include wrongfully depriving people of their homes, bank accounts and driving licences. That would be a violation of their human rights in and of itself, but it will be further exacerbated by the changes to the right of redress.
The Bill will also have an impact on asylum seekers. Removing financial support from those who have been refused asylum risks consigning vulnerable individuals to destitution, homelessness and exploitation. Many of those individuals may well have their asylum claim upheld on appeal, but I would argue that the measures in the Bill will push them underground, reducing the likelihood that an appeal will be brought. That will create a wide set of knock-on problems, including for local authorities, which have a responsibility to protect children under the Children Acts. Even if there are strong grounds to refuse asylum, when did we become a country that is comfortable removing every kind of safety net for people who have come here and need it most?
Several hon. Members rose—