Immigration Bill — Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:12 pm on 10th February 2014.

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Photo of Lord Taylor of Holbeach Lord Taylor of Holbeach The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department 3:12 pm, 10th February 2014

My Lords, as a country we welcome the benefits migrants bring to our industries, educational institutions and communities. We know that most migrants are here lawfully and benefit our country, but some are not: they enter the country illegally, overstay their permission to be here, work illegally, undercutting the resident labour market, contribute to overcrowded housing, claim benefits and damage social cohesion.

It is true that the “bad apple” immigration stories often drown out the positive ones. Many in this House have rightly championed these positive stories and campaigned for policies to bring even more benefits to the UK. The challenge for both Government and Parliament is to implement policies which strike the right balance, keeping the door open to those who have something to contribute, while maintaining a firm response against those who abuse our hospitality.

Immigration is an issue of significant concern to the public. This Government remain committed to reducing net migration. This is down by nearly a third since its peak in 2010, with net migration from outside the EU down to 140,000. It is at its lowest level since 1998. We have tightened the immigration routes where abuse was rife, strengthened the system of granting students permission to enter or stay in the UK, reformed the family visa system and set an annual limit on the number of non-EU economic migrants admitted to the United Kingdom.

These reforms are not just about reducing volumes; rather, they have changed the character of migration to the UK. Although international student numbers are down by a third overall, the number of international students within our world-renowned universities has held steady. Indeed, the number of visa applications by students sponsored by a university increased by 7% last year. This Government closed the so-called highly skilled migrant programme, where research found that nearly half the migrants on the programme were in fact in low-skilled employment. However, we continue to welcome to our country migrants who have something to contribute, and the number of sponsored workers continues to rise. We have opened new routes for entrepreneurs and people of exceptional talent. In China, we now have more visa centres than any other country outside Asia, delivering the largest-ever increases in high-spending visitors.

This Bill will not undermine those important achievements; it will support them. The Bill does not make the UK a less attractive destination for legal migrants. Instead, it is about stopping abuses and making illegal migrants easier to remove. By dealing firmly with those who harm our country, it allows us to continue to welcome those who will bring benefits.

Before turning to some of the detail, let me say a little more about what the Bill does not do. Much rhetoric has been expressed about the Bill that is not borne out by closer inspection. The Bill does not undermine individual rights; rather, it strengthens them. The arbitrariness of whether the family life threshold has been met is replaced by clarity and consistency. We are giving the force of primary legislation to a framework set up to support Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights that the Court of Appeal has already supported in recent judgments. In doing so, we can ensure that serious criminals will be deported and that those deportations will be subject to less delay. That will not damage human rights but instead restore balance and public respect. It will address the erosion of public confidence in our laws.

The Bill does not undermine access to justice. Yes, appeal rights are being reformed, but that is essential. Visit any court in the country and listen to one of the 70,000 immigration cases heard each year, and you will not have to wait long to hear late claims that should have been made years earlier or claimants presenting new evidence not previously seen by the Home Office, thus turning the appellate body into a first-instance decision-maker. The Bill tackles this head-on but also provides an alternative, quicker, administrative remedy, while preserving a full appeal where fundamental rights are at stake.

The Bill does not deter legitimate students. Yes, they will have to pay a little more to access health services in future, but that is designed as a fair contribution, not a deterrent. We have consulted widely and given careful thought to this matter, taking into account the international market in which our universities compete. The extra cost to international students represents just over 1% of the total cost of their studying in the UK. The Government remain absolutely committed to ensuring that the UK is competitive as a place for the brightest and best to come. Nothing in these proposals will prevent us achieving that goal, but it cannot be right that the National Health Service is open to the whole world. By taking action, we are addressing some long-standing anomalies in a wholly proportionate way.

The Bill is also not about Europe, despite what may have been said in the House of Commons or in the media. We are dealing with the imbalances in European migration by other means, but not here, not in this Bill. This Bill tackles non-EU illegal migration. It streamlines the process of removing illegal migrants while protecting the vulnerable. The coalition’s programme has been clear that we will build a fairer immigration system, looking after children and families within it and reintroducing exit checks to allow us to tackle overstaying and people fleeing British justice. The coalition is rising to those challenges.

The Bill is not seeking a brand-new power to deprive British people of their citizenship; these powers already exist. The British Nationality Act already sets out the circumstances in which the Home Secretary can deprive a person of their citizenship. The limited change that the Bill contains is to allow a small number of naturalised citizens who have taken up arms against British forces overseas or acted in some other manner seriously prejudicial to the vital interests of the UK to be deprived of their citizenship, regardless of whether it leaves them stateless. There is a safeguard of a full right of appeal.

I hope that I have dealt with some of the myths surrounding this Bill. Let us return to some of the detail of what the Bill seeks to do. Part 1 of the Bill is about removals. The current process for enforcing the removal of people unlawfully in the UK is a complex one with multiple decision points. The system provides individuals with multiple opportunities to bring challenges throughout the process. This increases the risk of delay. We want to adopt a system in which only one decision is made. This will inform the individual that they cannot stay in the UK, and will enable immigrant enforcement to remove them if they do not leave voluntarily. We will, however, do this fairly, acting humanely, and ensuring all concerned have adequate notice.

Families being removed will continue to benefit from the coalition’s commitment to end child detention. Family cases are some of the most difficult that we handle, so it is right that they be given special consideration. The new family returns process, which was introduced two years ago, puts the welfare of the child at the heart of the decision and returns process. The coalition will reinforce the commitment to end the detention of children for immigration purposes by putting key elements of the family returns process into primary legislation. Amendments will be tabled in time for consideration in Committee in this House.

Part 2 of the Bill is about appeals. We are simplifying an overly complex system that forces people to bring expensive and time-consuming appeals. These reforms will incentivise those who wish to make claims to do so at the earliest opportunity and will strengthen the adverse consequences for those who make claims too late, in order to obstruct the removal process. We recognise that many appeals are allowed under the current system and there will be legitimate concerns. Many appeals are allowed because we take a different view from the courts on Article 8. The Bill will require the courts to put the public interest at the heart of their consideration of Article 8. We are achieving this in a way wholly compatible with the convention and fully maintaining our duty to promote and safeguard the best interests of children.

Many appeals are allowed because of administrative errors in decision-making. We believe that an administrative review can better correct those errors. We will debate the merits of the administrative review in Committee, but it has proven effective at resolving entry-clearance removals since 2008. A 28-day administrative process is substantially quicker and cheaper than the average 12 weeks it now takes to appeal via the tribunal and all the costs that this incurs.

Part 3 of the Bill is about migrants’ access to services. We want to ensure that only legal migrants have access to the labour market, free health services, housing, bank accounts and driving licences. Our proposals on housing attracted much interest in the House of Commons. We will require landlords to check the immigration status of their tenants. We know that this is a significant change to the law but the same was true when employers were required to start doing similar checks some years ago.

We will protect the vulnerable. We recognise that vulnerable people often possess less documentation to demonstrate a right to rent, so we have broadened the documents which prospective tenants can provide to manage this. We have exempted hospitals, hospices and care homes for the elderly as well as hostels and refuges for victims of violence and homeless people; they are all exempt. We will have a statutory non-discrimination code to ensure compliance with equality laws. Finally, we have committed to a phased rollout so that we do this safely and learn as we go.

On migrant access to healthcare, the current position in the UK—