Banks: Immigration Act 2016 - Question

– in the House of Lords at 3:08 pm on 23rd October 2017.

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Photo of Lord Roberts of Llandudno Lord Roberts of Llandudno Liberal Democrat 3:08 pm, 23rd October 2017

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of whether banks and building societies are able to undertake immigration checks on approximately 70 million United Kingdom bank accounts as required by the Immigration Act 2016.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

My Lords, effective immigration controls require action to reduce incentives to illegal immigration and deny the practical means to remain here unlawfully. The Immigration Act 2014 prohibited banks and building societies from opening accounts for known illegal migrants. The Immigration Act 2016 goes further and targets existing accounts held by illegal migrants. The Government are continuing to engage with industry ahead of implementation to ensure operational preparedness.

Photo of Lord Roberts of Llandudno Lord Roberts of Llandudno Liberal Democrat

I thank the Minister. She might remember that, in 2007, 25 million benefit claimants’ details were lost. How certain can we be that the 70 million bank and building society accounts will be safe and secure? Are the Government committed to that safety and security? As for the claimants, how will the Government decide who will be investigated and who will not be investigated? The Minister will know, of course, that seven out of 10 appeals made against immigration decisions are successful. How can we be sure that no real hardship comes because this Act is not acted on in the proper way?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

My Lords, there were three questions there, but I will deal with the last one, which was about the information not being lost. The Home Office will rigorously check the information before it goes to the banks. The noble Lord talked about vulnerable people being caught by this. It is particularly important that these checks are gone through because many people who have managed to open these sorts of bank accounts may themselves be vulnerable.

Photo of Lord Garel-Jones Lord Garel-Jones Conservative

My Lords, apart from the effects on immigration, has compliance with the Immigration Act produced any other positive benefits for society?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

Compliance with the Immigration Act produces a benefit for society, as many immigrants contribute very well to the economy. I count myself as an immigrant; noble Lords can make a judgment about that.

Photo of Lord Rosser Lord Rosser Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Transport)

My Lords, regarding the Immigration Act 2014, whose provisions I take it are actually in force, can the Government identify how many individuals have been identified as being in the United Kingdom without permission only through checks by banks and building societies under that Act? Can the Government say how many individuals have been wrongly denied opening an account and for how long, on average, because of these checks?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

My Lords, it is quite difficult to answer the question of how many people might have been denied access to a bank account under the Immigration Act 2014 because people who are here illegally are part of a changing picture. I do not have to hand information on people who have been wrongly denied access to a bank account, but I can get back to the noble Lord on that topic.

Photo of Lord Boateng Lord Boateng Labour

My Lords, I fear that there is already evidence of a degree of discrimination on the part of banks and other providers of financial services against people of black and minority ethnic origin. What guidance do the Government intend to issue, or have the regulator issue, to banking and financial service providers to avoid this happening when people are called Boateng, or Patel, or Singh, or some other name which might indicate that they were not born in the United Kingdom but in fact does nothing of the sort because many people with those names are and were?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

My Lords, individuals are not checked on because their name is Patel, Singh, or any other name which could designate foreign origin. Individuals will only be affected by the provisions if their details have been shared with firms—ie, they are on a list as being illegal immigrants.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Immigration)

My Lords, the checks are to be made on known illegal immigrants. How are the banks and the Home Office to know, for instance, whether someone is here having outstayed a visa without reliable and comprehensive exit checks?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

My Lords, the Home Office has a list of people who are here illegally. Exit checks are only one part of the information we have to hand on who has left this country; the International Passenger Survey is another. Exit checks are therefore only one part of providing details of who is here illegally.

Photo of Baroness Gardner of Parkes Baroness Gardner of Parkes Conservative

My Lords, like most Members of this House, I am a politically exposed person. Although I downsized my house and cleared everything through all these financial records four years ago, I am now being asked to do it again although the same money is sitting in the account that I put in there four years ago. Is it because of that, or because I am an immigrant and not British, that I am being subjected to these checks, or is it for both reasons?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

Like my noble friend, I am an immigrant and a PEP. I think that my noble friend refers to banks’ anti-money laundering obligations. However, I am absolutely sure—I would vouch for her—that she is not an illegal immigrant.

Photo of Lord Flight Lord Flight Conservative

My Lords, is the Minister aware that expatriates also have great problems opening bank accounts here, irrespective of whether they are British or otherwise, and that that is quite a problem for people working temporarily overseas?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

I am certainly aware of the problem that my noble friend raises.