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My Lords, when I think of the term “hostile environment”, it conjures up notions of a war zone, of environmental degradation or an inhospitable climatic event, perhaps an earthquake—something stark and unpleasant, like a scene from a World War I killing field. I do not think—or, I should say, I had not previously thought—of it as something to do with my own country.
Sadly, that perception changed when the full horror of the Government’s treatment of the Windrush generation became increasingly apparent over the last few months. Back in 2012, Theresa May said:
“The aim is to create here in Britain a really hostile environment”, for illegal immigrants. This was at a point when net immigration was running at about 250,000—well above the Conservative Party’s target of bringing it down to the tens of thousands. Over the course of Mrs May’s tenure at the Home Office, this usually cautious politician brought forward seven pieces of immigration legislation and an estimated 45,000 changes to immigration rules—so many we might have been forgiven for thinking that immigration was an obsession. It also explains why many foreign EU nationals are so disbelieving of Prime Minister May’s promises about preserving their residency rights post Brexit.
I fully expect the Minister to repeat a point she made to me in a Written Parliamentary Question: that the term “hostile environment” originated during Alan Johnson’s tenure as Home Secretary. Maybe it did, maybe it did not, but the really important point is what that term came to mean when it was elevated to become a policy that had to be delivered with the careful precision that Mrs May has made her trademark.
The treatment of the Windrush generation is the most objectionable manifestation of the Government’s intentions for the hostile environment. The Guardian, to its great credit, has documented its full human impact. It seems that from about 2013 legal advisers began telling the Home Office that older Caribbean-born people, here entirely legally, were receiving letters from Capita saying that they had no right to be here. Some were told to leave immediately. The Refugee and Migrant Centre in Wolverhampton reported that it had seen hundreds of clients getting the Capita letters but had already been given right to remain and the correct documentation. As time went on the threatening letters turned into action. People began reporting loss of housing, benefits and jobs, and refusal of access to free healthcare.
The impact of these deprivations has become clear. Many Windrush workers and their children have experienced years of uncertainty, leading to ill health and mental breakdown, and some have ended up sleeping rough. But the hostile environment policies were not just visited on the Windrush generation. In April this year, the Oxford Migration Observatory estimated that some 57,000 Commonwealth migrants from Pakistan, India, Kenya and South Africa might be caught by the policy. Refugee Action reports that the detention, destitution, homelessness and limbo experienced by Windrush children were the tip of the iceberg and that asylum seekers face exactly the same problems.
Colin Yeo, an immigration lawyer, has described the effect of the policy well. He says that it has led to,
“the creation of an illegal underclass of foreign, mainly ethnic minority workers and families who are highly vulnerable to exploitation and who have no access to the social and welfare … net”.
Rachel Krys of the End Violence Against Women Coalition speculated that while rightly the public were outraged by the policy impact on the Windrush generation:
“The same policy is also leaving many women at risk of violence and exploitation, scaring them away from seeking help, and making it harder for them to access life-saving services”.
This cannot be right, but it is exactly what the policy was supposed to achieve: to create such a hostile environment so that people simply left the UK. It is precisely that fact that ultimately led to the undoing of the previous Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, and forced her resignation. We should remember that she first tried to deny that there was a target for forced removals and then, when it was pointed out that she had been briefed on the target, she resigned for misleading Parliament. I suspect that, by that time, Amber Rudd realised that the target covered operations that wrongly deported people, falsely detained them, increased their vulnerability and was probably unlawful—most of its victims were in the UK quite lawfully.
The Government must now regret the day that they dreamed up the expression “hostile environment”. In the wake of the Windrush scandal, the policy of being tough on anyone deemed illegal, or without documents proving citizenship, has rapidly unravelled, and so it should. The new Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, presumably fearing the impact of the policy on the Conservatives’ credentials as a more multiracial party in the Theresa May era, has been rapidly distancing himself from the term. He knows that the policy is a stain on our country’s international reputation for fairness and goes to the heart of the reputation we once had for providing a safe haven and a home to the dispossessed.
As a deliberate act of government, creating a policy called “hostile environment” seems odd in itself; cold, politically calculating and designed for effect. So to adopt the term to be used as a policy relating to immigration, where race plays a part, is even more awful. What can Ministers and in particular our Prime Minister have thought they were doing, and more particularly why? What was the purpose of the term? It seems to me that it was dreamed up as part of the Cameron response to UKIP, to somehow demonstrate that this Government were getting a grip on the ridiculous target they set to bring immigration down to the tens of thousands. I was a Home Office Minister during Jack Straw’s tenure and I find it hard to believe that officials would have advised on a specific target. Migration and asylum targets are notoriously hard to hit because so many factors are involved in driving the numbers.
Weirder still, of course, was the mobile billboard campaign of 2013 that came with the adoption of the policy. Apart from its offensive language, this acted only to highlight the Government’s failure to grapple with a problem of their own imagining. The ill-fated campaign was nothing more than a piece of naked populism aimed at appeasing UKIP-leaning voters. The policy also had inbuilt flaws. The Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration reported on three areas covered by the policy. The reports are instructive. The report looking at driving licences and bank accounts found real concerns about incorrect data. The chief inspector reported:
“During file sampling, the inspection identified a number of examples of individuals being wrongly listed as in the UK without leave”.
Similar problems were found with bank accounts: from a test sample of 169 individuals, 17 were wrongly flagged as disqualified persons, whatever that means. As the chief inspector observed,
“the Home Office did not appear to appreciate the seriousness of such errors for the individuals affected, and its proposed avenue of redress for individuals who had left the UK with valid leave outstanding ... was inadequate”.
The right to rent review published in March 2018 was even more devastating in its conclusions. The policy, colleagues will recall, was piloted in 2014 and rolled out in England in 2016. It resulted in 468 referrals to the Home Office civil penalties compliance team, resulting in 265 civil penalties and levies of £167,000, but not a single prosecution. The Home Office enforcement of right to rent, through its immigration compliance and enforcement teams, gained entry to more than 10,000 properties but made referrals to the civil penalties compliance team in only 3% of cases. The chief inspector reported that the scheme suffered from poor communications, and early signs had shown the scheme to be wholly ineffective. He said that, overall, the right to rent scheme,
“had yet to demonstrate its worth as a tool to encourage immigration compliance”.
In fact, the number of voluntary returns had fallen over the period. Internally, he found the Home Office had failed,
“to coordinate, maximise or even measure effectively its use”.
The chief inspector went on to reflect stakeholder concerns in four policy areas: wrong right to rent decisions; racial and other discrimination; the exploitation of tenants; and homelessness. The charity Crisis reports that whole households were becoming homeless where a right to rent case had been found in a property, while the Residential Landlords Association research found that 49% of landlords were less likely to rent to someone with limited leave to remain and 44% would rent only to those with documents they were familiar with. Overall, the chief inspector reported that the Home Office failed to monitor the scheme, failed to tackle reported exploitation inherent within it, and made no attempt to measure its intended impact. Recently, your Lordships’ House heard from the noble Lord, Lord Best, that the Home Office’s own Landlords Consultative Panel had failed to meet or even be convened. One wonders why.
Given the treatment of the Windrush generation, we should not be surprised at any of this. As the United Nations special rapporteur, Professor Tendayi Achiume, observed in May 2018, the hostile environment policy was,
“destroying the lives and livelihoods of … ethnic minority communities”, including people with rightful citizenship status and those who had been in the UK for decades. Of course, the new Home Secretary’s moves to defuse the hostile environment issue are to be welcomed, as are the commitments to compensate and investigate the appalling Windrush cases where people have been deprived of their home, job and access to medical care and benefits.
That the hostile environment policies since 2012 have seeped into the fabric, operation and culture of many of our public institutions shames us all. It is right that these policies are now being scrapped as their appalling implications have been realised. It is also right that the Government have apologised. However, for me, that is not enough. There remains a big question over what replaces the policy, the racial stereotyping it must have been based on, and the loss of trust it has engendered in many of our communities. I want to know from Ministers across our public services how they intend to tackle this. It will be no easy task and they need to convince a sceptical public that they have a plan. Warm words will not suffice.
However, there is a bigger opportunity hidden in this policy disaster. A Government who had a broader vision could start afresh. They could set themselves a goal of taking race out of their political calculations. They could, when they eventually brought forward an immigration Bill, set themselves the task of promoting fairness in the system without playing at dog-whistle politics or trying to appease the politics of social division and racism. Fundamentally, this is where both the Cameron and May Governments have gone wrong. Honesty about the country’s labour needs and the impact of migration at a time of austerity could have helped avoid the policies that led to the hostile environment strategy and the fear of UKIP that triggered the Cameron Government’s foolish rush to a referendum on the EU.
What we should now do is begin to reshape and rethink the debate so that absurd policies such as this do not rematerialise under a different guise in the future. To this end I have a few questions for the Minister to think about. The UN special rapporteur recommended that,
“the Government repeal the aspects of its immigration law … that deputize immigration enforcement to private citizens”, and make public officials responsible for policing immigration rules in providing health and other public services. Given the evident failure of these policies, can the Minister tell us how actively that recommendation is being considered across government? Can she also update us on the progress being made by the Home Office on identifying the number of Windrush victims of the hostile environment policy, specifically the numbers refused re-entry to the UK and those wrongly made to leave following refusal and denial of housing, health and public services? Perhaps she could tell us where we have got to with the compensation scheme.
Finally, given the welcome hints of change in the offing, can the Minister update us on the position of tier 2 visa applicants and shortage professions? Our health service has been deprived of trained and qualified doctors as a by-product of the hostile environment policy. I know that the Royal College of General Practitioners has raised this issue and has identified cases of trainees being threatened with deportation—this, when we are light of some 5,000 GPs, is a form of public service self-harm.
To conclude, I am pleased to have had the opportunity to highlight this most shameful of public policies. David Lammy and the MPs who have shone the spotlight on the Windrush cases, together with the Guardian, deserve praise for their diligence and determination. 1 hope that as a result of the exposure of the hostile environment policy and its intended and unintended consequences, public policymakers will begin to rethink attitudes to migration, and we can continue to tackle the underlying causes of racism and discrimination on our society and celebrate the multiculturalism which should be at the heart of modern Britain. I beg to move.
Given that the noble Lord has addressed the question to me, I would be very happy if he would like to start his speech and resume it afterwards. It is entirely up to him.
My Lords, this may then be a convenient point for us to interrupt the list of speakers so that we can wait to observe the national minute’s silence at midday, to remember the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire.
My Lords, I am grateful for the tolerance shown to me in starting my speech.
I start by declaring an interest. I came to the UK from Jamaica in 1954, aged 16, and am classed as a member of the Windrush generation of migrants from the Commonwealth who arrived between 1948 and 1971. Many of the earlier migrants had been among the 10,000 members of the British Armed Forces in the Second World War. Others had responded to our Government’s appeal for workers to help build a new Britain. Many were accompanied by their wives or husbands and children. They are all British citizens, and many have subsequently been branded as illegal by the Home Office.
What led us to this? How did we get here in the first place? As British citizens from a British colony, the adults had British passports and the children travelled on a parent’s or sibling’s passport. Many of those passports were lost as the years rolled past, so parents and children had no documentation showing their arrival. We are told that the landing cards, which would have sufficed, were destroyed at the Home Office in 2010.
However, there is no problem. We are British citizens. The British Government had told us so, and in 1971 our status was set in law, confirming that we had been given indefinite leave to remain. We went to school and college, got jobs and paid taxes and national insurance. Many of us were proud to do national service. The problems began when a new immigration Act was passed in 2012 which required people to have documentation to prove they were here legally in order to work, rent a property or access benefits, including healthcare. Employers, landlords, GPs, hospitals and banks were all required to check that employees, tenants, patients and customers had proper authority to be in the UK.
Without paperwork, many British citizens who had been here since childhood found themselves homeless, jobless and without access to funds, including pensions. They slept on couches, in huts and on the streets, and begged and borrowed. Some were deported. To prove to the Home Office that they had a right to live in the UK, they had to produce four pieces of evidence for every year of residence, or they faced deportation. Proof of income tax and national insurance payments were not accepted. They had fallen foul of laws that we are told were intended to catch illegal immigrants. The tabloids, and some papers that should have had better knowledge, took the view that politicians knew best. For those citizens, home became a place that they knew not.
In 2004 Prime Minister Tony Blair introduced the so-called open-door policy that increased immigration from eastern Europe. When David Cameron took over as Prime Minister, he promised to cut immigration numbers, and illegal immigrants were the first target that he aimed at. When Mrs May became Home Secretary in 2010 and set about making a big reduction in the net migration numbers, her attempts did not always work.
The 2013 promise of a “hostile environment”, about which we have already heard, may have been for illegal immigrants but it was soon to be for everyone, including legal immigrants. Reduced numbers of Home Office staff had to navigate through some 45,000 changes to immigration rules made during Mrs May’s tenure at the Home Office. Was the Windrush generation seen as an easy target? Challenges were difficult because legal aid was almost unavailable, and some people bankrupted themselves fighting deportation. It is reported that about 50% of decisions were overturned, but many lives were destroyed in the process. Where is the logic, the common sense, the compassion?
Will immigration policy and the practice of those policies change? Do not hold your breath. Papers have been lost, bad decisions have been overturned on appeal, families have been split up and more difficulties have been experienced by people of all colours and nationalities—and we have yet to see what Brexit will bring for EU citizens. In the meantime, visa applications even from doctors and nurses were being denied, despite their having contracts with health authorities, yet because of staff shortages, around two-thirds of NHS trusts spent £l.46 billion on agency nurses in 2017.
The new Home Secretary has announced a rethink of immigration policies, rejecting the “hostile environment”. Speaking during her trip to the G7 summit, though, the Prime Minister rejected calls for a rethink on policies to curb illegal immigration that have trapped British citizens and many more. She insisted that she had the public’s backing for measures that have turned employers, landlords, the NHS and banks into de facto border guards. All of those are required to make a contribution to the hostile environment.
I wish the new Home Secretary well in the hope that he will bring some sanity and compassion to our immigration policies. He clearly needs it. As I understand it from this morning’s newspaper, though, at last sanity is prevailing. It seems that there is a rethink due to the demands of the UK’s labour market. Employers are saying “Enough is enough”.
My Lords, first, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, on introducing this debate, enabling us to consider this matter.
On the face of it, what the Home Secretary has announced seems good news, but there are some serious questions. Will the Government end the refusal of applications under tier 1 only, or does it also apply to those who are refused independent leave to remain under tier 2? In particular, does it deal with a typical case which I have raised in two emails with the Minister asking for information?
A Mr Owais Raja is a highly skilled migrant, a UK-trained engineer who until recently trained Ministry of Defence engineers at City College Plymouth. The college asked him to write the training programme himself and promote it every year he worked for them. He applied under tier 1 but was refused indefinite leave to remain. He is now destitute and faces imminent deportation. He lost the right to work or to rent somewhere to live and, subject to what the new policy change means, neither he nor his family is allowed to use the NHS. This means that his six-year-old son Ayaan, who has a hole in his heart, can no longer receive potentially life-saving treatment. Nor can Mr Raja afford to buy blood-thinning tablets for his wife, who has a pulmonary embolism which is at constant risk of travelling to her heart or brain, causing a heart attack or stroke. She, of course, cannot visit her GP.
What was his crime leading to the refusal of his application for indefinite leave to remain? Raja’s accountant made a mistake in filing his 2012-13 tax return. Raja had no knowledge of the error: he found out only in 2016 when applying for renewal of his indefinite leave to remain, and immediately paid the £1,200 he owed. It is worth mentioning that he had paid about £60,000 tax over the previous eight years. The Inland Revenue accepted that his was an honest mistake, imposed no fine and charged no interest—which it does when it judges that there has been dishonesty.
The Home Office, however, said that the discrepancy was evidence that Mr Raja had deliberately provided false information, informed him that he was a threat to national security and triggered its discretionary powers under paragraph 322(5) of the Immigration Rules. This is a section designed to deal with serious criminals and terrorists. It meant that Mr Raja cannot work in Britain or travel to any country other than his country of birth, as no other country will risk letting him in now that he has been labelled a threat to national security. It also deprived his family of access to the NHS.
The family’s position is desperate. When his son recently had chest pain, Mr Raja could not afford to visit the consultant and pay fees of £80 an hour or send him to hospital and pay £100 a day. He cannot pay for food or rent. He has no connections or relatives in Pakistan any more and his children speak only English. He is now destitute. So far, he has survived by liquidating his savings, selling his car, his wife’s jewellery and wedding dress and his precious engineering books, and by living off discarded food from Tesco that has passed its sell-by date.
He has had help from his friends. His former students were so upset by his plight that they send him odd gifts of £10 and £20. I have seen the most moving letters from students who say he was an inspirational teacher, and from his employer, praising his work and integrity. He, and his family, face a future of having to beg and sleep on the streets, or deportation.
Since I wrote a letter about Raja in the Guardian, I have had many emails showing that his plight is not exceptional. I gather from an organisation, the Highly Skilled Migrants Group, that there are at least 1,000 similar cases where people’s lives have been ruined. These highly skilled migrants such as Raja are teachers, doctors, lawyers, engineers and professionals on the Government’s list of occupations in which Britain is short, and who have often lived here for a decade or more and have British-born children. Their only error is one that half a million British taxpayers make every year. Native taxpayers amend their tax returns without facing any penalty—not even a fine—but the Home Office treats migrants who do as terrorists.
This treatment is a national scandal every bit as outrageous as the treatment of the Windrush immigrants. A monstrous injustice is being perpetrated by our Government in our name. If it is not remedied, the Home Office will not only be breaking every canon of a civilised society, but ignoring one of the most basic tenets of the rule of law—the golden rule that someone is assumed innocent until proved guilty.
How did this happen? The history is important because we must know how far the policy change means a break with the past. Originally errors in tax returns were dealt with under paragraph 322(1) of the Immigration Rules—a draconian provision specially designed for that offence—with a penalty of refusal of ILR and deportation. Under that sub-paragraph (1), at least it was the Home Office which had to prove dishonesty, but because of that, it kept losing in the courts. So in its determination to increase the number of deportations and intensify the hostile climate for immigrants, the Home Office switched to using another rule—sub-paragraph (5). This was originally intended not for tax errors but for really serious crimes, such as murder, terrorism and conduct that constitutes a threat to national security.
That switch was a switch for an improper purpose. Furthermore—this is almost unbelievable—under that sub-paragraph, which deprives immigrants of the right to work, rent property or access to the NHS, I understand that the burden of proof lies on the migrants to prove their innocence, not on the Home Office to prove guilt—and not just innocence but that the Home Office’s decision was “perverse” or “irrational”. To top it all, they cannot get legal aid. What could be a greater betrayal of our traditional respect for justice and the rule of law? However, the switch proved a success. Not surprisingly, by use of this sub-paragraph, the Home Office could boast that the number of deportations has dramatically increased.
The Secretary of State has now announced a change in policy, which gave us hope. He said that applications to refuse ILR would be put on hold. But refusals of ILRs and deportations continue. Amelia Hill cited further examples in Tuesday’s Guardian. The Home Office explained that these cases had already been scrutinised by the review and that the use of paragraph 322(5) had been judged to be appropriate—an ominous explanation. Now the question arises: will those new rules apply only to tier 2 immigrants? Will they quash all applications under paragraph 322(5) and open them up for fresh consideration? If the answer is that only those who are now making applications under tier 2 are affected, the scandal that I have announced continues; it is not remedied. If, on the other hand, it is remedied, and the use of paragraph 322(5) is discontinued—and, indeed sub-paragraph (1) should also be discontinued—I would say three cheers for those who have made what is often a difficult decision in politics in admitting the Government’s grave errors.
My Lords, it turns out that this debate is extremely important for forward-looking reasons, as well as for the reasons raised by the noble Lord, Lord Morris. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, on introducing this debate and the noble Lord, Lord Taverne, on giving us a vivid sense of a current issue.
The best protection against being misclassified as an illegal immigrant, and any consequential application of restrictions from which one should be exempt, is surely to be able to demonstrate either that one is a citizen, or that one is a non-citizen with specific rights, such as rights to travel to, to live, or to work in the UK. An ability to demonstrate entitlement is crucial. We have seen some of the consequences of inability to demonstrate entitlement in the sorry story of the events that affected some members of the Windrush generation, as well as, as already noted, the experience of others who were not from the Caribbean but from other overseas jurisdictions.
We are all now aware that a policy that aimed to create a really hostile environment for illegal immigrants in fact led to the mistreatment of persons who were not illegal immigrants but were entitled to live and work in the UK. That was a shameful failure at many levels and, in particular, because it reflects a total misunderstanding of the proper approach to enforcing immigration law.
I have some direct experience of the proper application of such legislation. Many years ago, I received a travel grant from the US Fulbright Commission enabling me to travel to the US to take up a place at a graduate school. One condition of the visa that I consequently received was that, once my studies were completed, I would leave the US for at least two calendar years. This was a clear and lawful requirement, with which I complied, although by then I had both a spouse and an infant with US passports; that did not make a difference. Immigration restrictions form a proper part of a rules-based international order, and do not require the creation of hostile environments. Indeed, their enforcement is likely to be damaged by the fantasy of creating hostile environments.
If rules are to be enforced, it has to be feasible for people to obtain the documents they need in order to demonstrate their entitlements. Many of us have such documents; probably most of us in your Lordships’ House have passports, and so do many of our fellow citizens. However, not everyone has a passport, and many have no other form of robust identification. We have tried in this country to do without ID cards, which some see as an intrusion into privacy. I have to say that I find this attitude dated and quaint: many of those who object to ID cards nevertheless go around with mobile phones that systematically disseminate far more information about them—their location, contacts, payments and many other matters—which ID cards do not provide. But there are also many people who do not have passports and lack other robust identification documents, so may be unable to demonstrate their entitlements. They are at risk in ways in which some members of the Windrush generation were at risk.
This is particularly important in the context of Brexit. Discussions of the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland have so far mainly focused on trade and customs, and have in my view often failed to address the question of demonstrating the entitlements of persons. Indeed, there is a persistent assumption that avoiding a hard border is merely a matter of avoiding checks at the Republic of Ireland/Northern Ireland border by using online technologies. That seems to me a muddled view, for at least two reasons.
First, what makes a border hard is not the technology used—whether it is a red and white pole across the road, cameras, armed customs officers or, for that matter, online technologies—but the fact that it is a demarcation at which complex discriminations between different sorts of persons or goods are enforced. Of course the technology has to be appropriate, but remote technology does not alter the fact that complex discriminations are made and enforced. Secondly, the fantasy that remote technologies are the way to avoid hard borders is currently compounded by concentrating, excessively I think, on issues that bear on the movement of goods—that is, trade—rather than of persons. Yet the movement of persons is, I think we would all agree—particularly in the light of what we now know about members of the Windrush generation—of greater importance than the movement of goods.
As we all know, the common travel area set up in the 1920s accords people from the UK, the Republic of Ireland, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands extensive entitlements in all these jurisdictions. In particular, Irish and British citizens—I will not say more about the islands, because they are much smaller numbers—have rights to travel to, live in, work in and, if resident, register to vote in the other jurisdiction. That is of particular importance for several reasons. Not everyone has a passport and not everyone can demonstrate where they were born—it is quite common for people to not be quite certain where they were born. Many people who regularly cross the Irish Sea by boat do not have passports; they are not required to have them as they are for air travel. Some of those people would have difficulty showing what their entitlements were. Some who could get together the evidence that could demonstrate that they are entitled to a passport could not afford to obtain a passport for each family member. Those who were born, for example, in homes for unwed mothers and then placed for adoption—such as the home in Newry, County Down, which was recently the subject of considerable media attention and which distributed children for adoption in many jurisdictions with questionable consents—could probably not demonstrate their entitlements. Many other people do not know exactly where they were born. They were, perhaps, informally adopted or grew up in extended families. Many others with complicated circumstances may not be able to prove their identity and their entitlements.
This is relevant, because it reaches far into the future. It is important to be sure that all those who are entitled to live, to work and to register to vote, if resident, throughout these islands are able to demonstrate their entitlements. So I have three questions for the Minister. First, what estimate have Her Majesty’s Government made of the number of entitled persons in the UK who currently lack robust means of identification, and therefore robust means of demonstrating their entitlements? Secondly, what conversations have Her Majesty’s Government had with the Irish Government about the number of persons living in the Republic of Ireland who would have parallel difficulties, but who are entitled to travel to, live in, work in and, if resident, vote in the UK? Thirdly, have the Government addressed the question of the affordability of obtaining robust means of identification and considered what needs to be done to ensure that those who are entitled to travel, live, work and, if resident, register to vote here but who lack means of identification, are able to avoid the uncertainties and ultimately, in some cases, the harassment and exclusion experienced by some of the Windrush generation by gaining access to robust identification documents? None of us wants a new, and probably larger, version of the Windrush scandal as a result of Brexit.
My Lords, I am glad that time has been set aside for this debate, for unless something is done it is likely to affect many of those whom I care for.
Under the previous Home Secretary, now Prime Minister, the hostile environment came into effect. This brought stricter checks into many more spheres of public life to make it harder to continue to live in this country without the right to do so. The policies enacted put stricter responsibilities on a range of private sector actors. For example, universities and landlords have found themselves in the unfortunate position of having to carry out checks on their tenants and students to check that they are here legally. But this approach did not stop there.
Public sector bodies were all caught up in the net. Institutions, from schools to hospitals, found themselves having to collect and share data on individuals accessing those services. Checks are also carried out on those seeking a state pension or other benefits. The trouble is that this approach has a fundamental flaw. It has the nefarious effect of acting against people who have been here for an extended period, who have full residency and employment rights.
Take the case of the Windrush generation. Nobody disputes the legitimacy of their rights in this country. Indeed, they ought to be honoured and praised for the vital work they undertook in rebuilding a broken nation. But when they turned a certain age and found themselves eligible for the state pension, free bus passes and the winter fuel allowance, they were rebuffed, or, in extreme cases, deported.
There are many heart-breaking stories from those affected, and to retell them would take too long, but one case sticks in my mind. Dexter Bristol, a British citizen originally from Grenada, who had lived here from the age of eight, found himself wrapped up in immigration struggles since he was fired from his job and tried to claim benefits. He died later the same year. Why was he denied his rights? It was because did not have the correct papers.
The problem was that when the Windrush migrants were invited and welcomed into this state, they were all British citizens, and had no need for official documentation to exert their rights. Indeed, the only meaningful documentation they received from the Government was their landing cards at the seaports where they arrived. But the decision was taken some years ago to destroy the records that the Government had kept of the landing cards.
The problem with the policy is that it bears most heavily on citizens who arrived many years ago without extensive documentation as soon as they start to need to rely on the state. Claiming their benefits becomes a struggle when they are suffocated by extensive bureaucratic requirements, and for the elderly to have to deal with this level of stress is unfair and unjust. A serious rethink needs to happen at the highest levels of government about this policy and its future implications. Can the Minister commit to this? In terms of the problem I have outlined, there is ample scope for a recurrence. Ugandan Asians fled their homes to escape tyranny but they fled as British citizens. Many of them will not have the correct documents. Unless there is a change in policy, we may see past mistakes repeated.
Before I finish, I will address one more point. The hostile environment is not a racist policy; it is necessary to try to curb illegal migration. However, in its operation it will overwhelmingly affect British citizens of Commonwealth backgrounds, primarily non-white citizens. The Home Secretary calls himself a moderate. I wait with interest to see his actions.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Bassam for introducing this debate. It is already clear that it is raising a number of extremely difficult and very emotional points which it will be necessary for the Government to hear and to take seriously.
I want to come at this from a slightly different angle. There is an old aphorism which says, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me”. However, there can be few less accurate or less helpful aphorisms available to us. Language is powerful. Everyone knows this, from those like the actors and writers among whom I have spent my life, for whom it is their professional stock in trade—which of course incudes politicians—through to children taunting each other in the playground. It can galvanise and persuade, in good ways and in bad; it can terrify or pacify, enable or silence; and it can bring together or it can divide. It works on the imagination—the source of all our creativity but also of our most acute vulnerabilities. We are more aware now than perhaps we have ever been of the impact of language on mental health—how, for example, the extended reach which the internet provides has amplified the potential for people to be attacked, threatened and demoralised just with words.
All Governments know that they must choose their words carefully, so we must assume that there has been nothing accidental about the rhetoric adopted in public discussion of immigration in the past few years or in the legislation it has given rise to. I accept, as most people do, that there must be rules about who is and is not allowed to come into this country and remain here, but the problem with the use of phrases such as “hostile environment” is that they frighten and demoralise not only those who may be in breach of those rules but, as we have already heard from my noble friend Lord Morris and the noble Baroness, Lady O’Neill, for example, those who have done nothing wrong.
More insidiously, they give licence to the expression of generalised prejudice and antagonism—sadly, never too far below the surface in any society—towards whole categories of people by emphasising their “otherness”. Recalling those grotesque “Go Home” vans a few years back, I really wonder what the Home Office, and more particularly the then Home Secretary, was thinking. Who ever thought that that was any way for a Government to address their own citizens? We should have learned from the hideous lessons of history how dangerous it is to use divisive language to stigmatise. Surely “us” is far more important than “them”.
Many years ago, one of my sisters met and married a Jamaican man who had come to the UK in the 1950s, not actually on the “Empire Windrush” but in that era. He was a delightful person—an entertainer, magician and escapologist—who in 1968 became the first Afro-Caribbean performer in the UK to receive the Inner Magic Circle Gold Star. Noble Lords might imagine what a welcome visitor he was to my house when my children were small. Shortly after they married, he and my sister returned to Jamaica, where their two children were born. They came back to the UK in 1991 in order for those children to complete their schooling.
I tell this bit of family history for two reasons. The first is to make the obvious point that my brother-in-law and his children fall exactly into the category of people about whom quite unjustified suspicion has been stirred up by recent Home Office activity. As it happens, I do not believe that either of the children, now grown up, have fallen foul of the rules, and my brother-in-law sadly died in 2006, before the current legislation. But I wonder whether he would have had the kinds of problems that have been described to us, had he lived. So I have thought a lot in recent weeks about how it must feel to wonder if, despite everything being in order, your right to be here might suddenly be called into question; if perhaps, after all, you do not really belong. Because the second, equally obvious, reason for mentioning them is that the people I am talking about are not “them” and not “other”—they are my family; they are our family; they are us.
Some noble Lords will have heard the debate on Tuesday evening about the immigration and nationality regulations concerning fees for registering citizenship. There were many powerful speeches, but I was impressed in particular by the words of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby, who was in his place but no longer is. He said:
“Citizenship is the privilege that glues a country together and enables a Government to have a culture of law and order that people respect and work in and where they support each other”.
He later said that,
“the civic energy that we need to offer welfare, support, friendship and kindness to make human life more bearable is under stress more and more”.—[
A strong civil society encourages us to use empathy and respect in our dealings with one another. Governments should do the same. The language of hostility and suspicion should have no place in official discourse. Even difficult, unwelcome messages can be delivered humanely. To misquote an old song, “It ain’t what you say, it’s the way that you say it—that’s what gets results”.
My Lords, I too congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, on introducing this important debate and explaining so comprehensively what happened to the Windrush generation and why it was so wrong. Let me say also what a joy it is to follow the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, who is always worth listening to in this House.
I would like to describe another example of the effects which current government policies have on those from other countries who are here legitimately. A case came to my attention recently of someone who married a UK citizen in 2015. The appropriate spouse visa was issued, at significant cost, and a health surcharge was paid; again, not a small amount. Both husband and wife have master’s degrees—exactly the kind of people this country needs to be a success in the future.
Under current rules, a spouse visa lasts for two and a half years and then an extension spouse visa must be applied for, again at considerable cost and with another health surcharge. The extension visa lasts for another two and a half years, after which the applicant is able to apply for permanent leave to remain, again at considerable cost and with another health surcharge. This particular applicant has just been through the spouse extension visa application, which seems to me to have been a pointless but quite damaging process. Let me explain why.
The Home Office website advises that an application to extend a spouse visa should not be made more than 28 days before the existing visa runs out, yet the Home Office’s own target average processing time for such a visa is eight weeks. Therefore, on average, following all the advice of the Home Office, the applicant is likely to experience what I will call a limbo period of four weeks after the original visa has expired but before the new visa is issued. The website also says that interviews can be held at certain offices around the country to speed up the issuing of the spouse extension visa. Unfortunately, at the time of applying, no such interviews were available.
This application should have been a five-minute job for any competent civil servant, or 10 minutes at the most—allowing for a coffee break, make it half an hour. The paperwork was in order, there had been no contact with the police, all taxes had been paid by both partners and the large fees had been paid. This application was not dealt with in half an hour but dragged on.
Consequently, the applicant fell into the limbo period, which caused a number of problems. A close family member had decided last year to get married this year on one of the Greek islands—this was arranged a long time ago—and the applicant was invited. Airline tickets and accommodation were purchased. However, because of falling into the limbo period, the applicant was unable to travel—the Home Office still had the passport and had not issued the extension visa—and so missed the wedding, where I understand a good time was had by all but there were mutterings over the visa-issuing process. Needless to say, in the week after the family wedding the passport and renewed visa arrived on the last day of the eighth week since application.
The Minister may recall that I have tabled several Parliamentary Questions recently. She is one of the best Ministers in the House for at least trying to answer the Questions posed. On
“Why an applicant for a spouse extension visa may not apply more than 28 days before the expiry of their current visa when the standard processing time … for someone resident in the UK is eight weeks”.
The Minister replied on
“The requirement to submit a spouse extension application no earlier than 28 days before the expiry of existing leave is advisory, not mandatory. However, an application submitted earlier may result in a shortfall in the applicant’s qualifying period when they later apply for settlement”.
I understand that. I also asked:
“what advice they give to applicants if they need to make international travel after their visa has expired but before their renewal visa has been granted”.
The Minister replied:
“Applicants are advised when applying not to make any non-urgent … travel arrangements until their passports or travel documents are returned to them, followed by their Biometric Residence Permit if their application is successful”.
She went on to say:
“Applicants can request the urgent withdrawal of their application for international travel. They would then have to apply for entry clearance from overseas to return to the UK”.
So you go to a Greek island to attend a wedding and spend most of the time there applying for leave to come back to the UK. It does not make a great deal of sense.
On top of the disappointment over missing the wedding, the applicant had just completed a research project for one of the UK’s universities and was applying for similar work elsewhere. However, because of the “Windrush” publicity, potential employers were deterred from offering employment because the Home Office had the passport and they did not want a potential “illegal” on their books. So there was an interruption to the applicant’s contribution to the UK economy.
Out of the blue, a telephone call was made offering employment carrying out recovery work on one of the UK’s overseas territories because the applicant had the correct qualifications and experience to do the job. Noble Lords will be aware of the damage caused in some overseas territories by the Caribbean hurricanes last year. Unfortunately, that opportunity had to be turned down because under the law as it stands anyone holding a spouse visa is not allowed to spend more than a certain number of days outside the UK, otherwise a subsequent application for permanent leave to remain will be refused. This is nonsense. It feels like another example of a hostile environment towards someone who is here legitimately, has done nothing wrong—except, perhaps, to fall in love with a British citizen—and has a lot to contribute to our country.
Perhaps I may ask the Minister these questions to help with the new Home Secretary’s review. Why does it take eight weeks to process a routine application for a spouse extension visa? Does she agree that no one should be left in a limbo period? I cannot believe it, but are the Government trying to discourage mixed marriages? How much of the high fee charged is actually incurred in the processing of these visas? Why is a spouse extension visa needed at all? Why cannot the applicant apply for permanent leave to remain instead of having to apply for another two-and-a-half year visa? Surely two and a half years is long enough to show that the relationship is genuine. Further, will the Minister look at the rules on the number of days an applicant can be out of the country, particularly if they have been invited to help in the UK overseas territories, which after all are technically British?
Yesterday I received an email from a project worker in the organisation Just for Kids Law. Its “Let us Learn” campaign is youth led and aims to achieve change that helps young people between the ages of 16 and 24 who were brought to the UK at a young age from over 70 different countries and consider the UK their home. The project worker points out in her email that:
“Most of us have to go through a 10-year process of applying and repeatedly renewing our immigration status. This currently costs £8,521, before we are entitled to naturalise as British citizens, costing a further £1,330. Since 2014, the limited leave to remain fees we have to pay every 30 months to keep our immigration status up-to-date have increased from £601 to £1,033 excluding NHS surcharge of £500. The government mentioned earlier this year that the surcharge is set to rise to a total of £1,000. With no legal aid … many of us are struggling to keep our heads above water”.
She goes on:
“Because of this, we are calling for a government review of the impact of spiralling fees on lawful young migrants. We would like to see an immediate freeze of limited leave to remain fees and, ultimately, a shorter and affordable route to citizenship. The recent Windrush scandal has shone a light on an immigration system that is broken”.
There are many trouble spots in the world and the UK has a good record over the centuries of responding to the needs of those at risk. Unfortunately, in recent years there has been a tendency to kowtow to the racist nonsense spouted by some very unpleasant people both here and abroad. We should reject that approach. The Chicago-born actor, Mandy Patinkin, sums up the situation perfectly. When asked what was currently bugging him, he said:
“The global insensitivity to the most vulnerable people among us in the world: the refugees displaced by war, climate change, and the hatred of others. That insensitivity towards our fellow human beings is a wound to our collective soul”.
My Lords, I agree with him.
My Lords, this is a timely debate and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, for tabling it. It is time that we looked at this issue from all our different points of view, so this is a good opportunity for us to point the finger where it should be pointed.
Before I came to your Lordships’ House, I was involved in race relations as a member of the Commission for Racial Equality, as was the noble Lord, Lord Morris. Why was I involved in race relations? It was because at the time you felt that you had to be involved. If you were not a white person, things were not that good, so you wanted to be involved. If you could do something, you felt that you should do it.
The whole issue of the “Empire Windrush” is interesting. Everyone who was involved, even if we had no connection with the “Empire Windrush”, knew that it was an iconic event in race relations when the ship arrived. Films were made about it and it was on the news. Everyone knew about it, regardless of whether we were old enough to understand or whether we had any connections with it.
The Home Office has a real problem. It does not know anything about historical immigration events. Immigration has gone through different phases and people are here for different reasons. Home Office staff who have to deal with these issues should have at least an inkling of what has gone before, but they do not seem to. If they did not know about the “Empire Windrush” then they did not know about Southall, where two British Army officers went to India and recruited from the men who had served with them in the war. So, the Southall community started because they brought Sikhs back with them. Immigration did not just happen; a lot of things led to different people coming to different areas.
Initially, there were three groupings for Indians: A, B and C. Group C was for totally unqualified people. Callaghan said that he would drop group C, but he gave people between a year and two years beforehand so an awful lot of category C people, who were not qualified in any way, came here. At the time, even the Indian Government said, “If you let in all these people in one go, you will have problems because you have to find them work and housing and look after them. You shouldn’t do it”. That is very interesting to note but I know that that is what happened. A lot of people coming at once was probably not the best idea.
There was also a feeling that once the first generation was here and the second generation went to British schools, there would be no problem; they would all adapt and become British. This does not just happen. How did the British do in other parts of the world? They never learned even the rudiments of the languages of the countries that they were in. It is amazing that the Government thought that everything would change in one generation. As your Lordships know, it did not and it still has not. A lot of things were not thought through, such as English. There was no compulsion to learn the English language but there should have been. Language is the beginning of everything. If you cannot speak or understand, you are deaf and dumb. You do not know what is going on around you, which is extremely bad.
I was elected as a councillor in Windsor and Maidenhead in 1976; I was the first minority woman councillor. Of course, everybody used to come to me with their problems. I used to go to people’s houses. They had put their brown envelopes on the mantelpiece. They had not opened them because they could not read; they could not understand what was said. At first, I used to ask permission but then I stopped; I just went to the mantelpiece, opened the envelopes and told them what the letters said. They were all sorts of communications, mainly from the Government or institutions. These people did not know what the letters said or what they should be doing. That is a pretty bad way to treat immigrants. They did not know anything, so they did not do the things they needed to know about, such as look after their health, or know what sort of food to eat. There are still problems there.
We have a lot of illegal immigrants. When there is a desire to stop illegal immigrants or find them, how do legal and settled immigrants respond? It is an interesting question. They respond in two ways. Of course, they feel unsettled, especially if they have any doubts about their own position, but they also want the illegal immigrants to be found because they feel that illegal immigrants threaten their position. It is not all one-way, where they do not want anybody to find the illegal immigrants; they want them to be found.
This brings us back to the Home Office. Why are there so many illegal immigrants in this country? Is the Home Office not supposed to keep an eye on people who come to this country? It is no good starting to turf them out and so on once they are here. The Home Office should be stopping them from coming here in the first place. It is not functioning to any kind of standard. Everything takes too long. Even English people trying to get a visa do not know when their passport will come back. It is a very serious situation. The Home Office cannot function with all those responsibilities and should not be one huge department like it is. Immigration in particular needs its own department and people who know the history of migration to this country—why people have come, where they have come from and what the situation is.
It is no good saying that we do not want the illegal immigrants—clearly we do not. They should be stopped from coming, rather than being picked out once they are in this country and have merged with the rest of the population. When you start doing that you upset them and other people that they are working with. As has been said clearly, you are bound to worry people. On the other hand, if you do not do anything about illegal immigration you do not reinforce the position of those who are here legally.
As a councillor I used to get a lot of people coming to me with their problems—little problems and so on. My MP at the time was Dr Alan Glyn. He was brought up in the traditional English way and he thought that documents mattered. If you are Indian or Pakistani you do not need to spend more than £2 or £3 to get any kind of document with as many seals as you want on it. You go to the marketplace and find a man who does that. Dr Glyn would say, “But they have documents”. That is not the point. We have to realise that not everybody functions like the British do. People from other countries have other issues to worry and think about. They want to come here—why would they not?—so they do what they can to find a way to come here.
There is a huge number of illegal immigrants in this country. I do not think that there is any way now either to find them or to send them back without causing a lot of problems for people who live, have families and have made their home here. It is not the way forward, which is for the Home Office to function properly, systematically and without such great periods of time elapsing. Unless we can get the Home Office to function properly nothing can change. If the Home Office functions properly maybe not many more illegal immigrants will come.
Trying to pick out illegal immigrants in the population is not only very difficult but probably impossible. We need an efficient Home Office that can try to stop illegal immigrants coming to this country. We need Home Office staff to know the history of migration to this country. For them not to know what the “Empire Windrush” was is incredible, because it was one of the most iconic incidents. All the people who came on the “Empire Windrush” had worked here in the Air Force during the war. They went back to Jamaica, they did not like it too much and they came back. They were people who had served here during the war. There was no way that there should have been any problem later on with that generation or their descendants. If anything is to be done it should be done to the Home Office.
My Lords, I thank and congratulate my noble friend Lord Bassam on securing this debate and introducing it so well. I will concentrate on a slightly different aspect of this whole thing, namely, the hostile environment: why did it get created and who created it? In so doing, I will look at the assumptions and attitudes we have brought to bear on this question of immigration.
The “Empire Windrush” story is not new. Some of the things that are now coming out had been known to us for quite a while. When I was deputy chair of the Commission for Racial Equality one heard these stories. We made some small inquiries. Nothing happened. Things moved on and went on. We hear stories of people who owed HMRC only £1 or £2 who have been deported or threatened with deportation.
Why is there this kind of attitude? Where does it spring from? From what soil does this kind of attitude to our fellow human beings, now labelled as illegal immigrants, spring? That is the question I want to address. In the course of doing so I will certainly talk about a few of the contemporary situations.
I think we will all agree that, unless there are reasons to the contrary, unlawful immigrants should not be here. They should go. The question is, how far are we prepared to go in making them go? Is there no point at which we will stop? In any liberal society there are certain human rights and basic values. Any attempt to get rid of an evil has to be balanced against those values and rights. Why, then, do we give so much importance to the evil we want to get rid of and ignore the values to which we are committed?
A very particular attitude springs up in Britain from time to time. I have been here for nearly 60 years and I have seen this happen. A kind of obsession grips the nation. Then a kind of psychosis comes and overtakes the country. That becomes such a dominant passion that everything that serves that cause is to be tolerated and encouraged. That is what we have allowed to happen in the case of unlawful immigration. We convince ourselves that these illegal immigrants are a national threat, a danger to the country, an enemy within—people coming from outside taking over our country. Unless we get rid of them we will not be able to maintain our identity. How do we get rid of them? It does not matter: all ways are fair.
This needs to be looked at very carefully. This attitude that all means are fair—that all the powers that the Government and the Home Office need to secure those results are acceptable—is all part of our history over the last 30 to 40 years. If one looks at, for example, the Immigration Acts of 2014 and 2016, they give draconian powers to the Home Office that in ordinary circumstances would be unthinkable. We cannot simply talk about the “Empire Windrush” unless we are also prepared to talk about those powers of the Government.
In the course of exercising those powers there have been high-profile enforcement campaigns. Remember those boards on the buses saying “Go home or face arrest”? In the course of exercising those powers we have used schools to provide the data. We have gone to workplaces to find out what happened. The benefit system has been capped to find out illegal immigrants. Access to services, hospital doctors—at any conceivable point where we can catch them we have been trying to do so. We have set targets, although those became the subject of some controversy, and put them ahead of people. We threaten people with deportation and detention. We look at their bank accounts to see whether any illegal transactions are taking place.
In the course of using those powers to try to achieve this kind of goal, inevitably mistakes are made—they are bound to be. The Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration said that 10% of the cases have been wrongly identified. Not only that but small derelictions become very large—they get magnified in our views and become subjects for deportation. As I said earlier, one has read cases of people owing Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs £1 or £2. Small mistakes are made, different papers presented and someone is ready to be deported or detained. This is particularly evident in the case of the “Empire Windrush” and I want to look at what happened in that context. I do not want to sound too professorial here—although that is, or has been, my job—but it is very striking that the “Empire Windrush” was not the first ship bringing West Indians here, nor was it the largest. Why has it then become so iconic? That is a story I shall have to wait for another opportunity to tell.
Something else is striking. I welcome what my noble friend Lord Bassam said about the Labour Party’s attitude; and please forgive me if I do not entirely exonerate my own party for what it did in the case of the “Empire Windrush”. When the “Empire Windrush” was ready to leave Jamaica, sadly, the British Government of Prime Minister Attlee sent a message asking whether there was any way of preventing it sailing. A few days later a message was sent asking if it should be diverted to east Africa, which was part of our empire, where all those on the boat could be given jobs. After it landed, sadly, about 10 Labour MPs approached the Government saying “it was not a good thing for Britain to have too many blacks”, because it might damage race relations. Now, despite this dark chapter, throughout the last 40 or 50 years Labour has been very sensitive to any kind of racism, occasional mistakes apart. The Labour Party came around and followed a policy of controlling immigration and anti-racist legislation.
I should not go on too long. Let us agree that with regard to the “Empire Windrush” and other cases, we have resorted to a policy of catching illegal immigrants. The way in which we have done so has caught some illegal immigrants, but what have been the larger consequences? First, some legal immigrants have been identified and punished. Secondly, the country’s sensibility has become very coarse, such that if a man is branded as illegal, anything goes, anything can be done to him. Thirdly, because we talk about illegal immigrants, all immigrants get marked in this way and that accounts for the populist reaction that we have been witnessing, not only in Britain but everywhere else. Where people feel so possessive about the country, then the figure of the immigrant, not just the illegal immigrant, becomes a dangerous one, something to watch against. As soon as someone is identified as an immigrant, people will say, “Oh, my God, lock him up, send him away”. The psychology behind the politics has not developed in a vacuum. It has developed slowly, each step being sensible in its own right, but all collectively leading to disaster.
It is also the case that it has tarnished Britain’s reputation. Those of us who read newspapers in other countries feel deeply saddened that a country we love should be represented in this way as a country which is prepared to denigrate its own citizens, deport them and detain them. This is not the way a civilised country should behave.
What, then, should we be doing? I do not want to talk about compassion. I do not think the Conservative Party is particularly keen on compassion, so I will not say let us take a compassionate attitude to immigration; instead, let us take a realistic attitude to illegal immigration. What would a realistic attitude to illegal immigration be? First, let us recognise that it is bound to occur. Desperate people in desperate parts of the world are going to struggle to come to us. Secondly, they come here because we were there. How did we break open their societies? Did we behave? I can give accounts of what Lord Clive and others did in my own country. Did we behave more sensibly? Did we live up to the standard that we are now expecting them to conform to? Oh, come on!
The other important thing is that they come here because we have messed up their countries through our foreign policy and they are in a situation where their lives are unliveable. When I read horrible stories about Syria and Afghanistan and elsewhere, and people coming here, I ask myself why are they coming so late? I should have expected them to come before. They come illegally because they would like to come legally but we have closed the legal door. Illegal immigration takes place because legal immigration has been blocked. So I do not think we should simply blame the villain out there, in the form of an illegal immigrant; we should also look at ourselves and our policies with some degree of modesty and humility and ask ourselves whether we are responsible for what is going on. I do not think the Minister would want to say that we have no responsibility of any kind for the illegal immigration that is taking place.
I want to alert noble Lords to something. The “Empire Windrush” story is only one, and that has resulted in so many cases. A friend came to see me the other day and I am told there are similar stories waiting to break. This man told me his life story. He cannot bring the wife he married in the Dominican Republic here and cannot bring his daughter. His mother is dying and is desperately anxious to see them. Why, is a long story, but the important thing is that there are cases waiting to break and I think it is about time that the Government became proactive and seized themselves of the situation.
My Lords, I too thank my noble friend Lord Bassam for providing this opportunity and I hope he has been encouraged by the very thoughtful, reflective and constructive nature of the debate that has followed his own interesting and challenging introduction. We cannot get away, can we, from the issue of what sort of nation and society we want to be, because all this is part of that. What kind of values do we want to prevail in our society? For me, justice and inclusivity are crucial—a recognition of the joy, really, in humanity, provided by its diversity, and an ability and a willingness to make the most of that diversity, to make its celebration and operation central to the way we approach all our policies.
I found myself, not for the first time, as I have told her, in very strong agreement with my noble friend Lady McIntosh. Of course, language matters. Of course, the signals and the leadership provided by language is absolutely basic. That is why, when phrases such as “hostile environment” are introduced, in whatever context, they are like a cancer which begins to pervade across society as a whole. They cannot be contained within just one of the specific issues we have been discussing; they inevitably affect the whole attitude of people across society.
We all have our own personal examples and we could spend a lot of time reminiscing about those. I was at one stage very closely involved in the case of an Iranian who was seeking asylum in this country. He had been a prominent sportsman in Iran and very highly regarded. He had decided that he wanted to become a Christian and he had the traumatic experience of his own father denouncing him. He then was not only harassed but persecuted by the authorities, and he was tortured. He got here disguised as a crew member in an Iranian aircraft. What I remember is the whole process—it is difficult to pin down individuals. This man was in a very bad condition mentally. He was receiving support and therapy from people who recognised that he had been tortured, the consequences of torture and what was involved in trying to support him effectively. It was very hard to persuade the authorities that his experiences were as relevant and central to the issue as they were. There is no doubt in my mind that the bureaucracy and insensitivity of the whole process aggravated his mental illness.
I became involved in the case when it was eventually brought to court. The judge upheld his position and, fortunately, positive action was taken to establish his standing in our society. But of course, he will never fully recover from those experiences. The court case was bizarre and almost unbelievable. The lawyer for the Home Office said that it could not possibly consider this, that or the other because it had not received the papers. Fortunately, there was a very astute and on-the-ball lawyer from a Newcastle firm, who had done a lot of work on immigration and who produced within minutes the receipt from the Home Office showing that the documents had been received. How can a case of that severity and seriousness have got to that position?
The point I want to make is that while that I was emotionally and personally caught up with what was happening, I kept thinking, “But what about all the others?” This man has been extremely fortunate to find himself among friends in the church who were determined to support him and see him through, but there are many others who do not have that kind of support—the ones who do not have the same opportunity to present their case or who do not perhaps have the same articulate capabilities. They are all our responsibility and we need to remember that. These things worry me profoundly.
The term “illegal immigrants” always intrigues me because it was not very many years ago that a leading government Minister in this country said in relation to those in deprived areas that the hero in society was the one who got on their bike and cycled off to find and build a future for their children. I have never been able to see how you can draw a distinction between that and people faced with an appalling situation in their home country who, as it were, got on their bike and cycled off to try to build a future, at whatever risk. We categorise and try to compartmentalise the whole issue of immigration in a way that is just not tenable, because all the dimensions overlap each other.
As we struggle with our own challenges in this society, we should never forget that there are between 65 million and 70 million refugees and displaced people in the world; 21.3 million are recognised as refugees. In the context of the Middle East, where we are deeply disturbed by the issues that prevail, we should remember that Lebanon has 1.1 million refugees, Turkey has 2.5 million and Jordan has between 660,000 and 700,000. It is not only the horror of the circumstances that these people experience, it is the pressure on and disruption to the host societies—poor, impoverished societies themselves—carrying this huge burden.
This challenge is global and international and that point cannot be escaped. If I was asked to take just one issue in which the imperative of international co-operation and working closely together with other Governments and countries is so important and so obvious, it is the realm of migration and immigration. There is no way in these realities that we can solve the issue by ourselves. We will always be trying to stick a thumb in the dyke. In that sense, we must rebuild a sense of positive engagement with others in the world in asking how we face up to the issues of conflict and poverty, involving an effective global approach to the issue of migration.
At the other end of the reality, we have to remember that of course the pressures of migration can be very disruptive to communities which are ill-prepared to accept the numbers and the experience of a new culture coming into their midst. We need therefore to be taking far more seriously the social investment in our own society where the pressures are greatest. We ought to be looking to the importance of education as a means of helping communities cope with what is before them.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, for asking, in essence: what does a hostile environment policy do to individuals and to our society? As we have heard, there have been many casualties. The noble Baroness, Lady O’Neill, raised the issue of proving one’s entitlement; in other words, exercising one’s rights. The noble Lord, Lord Parekh, if I heard him aright, referred to a national psychosis.
The policy impinges on people who never expected to be affected by immigration policy. Several noble Lords, including my noble friends, have given examples. If your son’s Brazilian fiancée has not previously had a problem with renewing her visa but is not issued a new visa, reports to the Home Office as she is requested to do, and is immediately sent into immigration detention, the whole family is confused, distressed and helpless. If you are below the financial threshold to sponsor a spouse visa, your Canadian wife—who, from time to time, comes as a visitor—may one day be told, “We don’t believe you’ll leave”, although there has been nothing to suggest that she would break her previous pattern, so she is sent into detention and then back home, if that is where she feels home is by this stage. If you are an employer in a business or maybe in the NHS, which is about much more than doctors and nurses, you will be confronted with rather curious shortage occupation lists and with the caps—as you will be if you hope, for career reasons, to work in the UK yourself. The business community constantly reminds us that immigration really affects access to talent. If your aunt has bequeathed you her flat and you have become an accidental landlord, you will find that you are also an immigration officer and subject to sanctions as well.
Noble Lords will understand that I am using examples, all of which I have come across along with many more over some years. The Minister told the House last week that the Government are planning,
“to reconvene the landlords consultative panel”,—[
If you make a minor error in terms of your leave, or of course if the Home Office makes such an error, you may find yourself threatened and deprived of the basis of normal life. If you are a teacher or doctor, or work in another capacity in the education or health sectors, you will have come up against the issues of reporting and sharing data. I appreciate that a part of this has been dealt with recently but schools and health centres should be safe places.
Personal experiences make people see situations with new eyes, as the speeches today have demonstrated. People see what is being done by the Government in their name and, as the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, said, they hear language with fresh ears. We are discovering what has happened to the Windrush generation, although we do not yet know how many have been deported or detained, or about the financial and emotional cost to them. I accept, of course, that the Home Office task force is now at work. I realised recently, and was shocked to find it, how little I am surprised by what I hear from people who think that their story must be without precedent—of course, it is to them. I have realised, too, how impressed we should all be by the resilience and compassion of the third sector, which so often tackles the situations that we have heard about.
Some people take advantage of a hostile environment. I am talking about the exploitation of people who do not know their rights and think that they may be here illegally, which happens all too often in low-paid employment. That is another factor of this policy. In discussing the position of EU citizens post Brexit I have heard about the concerns of people who may not register because they are fearful that some minor infringement, such as a parking ticket which they once got, will be counted as a crime and held against them. There is a danger that hostility as a policy is reflected across the community, with ethnicity a proxy for racism.
I recently raised the apparent blanket ban on asylum seekers accessing education. The Minister gave assurances that the Home Office is taking proactive steps to contact those affected and reissue the necessary immigration bail forms without these restrictions. I was grateful for her prompt response and evident understanding but I am told by solicitors that they are still seeing asylum seekers being restricted from studying. They are also concerned that the new bail guidance does not ensure that potential victims of trafficking, individuals served with deportation orders and those with fresh claims pending will not be unlawfully or irrationally restricted from studying.
“Hostile” or “compliant”, whatever language is used there has been no change in the legislation. Has there been any change in how the Home Office handles information and documentation? It occurs to me to wonder whether the hostile environment has affected those administering the system. It must have; I suspect that officials are overloaded. In the debate two days ago the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, used the term “institutional depression” of Home Office officials. The widely held view is that the culture which has permeated the Home Office, affecting how officials approach decisions and deal with information, has gone very deep. I do not need to stress how this affects the public’s confidence in the system, and do not like to think what we might be doing to those who administer it. It is not comfortable always to have to suspect the worst of everyone. This is not just about Home Office personnel. I was asked this morning whether victims of crime with an uncertain status are routinely referred to the Home Office for investigation. Is there an explicit policy on this?
The British Red Cross has just published a new report, subtitled The Humanitarian Impact of the UK Immigration Detention System. Among other things, it investigated life after detention. I am ashamed that I had never thought beyond, “Oh, X has been released”. Just as being taken into detention can come out of the blue so can release, but without asylum support, accommodation or access to benefits. As the report says:
“Expecting someone to engage with their asylum case after release is unrealistic if they are battling mental health issues, receiving no … support, and subject to enforcement-based alternatives to detention, like reporting”.
As part of the Shaw review, Mary Bosworth identified some consistent findings. One of them was that there is a negative impact on mental health which persists long after detention. This is borne out by the service users interviewed by the British Red Cross. A gentleman from Pakistan said:
“When they released me, I wasn’t able to cross the road, you know, at the zebra crossing. That’s the huge impact on my mind. I went for counselling, six months to a private charity organisation and there she tell me the tricks how to … cope with these things. So with that counselling, I came out of these things, but imagine I wasn’t able to cross the road. When I was released, when I come outside the detention centre, I felt that my soul had been taken out from my body. I found no energy, no power”.
A British Red Cross staff member is also quoted in the report:
“I wonder how someone is going to be able to manage going into a workplace and being an integrated part of society”— we seek integration, after all—
“when … on your arrival into the country and through the asylum process”, they experienced,
“this sense of being done to. Then you’re told, ‘Okay, now you have to be a productive member of society’. I wonder how people manage that transition”.
We have a new Home Secretary. He has the opportunity to change policy and the culture. That is no easy task. From what I have observed, he is very open to this. Two years ago, the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration said:
“However, in the absence of even any ‘soft’ indicators of impact on, for example, voluntary returns, the Home Office lays itself open to criticism about the breadth of new legislation and the cost/benefit to itself and others of implementing each measure. It is also harder for it to answer concerns about the potential damage to communities and to individuals”.
That was his report following an inspection of hostile environment measures. In my view, the environment of hostility has impacted and is impacting on individuals and on our society much for the worse.
My Lords, first I congratulate, as others have done, my noble friend Lord Bassam of Brighton on securing this debate today. This is a very topical debate focusing on the hostile environment policy towards illegal immigration impacting on those with residency and employment rights. The scandalous treatment of Windrush generation citizens from the Caribbean and other parts of the Commonwealth shames our country, has done huge reputational damage and has hurt people who have every right to be in the United Kingdom.
Illegal immigration should not be tolerated but the measures here have been applied too bluntly, and people with the legal right to be here and to work and access services are getting caught up in what can be described only as a nightmare for them. Most of what we refer to as the hostile environment was brought in through the Immigration Act 2014, which limits access to work, housing, healthcare and bank accounts, revokes driving licences and restricts rights of appeal against Home Office decisions, and which was tightened and expanded under the Immigration Act 2016.
The present Home Secretary has dropped the term “hostile” and replaced it with “compliant”. That is fine, but we need more action on the part of the Government other than to change a few words, which the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, referred to in her remarks a moment ago. Can the Minister give us the Government’s view of the success of these measures, and say what further reviews have taken place as a consequence of the Windrush scandal to make sure that these policies are not impacting on people who are lawfully in the United Kingdom? Can she also say something about the recent statistics on immigration detentions and returns and tell us the Government’s estimate of the number of people who are in the United Kingdom illegally?
My noble friend Lord Bassam of Brighton helpfully tabled a Written Question about the number of individuals and families adversely affected by this policy. In addition, the Home Affairs Select Committee was told in January of this year by David Bolt, the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, that,
“the Home Office does not have in place measurements … to evaluate the effectiveness”, of the hostile environment. That is very worrying. If we have no measures to look at what is happening, I think noble Lords can see how quickly a policy can start to have adverse effects, with people caught up in the system and no mechanism in place to deal with the injustices that causes.
As my noble friend Lord Bassam of Brighton said, it was shocking to read that up to 10% of the people in the 169 cases passed to banks that were inspected by the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration had been incorrectly included on the list of disqualified persons. What has the Home Office done to improve these figures, because the consequences for people who are wrongly identified as illegal immigrants and are therefore unable to have a bank account are devastating? Can she say something about the discrimination that people lawfully here have experienced as a result of her Government’s policies?
The Government have placed increasing burdens on banks, employers and landlords with sanctions, some of them criminal, if things go wrong. So what do people do? They play safe. The Residential Landlords Association pointed out that 42% of its respondents stated that they were less likely to rent to people who did not have a British passport because they feared the criminal sanction if they made a mistake. These are, of course, the same issues, points and risks brought to the attention of Ministers in this House during the passage of the 2014 and 2016 Acts, which the Government have not given due weight to and of which they have not taken due account.
These matters are deeply distressing and worrying for people lawfully here who are caught up in this nightmare. They are also hugely damaging to our reputation as a nation and bring the whole system into question and disrepute. There have been mistakes in the data passed to banks and the DVLA and people have been wrongly identified as illegal, with no right to services. What changes to procedures have been made to eliminate these errors?
In March this year the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration considered right to rent. Similar problems were uncovered, with poor communication internally in the Home Office and externally to landlords. There was little or no evidence that the policy had proved effective in its aims and it had devastating consequences for people wrongly caught up in this hostile environment, who suffered racial and other discrimination, exploitation and homelessness.
The most tragic thing about this policy is that people who have the right to rent, but who have a foreign passport, limited leave to remain or the correct documents but in a foreign language are the people most likely to be discriminated against. As I pointed out last week, the Government have decided to reject the independent commissioner’s recommendation and not to establish a new right-to-rent committee, but instead to reconvene the landlords’ consultative panel that has lain dormant for months. Can the Minister confirm that the panel is chaired by the Immigration Minister and that the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner and the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants are not represented?
Only last month, the UN special rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, while praising some aspects of government policy, found that other policies were affecting ethnic-minority individuals with regular status,
“many who are British citizens and who have been entitled to this citizenship as far back as the colonial era”.
The noble Lord, Lord Jones of Cheltenham, highlighted the fees that immigrants have to pay, and the spiralling fees for children were discussed earlier this week. The levels quoted in the House have gone beyond what is sustainable. We need to look at them carefully and reduce them. My noble friend Lord Judd described a case involving documents lost by the Home Office. That can cause individuals immense distress and be devastating for them. They find themselves in an appalling situation.
It is, of course, the Windrush scandal which has brought this to the attention of the public. It cost the previous Home Secretary—Amber Rudd MP—her job, though you could argue that others were more culpable in the scandal. The Government have acted in the face of the terrible cases that have come to light, the shameful decisions that were taken, and the people who have lost their homes and jobs and been deported from the country they have called their home. My noble friend Lord Morris of Handsworth gave shocking examples of how people were treated, with their documents not being accepted. It truly shames our country. My noble friend is a fine example of the contribution the Windrush generation have made to their country. He rose through the ranks of the T&G to become the general secretary, he served as a director of the Bank of England and has been a director the England and Wales Cricket Board. Those are just some things he has done in his wonderful life.
Swift action is welcome, but we should never have been in this place. It is a tragedy that so many people were affected by the Government’s actions—people legally here in this country, with every right to be here—and treated in a most shocking and disgraceful way.
The noble Lord, Lord Taverne, highlighted an appalling case that urgently needs to be reviewed. I think he said there were another 1,000 cases in a similar position, and again I hope they will be looked at urgently. My noble friend Lady McIntosh of Hudnall made powerful points about how these injustices affected not “other people” but people who are our friends and families. I agree with her that language in official communications should always be used properly and humanely.
The noble Baroness, Lady Flather, highlighted the service in the Armed Forces by people from the “Empire Windrush”. I have mentioned before Sam King; I was privileged to call him my friend. He fought in the RAF as a gunner. He then came back on the “Empire Windrush” and worked as a postman for 34 years. He became a Labour councillor in Southwark, the first black mayor of Southwark and a holder of the MBE. He was a great citizen and we were privileged to have him in our country.
I hope the Minister will take the opportunity today to apologise for the shameful actions of Theresa May’s Government.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bassam of Brighton, for securing this debate, and all those who have spoken for their varied and interesting contributions. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, for his particularly thoughtful contribution, and pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Morris—our very own Windrush Member of your Lordships’ House.
It is true to say that the work of the Home Office is vast. Millions of visa, citizenship and settlement applications are granted every year, and thousands of people are provided with international protection thanks to the decisions of Home Office case workers. However, as the Home Secretary has made very clear—a number of noble Lords have alluded to this—as well as having a fair and humane immigration system, as the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, said and the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, has just mentioned, we need one that clearly distinguishes between those who are here legally and those who are here illegally, as the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, very articulately pointed out. It is important to recall that successive Governments have put in place controls to deter illegal migration and protect public services.
It remains the case that the public expect us to enforce immigration laws approved by Parliament as a matter of fairness to those who abide by the rules. A recent YouGov poll showed that 71% of the public support our policy of requiring people to show documents to prove their entitlement to be here, work, rent a flat or access services and benefits. These measures have been introduced over many years. The first NHS charges for overseas visitors were introduced in 1982. The right-to-work checks were introduced in 1987, not 2014 as the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, said. The Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 and the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 introduced restrictions on accessing benefits, social housing and social services. To return to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, we have to clamp down on people who are here illegally.
Key elements of the compliant environment policy were put in place by the Opposition when in office, and it was during that time that the policy was described by Ministers as a hostile environment against illegal immigration. I am happy to answer the question from the noble Lord, Lord Parekh: that is when it started. I am happy to confirm to the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, that Alan Johnson used the term “hostile environment” and that the term was used by the Immigration Minister Phil Woolas in 2010 in his strategy paper on immigration, following a similar strategy paper in 2005. So the term has been used, and noble Lords have made the point that we can all go back and blame various different people for it, but the current Home Secretary has made clear that it is a term that he does not want to use and that the term “compliant environment” better reflects our values as a country, ensuring that fair rules are properly upheld.
More recently, measures to prevent illegal migrants from accessing the private rented sector have been introduced to bring consistency with well-established controls on accessing social housing. Further controls on access to bank accounts and driving licences introduced in the 2014 and 2016 Acts carry on this trend. In relation to access to employment, which is one of the key draws for illegal immigration, employers have had a duty to prevent illegal working, as I have said, since 1997. Since 2008 this requirement has been underpinned by civil and criminal sanctions for non-compliant employers, which were introduced by the Opposition. If an employer is found to have employed someone illegally and they are unable to demonstrate that they have carried out the prescribed check, they may be liable to a civil penalty. There is a sliding scale of penalties and the maximum is currently £20,000 per illegal worker.
Employers comply with the law by undertaking a simple right-to-work check on new employees and repeat checks on those with time-limited status. This is a face-value check of an original document set out in secondary legislation as being acceptable for this purpose. Employers need to contact the Home Office only in certain specified circumstances, including when a potential employee has an outstanding immigration application or appeal, during which time they may be entitled to work. Employers can also contact us if they believe that someone has the right to work but does not have the necessary documents to evidence that right. Retrospective checks on people who were employed before checks were introduced are not required.
In setting the list of documents that individuals may provide to demonstrate their right to work, we have prescribed documents that most lawful residents already have or are able to obtain at minimum cost. For example, UK citizens may use their UK passport or alternatively their national insurance number in combination with their long birth or adoption certificate. I hope that that helps the noble Baroness, Lady O’Neill, but I understand her point about the Irish question. The Home Office provides guidance for employers, an interactive tool on checking a right to work and an employer checking service for employers who are unsure whether a potential employee has the right to work. The statutory code of practice makes it clear that employers should conduct checks on all prospective employees, not just those whom they believe may not have the right to work in the UK.
Several “compliant environment” measures have been the subject of public consultations, impact assessments and policy equality statements prior to introduction. Noble Lords will be aware that the Immigration Act 2014 also introduced the right-to-rent scheme, which noble Lords have referred to today. Engagement with the sector, the Equality and Human Rights Commission, the Northern Ireland Equality Commission and housing charities had a major impact during the design of that legislation. As a result of that engagement, we incorporated exemptions for accommodation occupied by vulnerable groups and enabled individuals to demonstrate their right to rent using a broad range of commonly available documents without a passport or photo identification.
The scheme was extended to cover the whole of England in February 2016, after an evaluation of its operation in the West Midlands found no evidence of discrimination arising, no impacts on levels of homelessness, no further barriers to people with little formal documentation accessing the sector and no impacts on the availability or costs of let accommodation—to answer the question from the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, that was posed by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, and the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy. The evaluation also found that, where landlords engaged with the checks required, they found them to be straightforward and easy to operate. Landlords are not asked to be immigration or forgery experts, contrary to the assertions by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy. The checks do not require all tenants to have passports or immigration papers.
For example, a check can be satisfied by presenting a letter from a charity involved in the access to the private rental scheme and a letter from a professional who can confirm that they have personally known the holder for at least three months. The scheme was modelled on the checks that many landlords have been carrying out themselves to establish the credentials of prospective tenants—for example, credit checks, which have been taking place for many years and which, for obvious reasons, landlords carry out diligently.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, asked me about immigration bail and the issue of study. As she acknowledged, I answered her very clearly on this point and I hope that she is satisfied with that. The case still stands as to what she asked me last week.
I was about to go on to say that the Home Office is performing a check to ensure that no one is having study restrictions placed on them inappropriately. I hope that she is satisfied by that.
The noble Lords, Lord Bassam and Lord Kennedy, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, referred to the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration’s report on the right to rent. We welcome that report. It made four recommendations, and noble Lords referred to recommendation 3 on the consultative panel. It will be reconvened and we will ask the noble Lord, Lord Best, to continue to co-chair it. Somewhere in my pile of documents, I have the make-up of the panel. It will be co-chaired by the Immigration Minister and the noble Lord, Lord Best, as I said. It will be made up of Crisis, Shelter, the Equality and Human Rights Commission, bodies representing landlords, agents and local authorities—those people with housing expertise.
I thank the noble Baroness for giving way; it is very kind. We have raised this point before, but why are the Government not going with the right to rent committee? Instead, they have come back with the previous committee and are not going to include the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants or the anti-slavery commissioner. They would be important to include for their expertise.
Given that the noble Lord worked through the housing Bill with me, I hope that he would agree that the noble Lord, Lord Best, is a very experienced member of your Lordships house in the area of housing. Having the Immigration Minister co-chairing, as he asked, will lend great credence to the panel. I am sure he would agree that the bodies I mentioned are the type that we would want represented on the panel to ensure its housing expertise. I pay tribute to the groups that he mentioned, but they are not necessarily in and of themselves housing experts, although they have expertise in the area of immigration and slavery.
I must now turn to the Windrush generation, because I want to spend some time on that. I again pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Handsworth, and all those from the Windrush generation who came here quite legally to help to rebuild this country after the war. The Government, the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister have all said that the Government deeply regret what has happened and have made it a key priority to resolve the problems that have arisen and to ensure that it does not happen again. I also join the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, in paying tribute to his friend and all that he achieved in his life.
The Home Secretary has commissioned an independent lessons learned review, which will look at how members of the Windrush generation came to be entangled in measures designed for illegal immigrants, why it was not spotted sooner—this has been going on for decades; it is not a new thing—and why the right corrective measures will now be put in place. The review will take into account the experiences of those involved and wider reflections on Home Office culture as a whole. We have established the Windrush Scheme task force, which is working with members of the Windrush generation to resolve their status and ensure that they obtain the documents they need to evidence it.
My right honourable friend the Home Secretary also issued a call for evidence to inform consultation on a compensation scheme for members of the Windrush generation who have been wrongfully impacted by immigration measures. That call for evidence closed last Friday and we are currently analysing the responses. Simultaneously, we have strengthened the checking services provided to employers, landlords and public service providers to ensure that we are not denying work, housing, benefits or services to those who are here lawfully. We will be providing regular updates to the Home Affairs Committee on the progress of that work. Our focus now is on putting right what was so wrong in the past.
The noble Lord, Lord Bassam, asked me for an update on Windrush figures. As of
We owe it to the public to ensure that we maintain effective controls on immigration and have measures in place to protect taxpayer-funded services. The compliant environment forms an important part of those measures.
The noble Lords, Lord Bassam and Lord Taverne, asked about tier 2 visas and for an update on NHS workers and doctors. As they will know, because it has been widely reported in the media this morning, the Home Secretary is currently reviewing that and he will make an announcement on it very shortly. I will be able to say more after the announcement, so I hope that the noble Lords will bear with me.
The noble Lord, Lord Taverne, talked about a specific case. He will understand that I will not discuss it on the Floor of the House, but I will write to him about it. He also talked about HMRC and people being refused resettlement on the basis of their tax returns. This is not about people making minor tax errors. We are now able to check what applicants told us in the past about their self-employment and compare it to what they have told HMRC for the same period. There is a clear pattern of abuse where, more often than not, the self-employed earnings used to claim points in the tier 1 application have been £10,000 higher than the self-employed earnings reported to HMRC. Where employment circumstances do not add up and applicants claim to have been working in a full-time low-paid manual job while simultaneously earning very high amounts from self-employed work for which the evidence is weak, we must consider paragraph 322(5), to which the noble Lord referred, and refuse the application where the evidence shows that the individual has not played by the rules and their character and conduct is such that they should not be granted settlement in the UK.
Before the noble Lord intervenes on me, I will make just one more point, because he then may not need to intervene. I will write to him on the case he raised separately and in no way am I saying that what I am outlining is anything to do with that case.
I will write the noble Lord on that when I write him on the specific case, if that is okay by him, because I am rapidly running out of time and I want to get through points that other noble Lords made.
The noble Lord, Lord Morris, talked about reduced numbers of staff. The work of the immigration system is vast, as noble Lords will appreciate. Every year, we make more than 3 million decisions on visas and have 250 million people crossing our borders. We are not complacent about this. The immigration system is constantly and continually improving, such as with ePassport gates.
The noble Baroness, Lady O’Neill, made a very important point about identity assurance. I particularly draw to noble Lords’ attention, as she did, the issue of EU citizens when we leave the EU. That is why we have put in place measures to ensure a very clear process, so that what happened with Windrush will not in future years happen to EU citizens. So all EU citizens who are here lawfully when the UK exits the EU will have the opportunity to regularise their status to remain in the country by applying for settled status. On identity assurance, we have operated a new scheme for settled status from scratch. So the application system will be simplified, user-friendly, and it will draw on existing government data to minimise the burden on applicants.
I shall write to the noble Baroness on that, as I know it is completely different.
On the point about limbo, asked by the noble Lord, Lord Jones—and before the clock gets to “21”—when an application is made during the period of extant leave, leave is extended by statute until the application is determined. Where the right to rent or work checks are required, the Home Office can confirm entitlement to an employer or a landlord.
I have run out of time. I am terribly sorry.
My Lords, I can give the Minister some clarification. The debate started at 11.39 am, and as it is a three-hour debate, there are 20 more minutes left.
I noted from the guidance that I had 20 minutes to speak; in fact Ministers rarely get more than 20 minutes to wind up, but I will continue if the House does not object.
The noble Lord, Lord Jones, also asked about visa performance. Obviously he knows I cannot comment on an individual case, but the majority of UKVI decisions are made within the established service standards. In complicated cases it can take longer, and if so, we write to advise when a decision is likely. The noble Lord will no doubt tell me that he knows of cases where we have not written in a timely fashion. We have introduced a range of measures since 2010 to improve the quality of decision-making in UKVI, including training and mentoring programmes for new caseworkers, as well as wide quality-assurance processes. He also raised the issue of the health surcharge. Applications for indefinite leave to remain are not required to pay the health surcharge.
The noble Baroness, Lady Flather, made the point that Home Office staff should have training in race relations. There is mandatory training for Home Office staff on race relations and discrimination—and unconscious bias, for that matter. It is mandated by the Cabinet Office for all civil servants and is a core element of the Civil Service code. The noble Baroness also made a point about stopping illegal migrants coming to the UK. They are not just people coming to the UK without permission, but those who remain unlawfully when their leave expires. It is worth mentioning that people here illegally are some of the most vulnerable people in the country. They are not protected as UK taxpayers but are vulnerable to people traffickers, and endure some of the less savoury elements of exploitation.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, talked about victims of crime. There is no obligation for the police to report victims of crime to immigration authorities but they have the power to do so, and we are working closely with the police to ensure that victims of trafficking are supported. Finally, the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, asked about statistics on illegal migrants. He will know that by their very nature, it is very difficult to produce statistics on illegal migrants.
I thank all noble lords who have taken part in the debate.
My Lords, I echo the Minister’s last point, and thank everyone who has participated in what has been a fascinating discussion and debate about the Government’s “hostile environment” policy. I feel particular empathy for the noble Baroness because I have sat in her seat, having been a Home Office Minister: probably one of the least comfortable areas of policy to deal with is that of migration and asylum seeking. I know how hard it is.
I tabled the debate because I did not want the Government to get away with the fact that they had changed the language of the business of enforcement. As the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, said, language is incredibly important. Words in politics mean vast amounts; they are the currency, and it is the atmosphere that words create that infects how we deliver policies in our country. Somewhere around 2012-13, the Government came up with the idea of a “hostile environment” policy. Its terminology may have had an earlier genesis, but it was written then into policy practice and it changed the currency. It changed the way the Home Office and its agencies worked, with disastrous implications—in particular for the Windrush generation.
But that is not the only reason why I called for this debate. I want to see the currency of the debate about immigration, and the part that race plays in the policy’s implementation, change. There is an opportunity, within the disaster that this policy has been, for that to take place, and we should grasp it enthusiastically. I am encouraged by some of the things the Home Secretary has begun to say, and by some of the changes he has outlined and wants to make. If the news on tier 2 visas is anything to go by, there is some progress in that area.
I am grateful to all who took part, and I hope that people got the message from my speech of where I am trying to take us. I hope that we can tackle things such as discrimination, racism and exploitation within our system of immigration control. I am no “Guardianista” soft touch when it comes to recognising the value of having sound borders and firm immigration controls—this side is not that, historically—but the words “fairness” and “equity” should mean something in how we handle and manage migration. For that reason, the debate was put on the Order Paper, and I hope that colleagues and friends have found it valuable.