Immigration: Hostile Environment - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 12:01 pm on 14th June 2018.

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Photo of Lord Morris of Handsworth Lord Morris of Handsworth Labour 12:01 pm, 14th June 2018

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”.