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.