Examination of Witnesses

Immigration Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:45 am on 29th October 2013.

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Sir Andrew Green and Mathew Pollard gave evidence.

Q 50

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (Full Member)

The Committee will now take oral evidence from Migration Watch UK. Good morning, gentlemen. Thank you for joining us. Could you identify yourselves, please?

Sir Andrew Green: Good morning, Chairman. I am the chairman of Migration Watch, Sir Andrew Green.

Matthew Pollard: Mathew Pollard, the director of Migration Watch.

Q 51

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

Good morning, Sir Andrew and Mr Pollard. I am grateful for your written evidence, which I looked at this morning. You indicate in it that you estimate that the number of illegal  immigrants was some 1.1 million in 2010, and you estimate that it is 1 million now. Can you give the Committee the basis on which you have made that estimate?

Sir Andrew Green: Yes. I will be brief. There have been only two major attempts at an estimate. One was in 2005, which made a central estimate of 430,000. We revised that figure to take account of the fact that it was four years old, and we came up with 670,000. The most recent attempt was in April 2009, in a report by the London School of Economics for the Mayor of London that had a central estimate of 618,000. We looked into that in some detail, and we are now at the point that Mr Hanson mentioned. The estimate in that study was that 7,000 people a year overstay their visas out of the 1.5 million visitor visas that are issued. In other words, 99.5% of visitors leave as they should. We did not believe that that was remotely realistic. We put in a higher estimate for that and made some other adjustments. We then came to the figure of 1.1 million, which Mr Hanson mentioned.

We have done one other piece of work that is relevant. We looked at the remittances sent back to Pakistan. We found that they had increased by a factor of six in an eight-year period. In that same period, the increase in the labour force, as recorded by the labour force survey, was only 66%. If you do some arithmetic—this is on our website—it suggests that on a cautious estimate, there are some 200,000 extra workers in Britain who do not appear in the immigration stats. There are roughly 25,000 a year from Pakistan alone. The bottom line is that, while there is a lot of intelligent guesswork in this, 1 million is a cautious estimate.

Q 52

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

Whatever the level of guesswork, how many of those 1 million people do you estimate to be currently known to the Home Office, whether that is their address, their telephone number, their texts, their contacts or forms being placed? Do you have an estimate of that? Should you have an estimate of how many of these people’s whereabouts or addresses are known to the Home Office?

Sir Andrew Green: Almost by definition, the whereabouts would not be reliable. You could go through the files and estimate the number of people who no longer have leave to be in Britain, but that would not tell you whether they had left.

Q 53

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

On the basis of whatever figure you have, how far will the Bill’s proposals impact on and potentially reduce the final figure, whether that is a guesstimate or otherwise?

Sir Andrew Green: That is the central point. If I can widen my answer to your question, it is important to understand that an effective system of removal is fundamental to the credibility of the entire immigration system. If you look at that system, you find that the rate of forced removal from the UK has been, on average, 9,000 people a year over the past nine years. Others leave voluntarily, of course, but 9,000 a year is frankly trivial compared with the number of people who enter the UK, initially legally.

As you know, we have 1.5 million visitor visas issued every year. Just 1% of that number would overwhelm our capacity to remove forcibly. We also have 200,000 students  from outside the European Union each year, and 10% of them would overwhelm the present removal capacity. There are then, of course, the illegal immigrants—the “back of a truck” people—and there are no numbers for them.

Given those numbers, our capability to remove forcibly and the scale of people coming to Britain, the only way to address the issue is the way that the Bill addresses it, which is to try to make it more difficult for people to stay in the UK illegally. We do not particularly like the term “hostile environment”. It was unfortunate. The reality is that if we have—as we would wish—an open economy and society, then of course you welcome immigration. But it must be controlled, and the deal must be that when your time is up, you go. That is what this Bill tries to do.

Q 54

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I agree with some of your comments in terms of effective enforcement. In a sense, those were the initial opening comments that I wished to make in relation to your estimates—whether they are right or wrong—versus the numbers who are known. Even the enforcement measures in the Bill are implicitly only workable on people who are known to the Home Office. I am interested in trying to get to a figure on that. We will revisit this during the course of our discussions in Committee.

You mentioned the Bill. I want to touch briefly on a number of points in it. On part 2, you said in your memorandum:

“We welcome the reduction in the number of grounds for appeal”, and that you agree that most appeals are

“used simply to frustrate the removal process in cases that have no prospect of success”.

Have you any view on the current quality of decision making in relation to those people who, under the Bill, would potentially be removed?

Sir Andrew Green: It all depends on whether you are talking about asylum seekers or applications for extensions and so on. They are very different issues. My basic point is that what the Bill seems to us to be trying to do is prevent the exploitation of the appeals system, which has clearly been going on. All Governments—even the judiciary—have, frankly, been frustrated by some of the cases that they have seen. The aim is to reduce the scope for manipulating the appeal process, and we agree with that.

Q 55

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

If I said that approximately 50% of appeals are currently upheld by the first-tier tribunal, which is being abolished, would that worry you?

Sir Andrew Green: Are you talking about asylum?

Q 56

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I am talking about the current provisions in the Bill. On family migration and other issues, roughly 50% of appeals are upheld and they are now going to be abolished. Does that worry you?

Sir Andrew Green: Not especially.

Q 57

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

So you are saying that 50% of people are currently given the right of appeal, have that appeal upheld and therefore are legally allowed to stay in the United Kingdom, and it does not worry you that those people will not now have that right of appeal?

Sir Andrew Green: There are two aspects to this. One is that there will be a right of administrative review.

Sir Andrew Green: Yes, and in respect of visas overseas, that is quite an effective way of doing it. It has been shown to be quite effective. As regards the other 50%, it depends on the case.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (Full Member)

Order. May we have a question and an answer, rather than a dialogue, if that is possible?

Sir Andrew Green: What the Government are trying to do here is change the balance, so that the system cannot be exploited. That is the right thing to do.

Q 58

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

You said in paragraph 4 of your written evidence—and I agree with you:

“Not only are they themselves often mistreated but they frequently undercut the wages of British workers”.

Do you think that there is scope in the Bill to look at a range of potential labour market issues which might also address that issue? For example, greater enforcement of the minimum wage or a register of migrant workers being recruited by recruitment agencies.

Sir Andrew Green: They are not in the Bill now, and the issues you refer to are not necessarily addressed at illegal workers, they are more inspired by migrants from eastern Europe. I am not against them. There certainly should be enforcement of the minimum wage, and we should not have situations where employment agencies deal only with foreigners. I think your third idea was that there should not be whole areas or shifts in a factory given over to foreigners. Those are perfectly reasonable ideas. Where the Bill comes in is that by dissuading people from staying illegally, it will dissuade people who would otherwise undercut British workers and dissuade the unscrupulous employers, who are almost worse, from competing with honest employers who offer decent wages and decent conditions. That is quite apart from the extra weight on public services, of course.

Q 59

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

This is the final question from me. We are going to hear this afternoon from landlords about the landlord provision, the basic principle of which I do not fundamentally disagree with. I am, however, interested in its workability and its potential impact on British citizens who want to rent. Do you have any concerns about the workability of the landlord proposals? Do you have any concerns about identity checks for British citizens who will have to prove their nationality as part of a rental procedure?

Sir Andrew Green: I agree that it is not a simple matter, but the availability of accommodation to people who have no right to be in this country is something that needs to be addressed. At its extreme, this business of beds in sheds is an outrage in all possible respects and must be dealt with. That would be included in what is now proposed.

On the specifics of your question, the mechanics will need to be looked at fairly carefully. There are parallel arrangements, as you know, in respect of employers and those seem to be settling down reasonably satisfactorily. One would hope for the same with landlords.

Q 60

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

Do you have any understanding of the number of calls to the Home Office relating to enforcement, advice or assistance on employment issues? Do you have a view on whether the Home Office has the capacity to offer the same to the thousands of landlords in the UK?

Sir Andrew Green: No to both questions. I do not have a view.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (Full Member)

Order. Just before we proceed, I have been calling Sir Andrew because Mr Hanson has been directing his remarks to Sir Andrew, which seems reasonable, but, Mr Pollard, if you want to interject or intervene at any time, please do indicate.

Q 61

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel Conservative, Witham

I welcome the witnesses to the Committee. This question is for both to answer. Paragraph 13 of the written evidence you provided touches on the migrant health levy, and you will have heard the other evidence presented to the Committee this morning. What is your view on how far the Bill is going to address such problems, some of which we have discussed this morning? In the light of some of the comments this morning from NHS professionals, what else do you think we could do in practical terms?

Sir Andrew Green: I thought the discussion this morning was very interesting. The bottom line is that I don’t think the Bill is going to do very much that is helpful to deal with the central issue. There clearly is a very serious issue. There is the issue of fairness. Not much was mentioned about that. I think one Member referred to the impact on British patients, which is very important, as is the effect on British patience. There is also a question of resources. I note that the latest estimate is that one might save something like £2 billion on health costs. The total cost of immigration control to the taxpayer is £500 million, so we are talking about serious money here. We would want to see much more in the way of resources going both to immigration control and to preventing what is quite clearly a measure of abuse of the health service.

Another point, which I don’t think came out in the discussion this morning, is just how wide open the national health service has become. Anyone who sets foot in Britain for 24 hours has the right to treatment by a GP. A GP cannot refuse to put someone on his list unless it is full. If it is full, the local authority allocates the person concerned to another GP. That seems extraordinary, but I certainly accept that you cannot ask the medical profession to act as immigration officers. The complexities of this are enormous and you need specially trained staff. We have for years recommended that a limited number of officers should be tasked with assessing the eligibility of applicants for GP services. That would bring together the expertise needed on immigration with that of the health service. None of that is touched in the Bill. I can only imagine that there was some resistance to it, but it must be looked at again.

Matthew Pollard: I have nothing further to add on that.

Q 62

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel Conservative, Witham

Going back specifically in the light of your comments, Sir Andrew, there is an issue of public perception and how we address the gulf between that and reality. An earlier panel of witnesses was asked  how we explain things to our constituents who cannot access NHS services. The same also applies to areas such as housing. Where do you feel the responsibility should lie? Should it be with central Government legislation—that is, in the Bill—or should it be down to the guidance given by central Government to NHS professionals such as the clinical commissioning groups, which would cover primary care, and to local authorities, which would cover housing?

Sir Andrew Green: Let me take health first. As Professor Stephenson said, it must be a Government responsibility to set the rules, and it cannot be the doctors who interpret them. The Government therefore have a responsibility to provide the administrative framework that will distinguish between those who have a right to treatment and those who do not.

A further interesting point from this morning’s discussion is that the major barrier must be secondary care—hospitals. That is where the real cost is and that is where there is very little control. We hear from lots of people, such as Professor Meirion, that somebody turns up at a hospital with an NHS number and nobody likes to ask any questions. That must be stopped. We need to have a situation in which someone in this country has an NHS number that perhaps entitles them to care for a temporary period, to primary care only or to full care. That is an administrative problem, not a medical one. I hope that the next Bill will address it.

Q 63

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel Conservative, Witham

In terms of the approach, would you apply a similar analogy to access to public housing via local authorities?

Sir Andrew Green: I think public housing is extremely important and that, among those on housing waiting lists, there is very little confidence that it is being dealt with fairly. The way in which it has been dealt with has not been honestly described in the statistics that are available. Perhaps Mr Pollard can add to that in a moment. We have looked at the issue in some detail but were not able to find the correct proportion of foreign-born who are in social housing. That certainly needs attention.

Matthew Pollard: On social housing, local authorities carry out the checks, or they are supposed to, and they have published quite detailed criteria on who is eligible and who is not. The statistics on who is actually getting housing are not published. If we take London, which is perhaps the area with the biggest immigration impact, fewer than half the lets have any nationality data recorded against them. We therefore do not know who is actually getting the housing in, for example, Hackney or Lambeth. That causes a lot of public concern and is a concern when we get contacted.

Sir Andrew Green: Of course, the Government have now strengthened the local connection test, but if we do not have any reliable statistics, we have no idea whether the test is having any effect.

Q 64

Photo of Henry Smith Henry Smith Conservative, Crawley

Given your extensive research in this area, how much of a draw is our virtually unchecked national health service for people coming to this country, particularly illegally but also more generally?

Sir Andrew Green: It is absolutely bound to be an additional incentive. The main reason that people come and stay illegally is to earn money and send it home, but  the knowledge that they effectively have free medical treatment while they are here must be an additional incentive.

Q 65

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper The Minister for Immigration

First, thank you, Sir Andrew, for your welcome for the overall approach to the measures in the Bill. Partly for the benefit of the Committee, I wanted to check your response on the health issues.

I am mindful, Sir Roger, that you told us to talk about what is in the Bill. It is clear that there is a range of health issues—both for visitors who currently have entitlement to the NHS and maybe should not, and for those who do not have entitlement but in respect of whom we are not good at collecting money back. I want to reassure you that the proposals in the Bill are about changing the ordinary residence test to one of permanent residence for non-EEA migrants, and about the health surcharge.

I want also to reassure you that the Department of Health, separately but working with us, will bring forward proposals following on from its consultation to deal with some of the issues associated with visitor charging, both from a policy perspective and addressing some of the points about the practicalities that were made in earlier evidence from Professor Thomas and Miss Bishop. I think that all the NHS witnesses, without exception, said that such measures were complicated and difficult to enforce at the front line. I do not know if you want to respond to those points, which were really more for the benefit of the Committee, so that we keep the debate on track.

Sir Andrew Green: That is very reassuring. Chairman, may I make a major point that has not come out in the discussion so far? It is to do with the rate of inflow. How important is that? Mr Hanson asked about the total number and we discussed that.

There is another issue as to how big inflow is. Is it something we need to worry about? Of course, almost by definition it is hard to know. I would say that if you look at the international passenger survey, which records only those people who say that they are going to stay for a year or more, so they are legal on arrival, for citizens from outside the European Union that has been running at 300,000 a year for the past eight or 10 years. If you look at departures, it is 100,000.

Somewhere there are 200,000 people a year who need to be accounted for. Some of those will have extended entirely legally. Some will have married. You used to be able to go from a work permit to settlement and so on. Part of that will be those who have managed to transfer to a legal position to stay here. Another part will be people who have extended their visas, but you cannot extend them for ever. We are looking at a pretty substantial number who have come in legally and for some reason have not gone.

Our view is that a major part of that is students who have overstayed, and there is quite substantial evidence in that respect. The National Audit Office inquiry found that 40,000 to 50,000 students from the Indian subcontinent had come for reasons other than study in the first year of the points-based system. There have been other studies.

The most recent information was from August, when we found that only 50,000 students had left, while the average arrivals in the past five years have been 150,000. Now, those are all issues that will be further investigated as we have more years’ statistics and more detail. The Committee should be in no doubt that we are talking about a substantial annual increase in the number of people remaining in Britain illegally, plus those who enter illegally in the first place.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (Full Member)

This places me in a little difficulty, because I have imposed upon members of the Committee a restriction to discussing only matters contained in the Bill, not matters omitted from it. However, you have raised the point and it would be discourteous not to allow you to do so. On the basis that we try to remain in order, Jackie Doyle-Price.

Q 66

Photo of Jackie Doyle-Price Jackie Doyle-Price Conservative, Thurrock

I want to probe you on paragraph 16 of your evidence relating to marriages and civil partnerships. You specifically refer to enabling registrars to feel confident about raising suspicions. Have you had any feedback from priests or vicars about that? Certainly, given the constraints with which they have to deal in the way that the Church manages marriage, I know that many of them have felt intimidated about raising suspicions. Do you think that what we have in the Bill gives them sufficient protection?

Sir Andrew Green: Yes, that is one of the reasons why these provisions are helpful. It is absolutely clear that if one of the parties to a marriage does not have the right to reside in Britain with indefinite leave to remain, it has to be referred. Again, the extension of the notice period is entirely sensible. We have had ridiculous cases where not only were registrars and priests hesitant to intervene, but there wasn’t time for the Home Office to do so. The Home Office’s own estimate in their evidence is 4,000 to 10,000 a year. It could be more than that because of the scams that have developed. The Bill is entirely helpful, and I would be very surprised if there was any serious concern expressed about it.

Q 67

Photo of Jackie Doyle-Price Jackie Doyle-Price Conservative, Thurrock

One of the issues on which I have had representations—it is very difficult to enshrine in law—is the whole idea of marriage by deception. Once the right to remain has been issued, the party who has deceived disappears. Have you any thoughts about how that can be tackled?

Sir Andrew Green: Once it is referred to the Home Office, you already have a deterrent in there. In most of these cases, it is pretty damned obvious that the thing is completely bogus. It has to be done. We mentioned the cost to the taxpayer. These people, once they get through the hoop, which has been wide open, are entitled to a full range of benefits—not just the NHS but anything you can think of. This Bill is absolutely right and should be enough to deal with it.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (Full Member)

If there are no further questions from Members, that brings us to the end of our business for this morning. Sir Andrew and Mr Pollard, thank you very much indeed for joining us. The Committee will take further evidence at 2 o’clock this afternoon.

Ordered, That further consideration be now adjourned. —(Anne Milton.)

Adjourned till this day at Two o’clock.