Examination of Witnesses

Immigration Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:00 pm on 20th October 2015.

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Lord Green of Deddington KCMG, Harry Mitchell, QC and Alanna Thomas gave evidence.

Q 100

Photo of Albert Owen Albert Owen Labour, Ynys Môn

Good afternoon. We now move on to the fifth panel of witnesses and we are to hear oral evidence from Migration Watch UK. To remind everyone, this session will finish at 3 pm. Can I call on the witnesses to introduce themselves?

Lord Green of Deddington: I have been chairman of Migration Watch UK, which I think it is quite well known to the Committee, for the last 15 years. Harry Mitchell, QC, is my honorary legal adviser and Alanna Thomas has done a huge amount of work on the Bill.

Photo of Albert Owen Albert Owen Labour, Ynys Môn

You are all very welcome.

Q 101

Photo of Sarah Champion Sarah Champion Shadow Minister (Home Office)

Thank you all for coming today. Lord Green, to give us some context, what is your estimate of the current size of the irregular migrant population in the UK?

Lord Green of Deddington: Yes, I am very glad to offer you some context, because I think we really have to see the Bill in the wider context. We realise that there are already 11 Acts of Parliament dealing with immigration and that there is a handbook of immigration law of nearly 2,000 pages. So we have that in mind, but, even so, the Bill in principle has our full support. We think it is a serious and intelligent attempt to tackle illegal immigration and the pull factors that drive it.

It has also come at a pretty opportune time. I need hardly tell you that immigration is the major issue of public concern, especially as the crisis in Syria and the middle east has led to the effective collapse of the borders of southern Europe. We have been lucky here in that, in recent years, we have had only 20,000 or 25,000 asylum claims, but I think we all remember when that number hit 80,000 and we found that there were half a million files lying around in a warehouse, which was appalling, especially for those who had genuine cases, but on any level that was appalling and must not be repeated.

In terms of context, it seems to me that we now need to get ahead of that curve, both in identifying genuine claimants and removing and deterring those who are in fact economic migrants. We think that the Bill can help in that task.

To answer your specific question about the probable size, in 2009, the LSE gave a central estimate of about 600,000. We looked at that and thought that a million was probably closer, but almost by definition it is impossible to be accurate. The conclusion to be drawn from those numbers is that it is absolutely inconceivable that the Government would introduce measures that removed a million people from the country by force. It cannot be done, would not be done and nobody would support it. That is why measures, including some of those in the Bill, are essential if we are to persuade people to make up their own minds and go home when they should.

It is worth mentioning in that context that the sheer scale of movement is not really widely understood. In any one year—I will take 2014—7.5 million tourist visas were issued. Clearly, some of those will be tempted  to overstay. Business visitors: 1.7 million. Students and student visitors: 270,000 in one year. So you are looking at an enormous flow of people and no way in which you can forcibly remove them if you need to. Indeed, we do not even know who they are, or even if they are here. As you probably know, exit checks were abandoned by the Conservatives to the EU in ’94 and by Labour to the rest of the world in ’98. So for nearly 20 years, nobody— the Government, the Home Office—has the slightest idea who has gone home and who has not. We are starting from an appallingly difficult situation and, as I said, the only way to approach it is to improve the likelihood of people deciding for themselves. Also, it is necessary to tackle the difficulties that have arisen in the removal process. In my view, they are not very widely understood, and when I first heard them, I was rather surprised.

It is the case, surely, that an effective removal capability is at the basis of the credibility of the whole system. If people think that they can stay indefinitely and not be removed, of course they will do that if it is to their advantage. I am afraid that successive Governments have sort of concealed the weakness of the system by conflating various figures, but if you look at the number of immigration offenders who have been removed, in the last six years the average has been fewer than 5,000 every year compared to the numbers that I have just given you for the inflow. It will be obvious to you that work is required on this front, and I hope obvious to you that this Bill will help with that.

Q 102

Photo of Sarah Champion Sarah Champion Shadow Minister (Home Office)

To expand on that, at a practical level, you rightly said that there are 11 Acts of Parliament, and that we still do not know who is coming in and who is going out. Groups have said that if support to asylum seekers is withdrawn, there is concern that they might abscond from the system. On a practical level, what do you believe the Bill will add to existing legislation, so that we can deal with the problem? From my casework, I know that the biggest problem is that once the Home Office team has gone through the process to recognise that someone needs to be deported, it does not have the resources to deport them. On a practical level, I cannot see how the legislation will make that process more straightforward. Are there specific proposals in the Bill that will do so?

Lord Green of Deddington: Yes, and that is a very good question if I may say so. There is a huge amount to do, but I would pick out the appeal process, which has been leading to significant sources of delay, and is sometimes quite ruthlessly exploited by a bogus applicant, and is more likely to be so, and by some of the lawyers. The first-tier tribunal has considered 850,000 cases in the past seven years, so the provisions in the Bill that will provide for removal first and appeals later will be very important. Equally, it will be important that that provision is not applied when it should not be, and I am sure that you will be focused on that as a Committee. The reality, however, is that the legal system has been exploited to the disadvantage of the community as a whole.

So far, as I am sure that you know, the Government have reduced the number of kinds of appeal that you can make from 17 to four. When they applied the “removal first, appeals later” provision to foreign national offenders, they found that only 25% bothered to appeal  and of the total, only 1% succeeded. Of course, foreign national offenders are likely to have a much less convincing case than many others, but if we can find a way, consistent with human rights of course, to shift the burden of appeals, we can get the whole system moving more rapidly than it has in the past. And as I said at the beginning of my evidence, now is the time to do it, because we must have a system. The Government keep talking, and rightly so, about breaking the link between people getting to Britain and believing that they can stay here indefinitely. That amounts to the fact that we must have an effective way both of differentiating between economic migrants and asylum seekers and of swiftly removing the first of those two. There is a lot to be done, and I think that the Bill will help.

Photo of Sarah Champion Sarah Champion Shadow Minister (Home Office)

In that case, I will let other people have a go.

Q 103

Photo of James Brokenshire James Brokenshire Minister of State (Home Office) (Security and Immigration)

Lord Green, there has been some questioning during the course of this session about the introduction of offences relating to illegal working, in particular the creation of an illegal working offence against employees. Could you share any thoughts and comments on how we can have a firm response and crack down on illegal working in all its different forms, as well as some of the draws that entice people into migration? How would you respond to the challenge that this may somehow prevent people from coming forward who may be victims of exploitation or trafficking, for example?

Lord Green of Deddington: I will keep my answers shorter in future, Mr Chairman, but I wanted to set out some of the basic considerations.

Photo of Albert Owen Albert Owen Labour, Ynys Môn

Sure. It was a good opening exchange.

Lord Green of Deddington: Our view is that it simply has to be an offence to work illegally in this country. I cannot see how it can be otherwise. For starters, these people are unquestionably undermining the wages of British workers or immigrant workers, for that matter—legal workers. There is no question that they are undermining the wages of legal workers.

Wages in London are lower than anywhere else in the country. Why? Because in low-paid work there is an enormous number of people who are ready to work for very little and, of course, employers know they can get illegals for even less. It has to be an offence, and it is high time that it was. As you say, there has to be a balance. As you know, the Modern Slavery Act helps in certain cases if people will come forward, but the answer probably is stronger enforcement—in other words, lean on the employers in order to squeeze out the ability to do this.

Q 104

Photo of Byron Davies Byron Davies Conservative, Gower

Lord Green, in response to an earlier question, you talked about an effective removal system. Could you expand on that and tell us what you think would be an effective removal system?

Lord Green of Deddington: First, it has to be quick. It has to be fair and it has to not be under the impediment of extremely complex procedures and legislation. I think the proposal in the Bill is right in addressing that. There are other issues, of course. They probably need more resources to do it. They probably need a bigger detention estate. With all those put together, one can work on improving the removals, but, as I say, you cannot remove 1 million people. You have to make sure they want to go themselves.

Q 105

Photo of Craig Whittaker Craig Whittaker Conservative, Calder Valley

Lord Green, you have already said there should be a duty on employers. I presume you put into the same category people such as landlords, whom the Bill specifically addresses. How can we better prevent illegal working without imposing additional burdens on business generally?

Lord Green of Deddington: I do not think you can, to be frank. There has to be a duty on employers and they have to fulfil it. They have to recognise that this is a serious matter of great public concern. It is a field in which some unscrupulous employers are making a packet at the expense of honest employers. They have to fulfil it.

Q 106

Photo of Paul Blomfield Paul Blomfield Labour, Sheffield Central

I wonder whether I could follow up on your answer to the Minister, Lord Green. You were saying that the criminalisation of workers would be helpful in achieving labour market compliance.

Lord Green of Deddington: Sorry, I am not saying workers should be criminalised; I am saying that illegal work should be a criminal offence.

Q 107

Photo of Paul Blomfield Paul Blomfield Labour, Sheffield Central

Effectively, the Bill criminalises undocumented workers, does it not?

Lord Green of Deddington: If they are here illegally, yes. That is the point.

Q 108

Photo of Paul Blomfield Paul Blomfield Labour, Sheffield Central

In your evidence to the Migration Advisory Committee review of low-skilled work, you talked about the problem of fear in the workplace and of there effectively being a climate in which employees would not challenge their employers. Do you not think that creating a criminal offence assists the hand of unscrupulous and exploitative employers and gangmasters, and therefore negates the desire that we all share to achieve effective compliance in the labour market?

Lord Green of Deddington: Yes, there is clearly that possibility. You say, does it negate. I think not because the wider issue is that we must crack down on illegal employment, which is widespread. Another part of that is to enforce action against employers, very few of whom have actually been penalised.

Q 109

Photo of Paul Blomfield Paul Blomfield Labour, Sheffield Central

I wondered whether you were hesitating because you wanted to add to that answer.

Lord Green of Deddington: No, not for the moment.

Q 110

Photo of Paul Blomfield Paul Blomfield Labour, Sheffield Central

I wonder whether I can ask another question. Your evidence to the MAC review of low-skilled work also talked about the need for more effective enforcement of minimum wage compliance and other areas. Do you think that it is a problem  that the Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate only has nine full-time staff, and do you think that more resources need to be allocated for effective enforcement?

Lord Green of Deddington: I think pretty well without question. One of the problems about expanding the legal base, it has to be done as a starting point but, if it is not then enforced, it becomes a waste of paper. If I may say so, I think that this Government have not devoted the resources that are necessary to what is an increasingly serious problem. They need to look again. The amount spent on the whole immigration system is about £750 million a year, I believe—absolute peanuts. It is one of the areas of government—I am sure that there are other areas—that needs more attention than it is getting.

Photo of Albert Owen Albert Owen Labour, Ynys Môn

We are just over halfway.

Q 111

Photo of Mims Davies Mims Davies Conservative, Eastleigh

I want to pick up on something that was raised this morning by the Refugee Council and Still Human Still Here. They were inferring that the reform of the support will affect asylum seekers, leaving children destitute and obviously affecting social services and local authorities. I wondered whether you had an understanding of the level of numbers that may be affected by that, and therefore the impact that could be anticipated, or whether that is in essence scaremongering?

Lord Green of Deddington: In terms of numbers, offhand I do not know. I would make a distinction between families where there are children present, which would surely affect the way in which they were handled, and those where there are no children. Where there are no children, when people come to the end of their process, they should go—end of story. We certainly should not have the taxpayer paying for them.

Q 112

Photo of Rebecca Harris Rebecca Harris Conservative, Castle Point

Back to that point, there are two questions relating to what we were told early this morning by witnesses. On that point—namely, we were told that with a lack of resources, when people have finally lost their appeal, that would drive them further underground and they would cease to engage; it would not work and we would find that less people were leaving—can you comment on whether that is a fair assessment? Will that measure and the other measures in this Bill make it more likely that people go underground and less likely that they are going to come forward and engage, as we are told the term is, and come to the conclusion that they need to go of their own accord?

Lord Green of Deddington: Of course, it would depend very much on the individual cases. The overall statistics are very clear. First, of those who have applied for asylum—this is the average over the last 10 years, just to give you the broad scope—50% only did so when they were discovered. Secondly, when those cases were heard, 50% were granted. So the other 50% were refused, and of those only half were removed. So if you set foot in this country, as people are doing every day from Calais, and you say the word “asylum” you have a 75% chance of staying here. Of course, they know that—they have relatives, they have friends, they have mobile phones, most of them. If you are going to weight the system, which is the only thing you could do by legislation, then you have to weight it against bogus asylum seekers. That is my bottom line.

Q 113

Photo of Rebecca Harris Rebecca Harris Conservative, Castle Point

Thank you. That takes me back to the other point, which is about making working illegal, in particular, although it equally applies to some of the other measures in the Bill. I put it to one of our earlier witnesses that quite a lot of potential migrants—even those who might be considered to be being trafficked or abused or taken advantage of when they get here—are quite well informed about the rules and the system here, and, as you said, their chances of remaining indefinitely. Would you say that they are more likely to know that it will be illegal and more difficult to work here, and will that, along with the other measures in the Bill, stop the draw factor? We were told this morning that it was unlikely that people who come from abroad would really know what the rules were here.

Lord Green of Deddington: I do not think that we should underestimate the intelligence of people because they come here illegally. For a start, there is very strong communication within communities, whether you be a Filipina maid or a Syrian carpenter. They all have friends and relatives, and communication is extremely good; they learn very quickly and they also learn the way round the system. I would not be too bothered about that. We need a system that is sensible, firm and fair, and they will either realise that that is the case or realise that it is not.

Q 114

Photo of Gavin Newlands Gavin Newlands Scottish National Party, Paisley and Renfrewshire North

I just want to ask for a quick clarification of an earlier answer to the Minister, in which you used the phrase “these people”. To be clear, can you define “these people” for the Committee?

Lord Green of Deddington: I am not sure what you are referring to.

Photo of Gavin Newlands Gavin Newlands Scottish National Party, Paisley and Renfrewshire North

At the start of an answer to the Minister, you used the phrase “these people”.

Lord Green of Deddington: I do not know which answer you are referring to. Can you be a bit more specific?

Photo of Gavin Newlands Gavin Newlands Scottish National Party, Paisley and Renfrewshire North

You might have been referring to asylum seekers or to migrants, but you gave the answer.

Lord Green of Deddington: I do not understand the question, I am afraid.

Lord Green of Deddington: I use lots of phrases.

Q 115

Photo of Gavin Newlands Gavin Newlands Scottish National Party, Paisley and Renfrewshire North

My main question is, to what extent do you consider that the Bill carries the risk of encouraging everyday discrimination against people who do not appear to be British?

Lord Green of Deddington: Could you say that a bit louder, please?

Photo of Gavin Newlands Gavin Newlands Scottish National Party, Paisley and Renfrewshire North

To what extent do you consider that the Bill carries the risk of encouraging everyday discrimination against people who do not appear to be British?

Lord Green of Deddington: What did he say?

Photo of Albert Owen Albert Owen Labour, Ynys Môn

Lord Green, are you having difficulty with the sound?

Lord Green of Deddington: I am, rather, yes—and, if I may say so, that slightly different accent. I did not understand the question, I am afraid.

Photo of Albert Owen Albert Owen Labour, Ynys Môn

Okay. You can try again, Gavin.

Photo of Gavin Newlands Gavin Newlands Scottish National Party, Paisley and Renfrewshire North

Do you think this Bill carries a risk that it will encourage everyday discrimination against people who do not appear to be British?

Lord Green of Deddington: Does the Bill carry the risk? Ah, sorry, yes, I understand. Some aspects of it might—you are probably thinking of the tenancy provisions. There is that possibility and it would be foolish to deny it, but you have to balance that against the absolute scandal of beds in sheds and the exploitation of people—immigrants usually, but not always—by ruthless landlords. There are tens of thousands of beds in sheds, probably more, and appalling conditions. That has to be tackled. Yes, there is a downside, as there is to any kind of change of this kind, but let us keep our eye on the ball. There is a scandal going on in relation to the housing of many people and that needs to be tackled.

Photo of Albert Owen Albert Owen Labour, Ynys Môn

There is a very crowded field and we have about seven minutes. Kelly?

Q 116

Photo of Kelly Tolhurst Kelly Tolhurst Conservative, Rochester and Strood

Earlier on you mentioned some of the numbers and the applicants to stay here. To what extent do you believe that the opportunities and ease of obtaining illegal work in this country are a pull for people to continue to come here?

Lord Green of Deddington: It is a major factor, absolutely. The wages here are so much higher than in the countries from which many people come—indeed they may have no means of earning a living in those countries in current conditions. I mentioned earlier that 50% of those who apply for asylum do so only when they are discovered working—or are discovered, but they will be working when they are discovered. Clearly, from their point of view, their intention was to come and work and then, as a fall-back position, apply for asylum if arrested. So, yes, that is a major factor.

Q 117

Photo of Keir Starmer Keir Starmer Shadow Minister (Home Office)

Mr Owen, it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, and I apologise for arriving late.

I would like to ask the panel some questions about illegal working. At the moment, a number of measures can be taken in relation to both employers and employees where there is an inspection of premises and people are found to be in the country without proper status. The problem, as I understand it, has been the low rates of inspection and even lower rates of enforcement. That is the really critical issue. For that reason, steps have been taken to create a director of labour market enforcement and it is hoped there will be better strategy—streamlining and all the rest of it—but throughout those debates, and certainly when I was Director of Public Prosecutions, I cannot remember people saying that there was a problem with not having an offence that can be prosecuted. In other words, nobody has suggested, as far as I know, that there is a problem because there is not an action that can be taken against employees. There is obvious action that can be taken.

Do you know of any evidence of any cases that have not progressed because the offence of illegal working by the employee was not in place? In other words, there was an inspection, something was found to be wrong, but then there was a problem over not being able to bring a case because you did not have an offence against employees. I do not know of any evidence of that.

Lord Green of Deddington: Almost by definition it would not arise, because if there were no offence they would not be taking it further—

Q 118

Photo of Keir Starmer Keir Starmer Shadow Minister (Home Office)

No, I am sorry to interrupt you, but there are plenty of examples throughout our criminal proceedings sector where something happens and a team will have carried out an inspection or arrest and realised that they cannot proceed any further because there is no offence that fits the action they are trying to deal with. That is not uncommon. Usually the response is to legislate to fill what is seen to be a gap in the available offences. I have never seen any evidence here that it is a gap in the available offences that caused the problem. It seems to be that there are not enough resources to carry out inspections to enforce the measures that are already there.

Photo of Albert Owen Albert Owen Labour, Ynys Môn

Can I ask for briefer answers and questions, please, if we are going to satisfy everybody on the list? Thank you.

Lord Green of Deddington: On the first point, you may well be right, but that is more for the Home Office than myself. On your second point, enforcement is essential, and it is not happening. You mentioned this director of enforcement. I think that is probably a good idea, but I would say this. The civil service is not a Meccano set; it is a plant and you cannot keep digging it up to see if it is working or not. I think we need to be careful about reorganising, organising and reorganising. On this occasion, I think there is a case for it.

Photo of Simon Hoare Simon Hoare Conservative, North Dorset

Lord Green, although I, too, cannot remember the context in which you used the phrase, I would like to support what Mr Newlands was saying. There was a very disparaging tone with regard to “these people”. It certainly jarred with me. On such a sensitive issue as this we all need to be careful about language.

What I did not follow in the logic of your response to an earlier question about the financial support provided to people who have had their applications refused and who have exhausted the appeal process was why there should be an exemption for those with children, or a different style of treatment for those who have children. It seems to me, and I would welcome your views, that if a parent is told that they do not have the right to remain, they are by definition responsible for the welfare of their child. If the child is going to suffer disproportionately because there is a lack of central Government or local government funding, the solution remains in their hands. They have exhausted the appeal process; they have no right to remain. Surely, to safeguard the future and wellbeing of their child or children they should return to their country of origin as quickly as possible. I did not follow the logic that you were deploying as to why there should be two separate streams merely predicated on the fact that people had children.

Photo of Albert Owen Albert Owen Labour, Ynys Môn

Lord Green, I have one more Member, Anne, wanting to ask a question. If you do not finish your response, would you please give some written response to that?

Photo of Anne McLaughlin Anne McLaughlin Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Civil Liberties)

I will try to be quick. In answer to an earlier question regarding asylum seekers, Lord Green, you said that they know that they have a 70% chance of staying—I am paraphrasing—and that some of them even have mobile phones. I wonder if you are aware of a detailed report from 2010 that Swansea University carried out for the Refugee Council on this very matter of whether asylum seekers set out to come to the UK. They said that the belief that many politicians have is not supported by the existing research evidence, much of which suggests that destinations are determined not by personal choices about lifestyle but by the practicalities and demands of the situation—

Photo of Albert Owen Albert Owen Labour, Ynys Môn

Order. I am sorry to stop the hon. Lady in full flow. Lord Green, Mr Hoare and Ms McLaughlin have asked questions that are on the record, and if you could provide answers we would very much appreciate it. On behalf of the Committee I thank you for the answers you have given. If you have additional information that you want to supply to the Committee, please feel free to do so.