Examination of Witnesses

Immigration Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:00 pm on 20th October 2015.

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Chief SuperintendentDavid Snelling and Stephen Gabriel gave evidence.

Q 142

Photo of Albert Owen Albert Owen Labour, Ynys Môn

Good afternoon. We are now on the seventh panel of witnesses and we will have oral evidence from the Metropolitan police and from Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council. This session will go until 4.15 pm.

Could the witnesses please introduce themselves for the record?

Stephen Gabriel: My name is Stephen Gabriel and I am the strategic manager at Sandwell Council with responsibility for private sector housing.

Chief Superintendent David Snelling: Good afternoon. My name is David Snelling. I am a chief superintendent from the Metropolitan police, but my role here is that I am chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council—which has replaced ACPO—Vehicle Recovery Group.

Q 143

Photo of Robert Buckland Robert Buckland The Solicitor-General

I want to ask Chief Superintendent Snelling some questions about the provisions in the Bill relating to driving. An issue has been raised that somehow the progress being made by the Metropolitan police in particular in dealing with some of the problems relating to stop-and-search measures will be, in effect, hampered by the introduction of provisions relating to the search of vehicles that might be used by illegal immigrants. What do you say to that suggestion?

Chief Superintendent David Snelling: Perhaps I can give a theoretical example from an operational perspective of how this practice is most likely to be employed. It is  most likely that we will have come across something by a vehicle that we would have had some reason to stop, which would then enable us to do a check on ownership of the vehicle using the police national computer. At that stage, what we would probably do then is speak to the driver and ascertain his or her details. Again, we would then again do a check on the national police computer about them, but at the same time we would also carry out a driving licence check. That would give us some indication of the type of driving licence they held, if any at all.

So, regarding what we would call the traditional stop-and-search provisions whereby we see somebody acting suspiciously in the street, we go and question them—stop and search them—our interactions would be merely reactive, following on from cause to stop a vehicle and then ascertaining other provisions about the driver from there.

Q 144

Photo of Robert Buckland Robert Buckland The Solicitor-General

So this is intelligence-led policing, as opposed to what I will frankly describe as some of the random stops and searches that we know disproportionately disadvantage people from the black and minority ethnic communities.

Chief Superintendent David Snelling: If I were perhaps to take out some of the language from there and talk about this particular instance, yes, we would have had cause to stop a vehicle, and we would have done further checks on the driver of that vehicle, which would enable us to deal with them in whichever way is appropriate.

Q 145

Photo of Robert Buckland Robert Buckland The Solicitor-General

On the new power relating to the detention of a vehicle relating to a person unlawfully here in the United Kingdom, how will that dovetail with existing powers to detain vehicles?

Chief Superintendent David Snelling: We have a variety of powers to detain vehicles. We have a power to stop any vehicle to ascertain ownership and driver details. What we would then do is inquire into whether the driver has authority to drive that vehicle. The power we use most often at the moment would be stopping vehicles where there is no insurance or the driver is driving otherwise than in accordance with their licence—we find a lot of people with provisional licences who are not driving with L plates. In that respect, I would see it as a staged process: we would stop the vehicle, then ascertain the circumstances of the driver.

To fall within the provisions of the Bill, we would most likely need to do a further check with the immigration authorities, which at that stage would give us reasonable grounds—whether or not you could use the term “proof” is another thing—based on a search on the immigration database, to believe that that person is driving as an illegal immigrant. That would fall within the provisions of the Act—should the Bill be made an Act of Parliament. At that stage we would have the power to seize the vehicle, as we would currently do under driving without insurance.

Q 146

Photo of Robert Buckland Robert Buckland The Solicitor-General

So the extra dimension is then the ability to check the Home Office database?

Chief Superintendent David Snelling: Yes, that is something we would require to actually exercise the powers proposed in the Bill.

Q 147

Photo of Robert Buckland Robert Buckland The Solicitor-General

Are you satisfied that these provisions will not cut through or cut across the excellent work being done by the police service on reforming stop and search and having a much more intelligence-led approach to it, as opposed to the random problems that we all acknowledge we saw in the past?

Chief Superintendent David Snelling: In terms of the example I have given, it is a series of steps that we can say objectively are what have led us to form the suspicion. We would be referring to an authorised database, owned by a Government agency. That should allay the view of various members of the public that we would just be, to use your terms, stopping people on speculation.

Q 148

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

Chief Superintendent Snelling, can I follow up on the questions about driving? You have talked us through the way in which a vehicle would be stopped at the moment, using current powers. I think a number of licences have been revoked as the result of the exercise of existing powers, and of course when you find someone in a car who is not legally allowed to be here or has an irregular immigration status, there are various enforcement actions that can be taken in any event. Have you, on behalf of the chiefs’ council or in any other capacity, asked for a further offence of driving while not having a regular immigration status? In other words, have you identified a gap in your powers that has led you to ask for further offences to be considered because you have found a problem?

Chief Superintendent David Snelling: Can I give you a short answer?

Chief Superintendent David Snelling: No.

Chief Superintendent David Snelling: If I can slightly flesh that out—or have I been cut off by the Chair?

Photo of Albert Owen Albert Owen Labour, Ynys Môn

No, you have not, but please be brief.

Chief Superintendent David Snelling: We have been involved in discussions with the Home Office that have proposed this power, but to the question whether we approached the Home Office, the answer is no.

Q 149

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

Mr Gabriel, do you believe the provisions in the Bill covering landlords and the new responsibility of landlords to effectively become immigration experts are going to put a strain on community relations and perhaps lead to more discrimination?

Stephen Gabriel: We speak to landlords on a daily basis. Some of the landlords are not saying that they feel it is an extra burden. The point was made earlier that some landlords have already been looking for and taking information such as copies of people’s passports or other forms of identification, so the good landlords would have been doing checks anyway. Also, some landlords have said that where they felt a bit nervous about asking for proof, the pilot gave them a legitimate reason to ask for and get that information before they could move further with any contracts.

A point was raised earlier about the indigenous population having access to identification, and that could be a challenge. As we know, migrants or asylum  seekers who are looking for accommodation will normally come with the relevant documentation. I think there is a point around the indigenous population having the right documentation. As was raised earlier, if two people come along at the same time and one has the documentation but the other does not, the landlord is likely to go with the one who does.

Q 150

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

As you said, good landlords are going to welcome this because it gives them more support to ask for documents to prove legitimacy and protect their tenancy. The group that I am concerned about are the accidental landlords, who just see this as another burden when they did not particularly want to be in this situation, and who may withdraw themselves from the market. I am concerned about the potential for bad landlords to fill that gap, offering substandard accommodation and not asking for the right documents, so that people could fall off the radar and people who choose to fall off the radar could go even further off.

Stephen Gabriel: Bad landlords have always been out there. Even with the introduction of this legislation, in the area that I cover in Sandwell, we are still picking up landlords who are not fulfilling their obligations. I talk about the grey economy of landlords, and I think there is still a lot of work to do to identify those landlords. In Sandwell, we have undertaken a proactive approach for one of our neighbourhoods that we know has a high turnover of newcomers. We are finding some real challenges in relation to the quality of properties that people are living in, particularly properties above shops. We have tried to go there with colleagues from environmental health and housing to take a holistic approach to those buildings, so we can get up and see what is happening above the shops. We found on one occasion two elderly people aged over 80 living in a property that I would describe as—well, not very nice.

Q 151

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

Unfortunately, I have areas like that with private landlords, and those properties tends to be occupied by migrant workers but also trafficked people coming over. What could be in this Bill that is not there already to target those bad landlords?

Stephen Gabriel: From my perspective, it is about what we do on the ground operationally and how we work with our enforcement colleagues. We have now opened up the channels of communication with the Home Office and the Gangmasters Licensing Authority. We have undertaken one joint enforcement activity in Sandwell, and other enforcement activities are coming through now. I am also aware that across the other authorities affected by the pilot, the increase in that relationship in sharing information, sharing data and going out on joint enforcement visits has really raised the profile of the work that we are doing among landlords.

Another thing is how we raise the profile among tenants. One of the things that we have done in the region is recently to launch a mobile app, which is called “Check Before You Rent”. One of the questions in the app is: is your landlord accredited, and have they asked you for any information about the immigration checks?

Q 152

Photo of Mims Davies Mims Davies Conservative, Eastleigh

I must declare an interest in the road safety aspect, because that is an area I have worked in previously. Chief Superintendent Snelling, in terms  of people killed or seriously injured, have you identified communities where there is a difference in the culture regarding drink or drug-driving? Have the police identified that as a concern?

Chief Superintendent David Snelling: In wider issues such as drink and domestic abuse and domestic violence, we have identified some communities that are more prone to that. That would be the remit of a local police chief superintendent. I am Sutton borough commander, so I have a good idea of the make-up of my communities within the area that I police. Were there to be specific community concerns or tensions, we would seek to look into it either through education or through enforcement.

On the road safety side, in Sutton we are working closely with Transport for London to raise awareness of safety among schoolchildren. For the wider population, we would hope that the provisions of the Bill would be widely publicised. As I have highlighted with the scenario for stopping, we have run certain operations nationally with the immigration service and we have worked with them to target areas of concern. They, like us, would be feeding into their community representatives to ensure that they would have an understanding of why we have exercised those powers.

Q 153

Photo of Mims Davies Mims Davies Conservative, Eastleigh

Have you identified a spike in certain areas where people have been killed or seriously injured by people who do not have the right documentation or perhaps the right driving licence or insurance?

Chief Superintendent David Snelling: The short answer is no. We would tend to look locally at some of the problems. For example, in London I am aware that there has been a recent slight rise in the number of failed to stop collisions. We tend to think the reason for that is because people did not have the appropriate driving licence or insurance, which is why they would not stop. Again, some of our work would be reactive and some would be proactive.

Q 154

Photo of Mims Davies Mims Davies Conservative, Eastleigh

Finally, in terms of people identified and the information that you highlight, is this a timely piece of legislation?

Chief Superintendent David Snelling: I think there is an area, yes, that we could address—some areas that would tighten up some of the current provisions. Although the police have not asked for the authority, working with the Home Office I can see where that could assist us.

Photo of Albert Owen Albert Owen Labour, Ynys Môn

We are just over halfway through this session. A brief supplementary from Keir, and then I will come to Byron.

Q 155

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

Chief Superintendent Snelling, can I come back to you on a different aspect of driving? The proposed offence is driving a motor vehicle when a person is not lawfully resident in the UK. As I understand it, that means that somebody who overstays can commit the offence once they have lost their lawful right to be resident in the UK. In other words, you can have someone who is entitled to drive, has a valid driving licence, proper insurance and so on, and then on a  certain day, if they overstay or go beyond their permitted residence here, they have become a criminal offender for driving a car. Do you know—if you do not, tell us—in such circumstances, is their otherwise valid insurance immediately invalid, so that they are also an uninsured driver?

Chief Superintendent David Snelling: The short answer is no. I think we would need a detailed approach to the insurance company. We often find at the roadside that some of the provisions of the legislation would still allow them to be covered as far as the legislation is concerned, although other offences may have been committed.

Q 156

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

Do you know what the situation is here?

Chief Superintendent David Snelling: I have not looked into it in enough technical detail.

Q 157

Photo of Byron Davies Byron Davies Conservative, Gower

Mr Snelling, leading on from the Minister’s questions—it is perhaps a little out of context now—on this fear about the stop and search issues, do the immigration authorities have access to the police national computer? Can they flag up on the PNC whether somebody is an illegal immigrant?

Chief Superintendent David Snelling: I am afraid I do not have that level of detail about immigration authorities’ access to the police national computer.

Q 158

Photo of Rebecca Harris Rebecca Harris Conservative, Castle Point

I would like to go back to the question of discrimination in housing. Mr Gabriel, you said something quite interesting, which was that you found that quite a lot of tenants quite liked the idea that they would have to be asked for documentation—they would not have that awkwardness, because it was mandated. I noted, looking at the findings of the report into the trial, the mystery shopping survey found that a higher proportion of black and minority ethnic potential tenants were asked for their documents, but in the ultimate findings a higher proportion of them were given tenancies compared with white British. Does that make any sense to you? Does that surprise you? Can you give any interpretation of that?

Stephen Gabriel: Just to clarify, my point was about how landlords felt that, with the legislation coming in and the right-to-rent pilot, they then had the ability to ask the questions, not the tenants. In relation to discrimination, I think the point that I made earlier, the issue around the indigenous population is the biggest thing. If you have got the requirement—the passport or the driving licence—you are less likely to be discriminated against than someone who has not.

Q 159

Photo of Rebecca Harris Rebecca Harris Conservative, Castle Point

So it could be beneficial in that regard.

Stephen Gabriel: Yes.

Q 160

Photo of Craig Whittaker Craig Whittaker Conservative, Calder Valley

Mr Gabriel, you mentioned the grey economy of landlords and spoke about more collaborative working. I think you touched on the issuing of notices of compliance and things such as that. Do you feel that you already have sufficient powers to deal  with the grey economy? Would you say that the powers in the Bill around the checks that landlords have to do will actually overall enhance your job regarding that particular economy?

Stephen Gabriel: There is more that we can do around trying to understand where the grey economy is, but I think that the Bill and the work that we have been doing go some way to beginning to address that—in particular, the collaborative working between organisations. That is the point to be made here. Previously, it was very difficult for local authority enforcement teams to work with the Home Office and the GLA, but now there is a real impetus for us to work together to deal with some of these enforcement issues, and we are seeing that on the ground.

Q 161

Photo of Craig Whittaker Craig Whittaker Conservative, Calder Valley

So the new powers in the Bill, around the landlord checks, for example—will they enhance that role as well?

Stephen Gabriel: That is right, yes.

Q 162

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

Mr Gabriel, the Bill removes support for a majority of failed asylum seekers. Do you have concerns that through this aspect of the Bill, the Government are in effect devolving to local government responsibility for the support of refused asylum-seeking families through its responsibility to accommodate children? At this time of great restraint in local government funding, do you feel that this is an area that might be looked at again?

Stephen Gabriel: It is a challenge. One of my concerns in Sandwell is that we are part of the West Midlands strategic migration partnership and there is the need for local authorities to have parity in numbers in the families whom they are supporting. Yes, in Sandwell our percentage is higher than in some of the other local authorities in the area, so if the Home Office stops supporting those families, that will potentially have a negative impact on the local authority. That could be a challenge for the local authority.

Q 163

Photo of Albert Owen Albert Owen Labour, Ynys Môn

We have approximately seven minutes. Does anyone else want to ask a question?

Q 164

Photo of Rebecca Harris Rebecca Harris Conservative, Castle Point

Mr Gabriel, I often find quite a lot of anger from people who are waiting on housing lists, because they have a certain conviction in their own minds that people are getting housing ahead of them, whether private rental or whatever—that they are being squeezed out of the market because of vast numbers of illegal immigrants, whether that is true or not true. In your professional opinion, do you think that the measure will give people more reassurance that there is not that injustice, and that they will know that it is not possible?

Stephen Gabriel: The ability to carry out the checks and to be seen to be doing more to make sure that those members of the community who do have a right to stay here are being checked from a housing perspective is a tool that will allay some of those fears, I think.

Photo of Albert Owen Albert Owen Labour, Ynys Môn

Do any other Members wish to ask questions? If there are no further questions, I thank both witnesses for their evidence, and we will move on to our final panel. Thank you very much.