This amendment would limit the ‘right to rent’ provisions of this Bill so that they do not apply to Scotland.
Amendment 82, in clause 15, page 16, line 31, at end insert—
‘(5A) The Immigration Act 2014 is amended as follows, after section 76(3) insert—
(3A) Sections 20 to 37 and Schedule 3 shall not apply to Scotland.”
This amendment would limit the ‘right to rent’ provisions in the Immigration Act 2014 so that they do not apply to Scotland.
New clause 12—Immigration Act 2014: Extension to Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
‘(1) The Immigration Act 2014 is amended as follows.
(2) In section 76(2) insert—
“(2A) Sections 20 to 37 and Schedule 3 extend to England only unless an order is made under this section but no order may be made under this section—
(a) Extending the provisions to Scotland without the consent of the Scottish Ministers;
(b) Extending the provisions to Wales without the consent of the Welsh Assembly;
(c) Extending the provisions to Northern Ireland without the consent of the Northern Ireland Assembly.””
I start by asking the Minister whether he will acknowledge that housing is a devolved responsibility. Lengthy provisions in the Bill affecting housing for those already in the country are in effect housing legislation under an immigration banner. The Law Society of Scotland believes that the residential tenancy provisions will require a legislative consent motion to be placed before the Scottish Parliament. My understanding is that the Minister disagrees with that. It is clear that the Bill affects all landlords and tenants in Scotland and thus fundamentally alters a sector for which legislation is devolved. Moreover, it is clear that the changes are not merely incidental. Calling it the Immigration Bill does nothing to change the fact that it substantially alters housing law in Scotland.
The Bill allows for the measures on residential tenancies to be brought into effect in Scotland simply through a regulation-making power. That power specifically prevents functions being conferred on Scottish Ministers and means that the regulations can revoke, amend or repeal any Act or order made by the Scottish Parliament. That would enable the Minister and the UK Government to use secondary legislation powers simply to overturn primary legislation on matters devolved to the Scottish Parliament without its consent and often against its will.
What has happened to the respect agenda? Where is the constitutional principle that the UK Government will not legislate on devolved matters in Scotland without the consent of the Scottish Parliament, which clearly represents the Scottish people? The Bill also runs counter to clause 2 of the Scotland Bill, which is being considered here in Westminster and is intended to recognise that principle in statute.
If the Scotland Bill is passed next week and the Immigration Bill is not amended, would I be right to tell the people of Scotland that this British Government have no regard for Scotland’s right to legislate on devolved matters? Given the enthusiasm with which the UK Government have embraced English votes for English laws, could some people not rightly suggest that it is perhaps a little hypocritical to attempt to ride roughshod over the will of the Scottish Parliament?
The Law Society of Scotland highlighted some other concerns. When issues such as asylum support, taken together with the housing law measures, are also taken into account, the changes to devolved functions such as local authorities, health, child protection and social work can no longer be described as incidental to a reserved matter, in this case immigration. Following the devolution referendum, it was clear that the settled will of the Scottish people was to have these issues decided in Edinburgh. It is also clear, given the SNP majority in Holyrood and the fact that only one Conservative MP was elected in Scotland, that these right to rent proposals do not have the support of the Scottish people or the Scottish Parliament. I propose that these provisions be removed from the Bill.
Of course, I am making the big assumption that the Minister is not going to rise to his feet shortly and tell us that this was an oversight and that he will of course amend the Bill to reflect the principle in clause 2 of the Scotland Bill and to include in the regulation-making powers in clause 15 a duty on UK Ministers to consult Scottish Ministers and to seek the Scottish Parliament’s consent to regulations before they are introduced. That would be the right thing to do and it would allow the Scottish Parliament to consult with relevant stakeholders in Scotland about these proposals.
I can deal with it very quickly because it is on a theme. It is simply a new clause to remove the power to extend, by regulation, the provisions of the Bill on residential tenancies beyond England and to restrict the provisions of the Immigration Act 2014 pertaining to England unless the devolved Administrations consent to their further extension. It is a fall-back position.
I previously discussed briefly how the Bill affects areas of devolved legislation in Scotland and how it, and clause 15 in particular, fit with the UK Government’s implementation—in full, allegedly—of the Smith commission. There is another debate to be had about whether the Smith commission lives up to the vow that was made to the Scottish people. Members will be aware that a vow was made to represent near federalism or home rule within the UK. They will also be aware that most, if not all, definitions of federalism or home rule suggest that all powers except defence and foreign affairs will be devolved to another local level—the Scottish Parliament, in this case. That debate will be had in another time and place, but we should reflect on the manner in which the Bill affects Smith and the passage of the Scotland Bill.
The Smith commission opened up the possibility that the Scottish Parliament will be allowed to develop and design certain immigration powers to cope with the particular and different demands affecting Scotland. When we combine that with the fact that housing is already devolved to Scotland, the uncomfortable truth for the Minister is that the Government are trying to pull a fast one here. Why else would the Minister refuse to meet the Scottish Government Minister for Housing and Welfare, who requested a meeting on this very issue?
Amendments 78 to 82 provide that the right to rent policy would not apply to Scotland. There are a number of additional reasons over housing being devolved as to why the SNP group believes that these amendments are justified. The powers in the previous Scotland Act have just started to be implemented and we are debating further powers in the latest incarnation of the Scotland Bill, including putting the Sewell convention on a statutory footing. However, we also think that the right to rent policy is simply a bad policy that lacks the appropriate evidence base. If it is rushed through it will not only have a significant impact on tenants but affect landlords and letting agencies.
During the evidence session we heard from a range of bodies that have voiced concern about the right to rent policy. A lot of these experts and agencies have already been quoted at length, so I shall not test the Committee’s patience by repeating them ad nauseam. However, it is not only these important UK-wide organisations voicing concern about this policy; as my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North East mentioned, the Law Society of Scotland has deep concerns. It is worth reflecting on its contribution:
“In relation to the proposal to empower the Secretary of State to amend or repeal provisions of Acts of the Scottish Parliament, we are concerned that the potential for unlawful discrimination and for human rights breaches have not been fully considered. We consider that consultation with a view to seeking the legislative consent of the Scottish Parliament should be initiated”.
The Scottish Federation of Housing Associations is also calling for the right to rent policy to be repealed, as the checks that are required to be undertaken are causing
“disproportionate and unnecessary stress upon our members’ resources that are already under pressure due to the financial impacts of supporting tenants through welfare reform, and other financial constraints”.
However, organisations are not only voicing concern about the financial costs that are being levelled against landlords as a result of the right to rent policy; they also do not think it is right that they are being asked to perform the duties of an immigration official. The SFHA’s written evidence questioned whether it was appropriate for landlords to be acting as the UK Government’s very own immigration agents. That is a reasonable question, since our landlords and letting agencies do not have the training or the expertise to be able to ascertain someone’s immigration status. These are fundamental concerns that need to be addressed, and the snapshot, rushed and ill-equipped evaluation that the UK Government have hastily put together on the right to rent policy fails to address the points that have been raised.
The SNP would like to see the right to rent policy being scrapped across the whole of the UK, reducing the discrimination that our international friends face regardless of where they might be staying. Nevertheless, we accept that the UK Government have the mandate to roll out this scheme across England. Equally, however, they must be willing to accept that Scotland should be exempt from the right to rent roll-out. The fact that housing is already devolved, combined with the content of the Smith commission, the views and evidence provided by a range of housing bodies, and the general election results in Scotland, create a strong and justifiable argument that amendments 78 to 82 should be accepted by the Government and the right to rent roll-out should not take place in Scotland.
At their essence, I suppose that the arguments advanced by the hon. Members for Glasgow North East and for Paisley and Renfrewshire, as well as by the hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras, are—on the basis of what I have heard—that the provisions contained not only within this Bill but within the preceding Immigration Act about the right to rent are not reserved matters, and are actually devolved matters; that is if I understand the points that have been set out.
The Immigration Act 2014 provided for the right to rent scheme. That scheme is part of a wider set of reforms to immigration control within the United Kingdom. It restricts the access that illegal migrants have to the private rented sector, stopping them from setting down roots and building ties while they are here unlawfully. The scheme also protects the finite housing stock in the UK for our lawful residents, not least our settled and lawfully staying migrant populations. Yet these amendments seek to prevent the application of the new measures set out in the Bill that assist landlords in evicting illegal migrants and that create new offences for the rogue landlords and agents who deliberately and repeatedly rent premises to those who they know or believe to be illegal migrants. These measures provide new levers for us to hold to account the rogue landlords who exploit illegal migrants.
At its fundamental essence, immigration control is a reserved matter. These amendments would lead to different immigration controls being in place across the United Kingdom. That would mean that immigration control could be less effective and it could serve to draw illegal migrants to one part of the United Kingdom, with the corollary that there would be no meaningful sanctions that could be applied against the minority of landlords who choose to act in this way in that part of the United Kingdom.
Therefore, I say directly to the SNP Members that I recognise the political difference between us—they object to the policy and do not like it. That is their view and, as always, I respect the views of all right hon. and hon. Members. However, that is distinct from an issue of whether a matter is reserved or devolved.
For example, the point has been made that these provisions would not be captured by clause 2 of the Scotland Bill, because this is legislation relating to a reserved matter, in relation to which the UK Government have competence, and therefore consent is not required. The point was made that housing is a devolved matter, which I absolutely acknowledge. However, the measures in this Bill and in the preceding Immigration Act are part of a reform to the immigration system and immigration control. These are immigration measures for an immigration purpose, and so are within the powers reserved to the UK Government.
I have to say that it is striking, notable and in some ways surprising that the official Opposition have tabled new clause 12, because it appears to cede a reserved matter. That is quite a fundamental point that we are debating here—the position that the Opposition have taken.
That was not a point that was ever made by the Opposition when the Immigration Act 2014 was being considered. Then, it was accepted, or it was certainly not challenged, by the Opposition that this was a reserved matter, yet now they are adopting a different approach. I can only question what might have motivated that change in approach. It appears that the official Opposition are now saying, “Do you know what? Immigration is not a reserved matter. It is, at least in part, a devolved matter.” It is worth understanding and recognising the import and impact of what is proposed by new clause 12, because it cuts to the fundamentals of immigration policy more generally. The Opposition Front-Bench team has set out a clear marker with which I fundamentally disagree. Immigration control is a reserved matter for the Government of the United Kingdom.
There may be a change in view, and Opposition Front Benchers can speak for themselves. They may object to or disagree with the further extension or roll-out, or propose some further mechanism requiring parliamentary authority—I could understand that—but the manner in which they have gone about things, by ceding a reserved matter in this way, is striking and has much broader implications for their policy formulation. I urge hon. Members not to press their amendment.
This is the first time during the consideration of the Bill that I have noticed the Minister looking impatient. I appreciate that I might just be putting my interpretation on things, but he has been shaking his head and he looked quite defensive to me.
Do you want me to sit down and take interventions? I think that we have hit a sore spot, because the Minister is well aware that the measures will have a significant impact on—
It might help to know that we on the Government side see my right hon. Friend as a swan gracefully gliding over the surface of the legislative lake: paddling energetically underneath, but always maintaining a calm veneer.
I hesitate to intervene after the last intervention. All that I would say to the hon. Lady is that she is wrong; that is the fundamental thing. There is clearly a difference of view between us, but I am certain of the ground on which we stand and the points that I have elucidated about our belief that this is a reserved matter. She is obviously entitled to her particular view, but I would not want to give her an indication of any irritation with her at all. Far from it; she has made her points in a fair and reasonable way.
I thank the Minister for allowing me to find some common ground with him at last, because I too think that he is wrong. I think that the Scottish Refugee Council, the Law Society of Scotland and the Scottish Government are right, and that he should reconsider the so-called respect agenda between the two Governments. As my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North said, the Minister refused a meeting with the Scottish Government Minister for Housing and Welfare, who has significant concerns not just at a policy level but at an implementation level. She requested a meeting and was refused with a “My people will talk to your people; I don’t have to talk to you” sort of response, although maybe—definitely—not in those words. If there is respect between the two Governments, why would the Minister not just sit down with the Scottish Government Minister to go through things if he is so convinced that he is right? I do not withdraw the amendment.
Clause 15 permits the Secretary of State to make provision that has a similar effect to the residential tenancy provisions in relation to Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, where different housing legislation applies. The intent behind these measures is to restrict the access that illegal migrants have to the private rented sector and, as such, they are not within devolved competence, as per the debate we have just had on the amendments. The intention is to extend the residential tenancy provision UK-wide. The clause specifies that regulations made under it may make provision that has a similar effect to any of the residential tenancy provisions in housing legislation in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The regulations may amend, repeal or revoke any enactment, including enactments contained in legislation passed by the devolved legislatures. They may confer functions on any person. However, they may not confer functions on Scottish or Welsh Ministers or the Northern Ireland Executive.
New housing legislation has been introduced in both Wales and Scotland that may come into force in advance of these provisions. As the application of these provisions will necessitate an amendment to Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish legislation, there will need to be further liaison before the provisions can be commenced UK-wide. The intention is for the residential tenancy provisions to be brought into force in England first and in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland at a later date.
I assure Opposition Members that discussions with Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have already begun. We intend to take into consideration the housing Bills that the Scottish and Welsh Governments are progressing through scrutiny, and therefore continued engagement will take place in respect of the implementation of the regulations and the mechanism as set out in clause 15.