Extent, commencement and short title

Part of Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:15 pm on 28th February 2019.

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Photo of Afzal Khan Afzal Khan Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Immigration) 2:15 pm, 28th February 2019

I will speak to amendments 17 and 32, which are in my name. I support amendments 38 and 39, which have been tabled by the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East.

On amendment 32, the Bill and the White Paper do not address the many deep-seated problems in our broken immigration system, but instead subject a further 3 million people to it. The Windrush crisis laid bare the extent to which the hostile environment policy impacts on human rights; British citizens were detained and deported, and the Government have acknowledged that that was utterly wrong. I will return to the need for a full review of all Windrush cases, before the Bill is enacted, when we debate amendment 16.

We have heard the opinions of several experts on the danger of a repeat of Windrush for EU citizens, and we need a two-pronged approach to avoid that. First, we must ensure that the rights of EU citizens are enshrined in primary legislation, and that there is no unnecessary cut-off for applications for settled status—an argument I will elaborate on when we discuss the new clauses. Secondly, we must address the root cause of the Windrush crisis: the hostile environment policy.

As the spokesperson for Liberty set out in our evidence session, the impact of the hostile environment goes beyond even the Windrush scandal; it reverberates throughout people’s lives. Children are afraid to go to school, sick people are afraid to go to hospital and victims of serious crime are afraid to report them to the police. Our public services have been co-opted, with doctors, teachers and landlords turned into border guards.

The hostile environment does not only affect migrants. A report by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants shows that inquiries from British black and minority ethnic tenants without a passport were ignored or turned down by 58% of landlords in a mystery shopping exercise. I need not remind the Committee that a large number of BME British citizens will be caught in this policy. A number of independent bodies have recommended that the Government review the hostile environment. The Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration found:

“Concerns about right to rent’s impact on racial and other forms of discrimination by landlords, exploitation of migrants and associated criminality, and homelessness, have been raised, repeatedly, by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI), Crisis, Migrants’ Rights Network and others”,

but the Government did not complete an evaluation of the pilot before rolling it out, nor did they attempt to measure its impact once it was fully rolled out. The independent chief inspector found that overall,

“the RtR scheme had yet to demonstrate its worth as a tool to encourage immigration compliance.”

Internally, the Home Office has failed to co-ordinate, maximise or even effectively measure the use of the scheme. Externally, meanwhile, the Home Office is doing little to address stakeholders’ concerns. The National Audit Office found that the Government failed to fulfil their duty of care when introducing the hostile environment. Its report said:

“In its implementation of the policy with few checks and balances and targets for enforcement action, we do not consider, once again, that the Department adequately prioritised the protection of those who suffered distress and damage through being wrongly penalised, and to whom they owed a duty of care. Instead it operated a target-driven environment for its enforcement teams.”

The Government have recognised the need for an extensive review. After one of my parliamentary questions exposed the scandal of the Home Office’s requiring people who applied for visas to supply DNA evidence, the Home Secretary committed to a wide-ranging review of those “structures and processes” in the Home Office,

“to ensure they can deliver a system in a way which is fair and humane.”

That was back in October 2018, and we have heard nothing more about it since then. The Labour party is clear that we cannot have a “fair and humane” immigration system that respects human rights until we have repealed the hostile environment in its entirety. The Windrush crisis was caused by systematic problems within the Home Office, and it will take root and branch reform to return us to an immigration system that respects human rights.

I turn briefly to the question of data protection, which is related but warrants special consideration. The Data Protection Act 2018 allows an entity that processes data for immigration control purposes to set aside a person’s data protection rights in a broad range of circumstances. As I believe was said during the debate on that Bill, data protection rights help us to hold the Home Office to account. The White Paper indicates that the Government will be using data sharing more and more to enforce the hostile environment.

As Liberty set out, it is concerned that

“the Home Office is really quite a poor data controller, and yet automated data processing is increasingly going to be the linchpin of implementing the hostile environment.”––[Official Report, Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Public Bill Committee, 12 February 2019; c. 60, Q159.]

In that context, it is essential that people have some form of redress for data errors, and data protection rights are crucial. We believe that the hostile environment should be repealed, but if it is to be continued, we must at least have effective redress for errors.

The purpose of amendment 17 is to require the Secretary of State to implement the recommendations of the Law Commission’s review of UK immigration rules. In her opening remarks on this Bill, the Minister mentioned the Law Commission, and I welcome that; I hope she will commit to adopting the measures it recommends before the Government make extensive changes to immigration rules as a consequence of this Bill. In that case, we would not press this amendment to a vote.

Many changes to immigration rules have been made in a piecemeal way, resulting in immigration laws being practically incomprehensible. The JCWI pointed out that Supreme Court judges, Court of Appeal judges, immigration experts and immigration lawyers have all said in public that it is almost impossible for anyone to navigate, let alone people who are expected to do so without necessarily having perfect English or legal aid. The Law Commission points out that, on 31 December 2018, the rules totalled 1,133 and are poorly drafted, which the Government recognised by commissioning the Law Commission review. It makes sense to implement the Law Commission’s recommendations and clean up the statute book before making a whole raft of changes for EEA citizens.

The Law Commission’s project of simplifying the immigration rules officially started on 13 December 2017. It held pre-consultation meetings with key stakeholders and other experts, and with the Home Office. The consultation paper was published on 21 January 2019 and the consultation period is open until 26 April 2019. Recommendations will be delivered in a final report “later in 2019”.

Changes that the Law commission is considering as part of its review include: a less prescriptive approach to the rules; reforming the organisation and restructuring the immigration rules; removing overlapping provisions and resolving inconsistencies; improving the drafting style; and improving the way that immigration rules are updated. We support those changes, and we believe that it makes most sense for them to be incorporated before our immigration rules are overhauled as a consequence of enacting the Bill.