Hostile environment and EEA nationals

Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:45 am on 5th March 2019.

Alert me about debates like this

‘(1) This section applies where EEA nationals and Swiss nationals, and their family members, are subject to legislation and regulations encompassing the “hostile environment”.

(2) The Secretary of State must make provision to ensure that, under the hostile environment measures, EEA nationals and Swiss nationals and their family members are treated no less favourably than British citizens in an equivalent position, until the number of people registered for settled status reaches 3 million people or until 30 June 2021, whichever is later.

(3) For the purposes of this section, the “hostile environment” comprises the following measures, including all regulations, policies, and guidance issued pursuant or relating to them—

(a) sections 20 to 47 of the Immigration Act 2014;

(b) sections 34 to 45 of the Immigration Act 2016;

(c) sections 15 to 25 of the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act 2006;

(d) section 175 of the National Health Service Act 2006; and

(e) schedule 2, paragraph 4, of the Data Protection Act 2018.’ —

This new clause would prevent the hostile environment from being applied to EEA nationals, Swiss nationals, or their family members until the number of people registered for settled status reaches 3 million or 30 June 2021, whichever is later.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Afzal Khan Afzal Khan Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Immigration)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

The amendment would ensure that the hostile environment was not applied to EU citizens until 3 million people had been registered, or until the end of the grace period—30 June 2021—whichever was later. The Government have made it clear that their intention is for EEA nationals to stay in the UK after we leave the EU, and we have serious concerns about their ability to register 3 million EU citizens in time for the end of the transition period, and even more so if there is no deal and the deadline is sooner.

Even where we have a declarative settled status scheme—Labour’s preference, as set out in new clause 15—it is vital that enough EU citizens have proof of their status in the UK before it is tested at every turn through the hostile environment. Under the hostile environment, a person’s ability to prove their right to be here is almost as important as having the right itself.

As discussed under amendment 23, the Government have set no targets for the numbers of people they intend to register for settled status before the deadline. The 3 million would seem to be the bare minimum, and I would welcome the Minister setting a more ambitious target, to which we can hold her Department when the time comes.

The issue of data gaps was raised by Madeleine Sumption at the Home Affairs Committee, and it is reflected in the Migration Observatory’s report, “Measuring Success”. Based on current statistics, it will be difficult to work out how many people miss out on settled status unless the numbers are very big. We do not have the precise figures of EU citizens living in the UK who plan to stay, so it is possible that tens of thousands will miss out on settled status without our knowing. Those most likely to miss out and fall through the cracks will probably be the most vulnerable.

The Migration Observatory’s report sets out steps that the Government could take to better evaluate the success of the settled status scheme and to estimate how many people have not registered, but, to my knowledge, they have not taken any of them. Windrush demonstrated the catastrophic and truly life-threatening consequences of the hostile environment.

This debate is all the more urgent in the light of Friday’s High Court ruling that the Government’s right to rent scheme causes racial discrimination, in breach of human rights. In a damning verdict, the judge found that the scheme causes landlords to discriminate where they otherwise would not. This is not the landlord’s fault. This proven discrimination is a direct result of Government policy, which goes straight to the Prime Minister, who introduced and championed the hostile environment.

The judge also found that the Government had not come close to justifying the scheme. They have made no attempt to evaluate the effectiveness of right to rent, despite widespread warnings of its discriminatory effects. I hope that, in the light of that ruling, the Government will scrap right to rent and all other planks of the hostile environment, which cause discrimination in the same way.

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration, Asylum and Border Control) 11:00 am, 5th March 2019

I will speak briefly in support of the broad thrust of the new clause—I might have suggested a slightly different approach—which effectively draws attention to the hostile environment, or compliant environment, as it is sometimes known now. Essentially, in the light of the court case that the shadow Minister referred to, it is now absolutely time that we have to roll back on the hostile environment altogether.

I stumbled across some of my notes from during the passage of the Immigration Act 2016, when the Government essentially ignored all sorts of warnings about the right to rent and various other hostile environment measures and decided to press ahead. Thanks to the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration, we have since found that the Government made next to no effort to monitor the impact of the measures they had introduced. That sequence of events is also exactly what happened with Windrush; warnings were ignored and the Government pressed ahead without looking at the consequences for the people they were warned might be adversely impacted. That is exactly the same as with the right to rent and other hostile environment measures.

I place on the record my congratulations and thanks to the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, the Residential Landlords Association and various others involved in that case, which they have been fighting for a long time. Their briefings in 2016 were absolutely clear: their testing found that people from black and minority ethnic backgrounds were being discriminated against when they approached landlords, as was anyone who was not able to produce a British passport.

In the light of that scathing judgment from last week, surely the Government cannot just press ahead with the extension of hostile environment measures to EU nationals. Surely they must now say that they accept that judgment and intend to roll back from the right to rent and other hostile environment policies.

Photo of Caroline Nokes Caroline Nokes The Minister for Immigration

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton for tabling the new clause, and I welcome the opportunity to explain how statutory eligibility controls operate for EEA nationals. The Government have made clear our commitment to protect the right of EEA nationals living in the UK before the new skills-based immigration system is introduced. While I recognise the intention behind the new clause, it is unnecessary. In some important respects, it is also technically deficient.

EEA nationals are already subject to the universal eligibility checks carried out by employers, landlords and the NHS. Those checks apply to everyone, regardless of nationality. EEA nationals currently evidence their eligibility to employers and landlords simply by producing their national passport or identity card. When accessing benefits and health services, they also need to demonstrate that they are habitually or ordinarily resident in the UK. We made it clear in our White Paper that EEA nationals will not be subject to additional requirements to demonstrate their status in the UK until the future skills-based immigration system is introduced. We recognise the importance of having an implementation or transition period to allow EEA nationals living here to secure their status in UK law by applying to the EU settlement scheme.

Importantly, the White Paper on the UK’s future skills-based immigration system also makes it clear that we will not require employers to undertake retrospective checks on existing employees when the new system is introduced in 2021. That is entirely consistent with the approach adopted by previous Governments when introducing changes to the checking arrangements. The new clause does not provide further meaningful safeguards to the commitments we have already given.

It is also important to highlight the fact that further secondary legislation would be required before EEA nationals could be compelled to produce evidence of UK immigration status in the same way that non-EEA migrants are currently required to do, to demonstrate their right to work or rent in the UK. Such legislation would be subject to parliamentary scrutiny in the usual way. I also reassure hon. Members that, in line with the draft withdrawal agreement, we will take a proportionate approach to those who for good reason miss the deadline to apply to the EU settlement scheme.

The new clause would also prevent NHS charges from applying to EEA nationals before 30 June 2021, or until 3 million people are granted settled status under the scheme. However, it makes reference to the National Health Service Act 2006, which applies only to NHS charges in England and Wales. The NHS in Scotland and Northern Ireland would be unaffected.

Charges have applied for NHS secondary care to people not ordinarily resident in the UK since 1982, except where an exemption from charge category applies. Entitlement to NHS-funded secondary care is based on ordinary residence in the UK, not nationality or payment of taxes. That means living in the UK on a lawful, properly settled basis, for the time being. EEA and Swiss nationals and their family members who are or become ordinarily resident in the UK are therefore fully entitled to free NHS care in the same way as a British citizen who is ordinarily resident.

In the event that the UK leaves the EU without a deal, the Government have made a unilateral offer on citizens’ rights. It is not dependent on EEA member states making similar assurances for UK citizens resident in those countries. Should EEA member states make less generous provision for UK nationals living or moving there, the new clause would result in a less favourable offer to EEA nationals in the UK.

The immigration exemption in paragraph 4 of schedule 2 to the Data Protection Act 2018 is entirely separate from measures designed to deal with eligibility checks on immigrants. It is a necessary and proportionate measure that we believe is compliant with the General Data Protection Regulation. It can be applied only on a case-by-case basis, in limited circumstances, where complying with a certain data protection right would be likely to prejudice the maintenance of effective immigration control. It is misleading and unhelpful to frame the matter in such a way that it appears to be aimed at EU citizens. The exemption is a necessary measure, designed to protect our immigration system from those who seek to undermine and take advantage of it. New clause 11 does not provide any additional safeguards or assurances beyond those already planned or in place.

Finally, I want to respond to points made by hon. Members about the recent High Court judgment on the right to rent scheme. The scheme was introduced to defend an important principle. Those who have no right to be here should not be renting a property, and landlords should not be making profit renting to people without legal status here, which often happens in poor conditions. The Government consulted carefully on measures to require landlords to undertake right to rent checks. We developed the scheme in close collaboration with a consultative panel, which drew together experts from the sector. The scheme was trialled in the west midlands and rolled out to the rest of England only after a thorough evaluation, which was published in full in October 2015.

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration, Asylum and Border Control)

My recollection is that originally there was supposed to be a detailed assessment of that pilot before it was rolled out, but that after the election of 2015 the Prime Minister said it would carry on regardless. Where is the evidence that it has had any positive impact, or that it has not had a discriminatory effect, as the High Court judge found last week?

Photo of Caroline Nokes Caroline Nokes The Minister for Immigration

I am minded, given the High Court judgment of last week, to be careful what I say about the issue, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I just go on to speak a little about the evaluation of October 2015, which included 550 responses to online surveys, 12 focus groups, 36 one-on-one interviews and a mystery shopping exercise involving 332 encounters. That evaluation found that there was no systemic discrimination on the basis of race. The law was, and remains, absolutely clear that discriminatory treatment on the part of anyone carrying out the checks is unlawful.

Despite that, as hon. Members have mentioned, on Friday last week the checks were declared incompatible with the European convention on human rights. We disagree with the finding and are appealing the judgment. We remain committed to the principle that if someone has no right to be in this country they should not be renting property. This country has a proud tradition of upholding and promoting human rights, and we have set the standard internationally for the strength of our legal protections against discrimination. The High Court decision is not something we should take lightly.

Photo of Afzal Khan Afzal Khan Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Immigration)

We hear what the Minister is saying about people who have no right to be here, but the fact is that people who have a right to be here can become a victim of the hostile environment. That is what happened with Windrush.

Photo of Caroline Nokes Caroline Nokes The Minister for Immigration

As I was saying, the High Court decision is not something we take lightly, but we have been granted permission to appeal all aspects of the judgment. In the meantime, the provisions passed by this House in 2014 remain in force. Landlords and letting agents are still expected to conduct right-to-rent checks, as required in legislation, and they are still expected not to discriminate against anyone on the basis of their colour or where they come from.

As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has previously made clear, we are looking at options for evaluating the operation of the scheme, adding significantly to the evaluation that has previously been done. The Home Secretary has written to Wendy Williams to draw her attention to the High Court’s findings. The lessons learned review is identifying the key legislative, policy and operational failures that resulted in members of the Windrush generation becoming entangled in measures designed for illegal immigrants.

I will continue to chair meetings of the right-to-rent consultative panel with Lord Best, to discuss this and other matters relating to the operation of the scheme. I reiterate my steadfast commitment to tackling discrimination in all its forms, and I am committed to building an immigration system that provides control, but is also fair, humane and fully compliant with the law. I hope that in the light of these points the hon. Gentleman will withdraw his new clause.

Photo of Afzal Khan Afzal Khan Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Immigration)

I thank the Minister for what has been said this morning. However, we take the position that the hostile environment must be dismantled and we do not wish to see EU citizens going through what the Windrush generation has gone through.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.

The Committee divided:

Ayes 7, Noes 10.

Division number 13 Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill — Hostile environment and EEA nationals

Aye: 7 MPs

No: 10 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly negatived.