The Immigration Bill had its second reading on Tuesday this week, resulting in a victory for Home Secretary Theresa May MP, with the bill passing through the House with a majority of 49 votes. Amnesty International, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the Equality and Human Rights Commission, Justice, the TUC and the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants have all expressed serious reservations about this bill
The Shadow Home Secretary Andy Burnham attempted to persuade the House to decline a second reading due to the effect it would have on social cohesion and on children of illegal immigrants. He raised concerns that the Right to Rent scheme could cause widespread indirect discrimination, as indicated by the JCWI’s independent research. Burnham said the proposals within the Bill enabled the Home Secretary to ‘remove from the UK migrants who are appealing against a refused asylum claim before the appeal has been determined’. He was poorly briefed. Part 4 seeks to implement a ‘deport first, appeal later’ provision to all cases save for asylum applicants.
The House broadly approved the proposed Part 1 of the Bill to directly intervene in the labour market with the introduction of a ‘Director of Labour Market Enforcement’. The aim is for the role is to tackle illegal working, exploitation of workers and the increase in organised criminal activity engaging in labour market exploitation. So, the Director would have a degree of oversight with relevant enforcement agencies with powers to allocate resources between them. By establishing a role to co-ordinate the Employment Agency Standards (EAS) Inspectorate, HMRC’s National Minimum Wage team, and the Gangmasters Licensing Authority, the bill creates a connection between agencies within the labour market and immigration control.
Why can’t the government, instead of creating another paid position, empower the pre-existing agencies and trade unions? Instead of intervening further to remedy a failed top-down approach labour market regulation, it would be far more economical to empower trade unions, low paid workers and employees to help regulate the labour market. As the TUC argued agencies have had their resources cut due to the policy of austerity. No real thought has been given as to whether exploited workers themselves would be keen to oust their employees if it would also impact on their ability to live in the UK and lead to a criminal conviction.
The Labour and SNP both had major reservations about the creation of an offence of illegal working for employees. However, the government claimed that the defences for victims of trafficking as per the Modern Slavery Act 2015 would remain applicable. No objection was raised against Part 2’s proposals to restrict access to banks and make it unlawful for illegal migrants to retain UK driving licences.
Both SNP and Labour raised concerns over the proposed right to rent scheme. In addressing this part of the debate, the home secretary Theresa May repeatedly reassured her colleagues that this was ‘not about asking landlords to become immigration experts’. Landlords will find appropriate help, support and guidance from the Home Office. ‘That is precisely why the Home Office has set up arrangements to provide the helpline and advice, so that it is simple for landlords to contact the Home Office and get the information that will help them make a judgment.’
Whether a Home Office advice line would reassure alarmed landlords facing the prospect of prosecution is a moot point. In a survey conducted by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, some 42% of landlords in the West Midlands were now less likely to consider someone who did not have a British passport, while 27% were now more reluctant to engage with those with foreign accents or names.
The impact on race relations was raised by various MPs in this reading, with little reassurance from ministers on the protection of those from BME backgrounds or with ‘foreign sounding names’ from being excluded from the right to rent in the UK.
Deport first, appeal later
Whilst Labour broadly supported the proposed increased powers for immigration officers under the Bill, the SNP provided stronger opposition. ‘I believe that before these powers are conferred en masse, the Government need to examine how existing powers are being used and should make the case before Parliament for each additional power that is being sought,’ said SNP MP Joanna Cherry. ‘One can only hope that such a reasonable suggestion reaches the Committee stage in the passage of this bill. The defence put forward by the government is that further powers will enable immigration officers to do their job.
The proposals to ‘deport first, appeal later’ were largely rejected by Labour and SNP, who would like to see how the system is currently working for foreign national offenders. The government is unwilling to budge on this proposal (which was a commitment in their manifesto’.
Theresa May told MPs that the Immigration Act 2014 ‘already enabled us to deport more than 1,000 foreign criminals, requiring them to make any appeal from outside the UK after they have left’.
The Conservative MP Bryon Davies talked of the prospect of children suffering ‘from the withdrawal of financial support from their parents, which could leave them homeless and suffering severe hardship’.
‘I am sure that the Minister, who has worked through the Bill extremely diligently, will have tried to ensure that any adverse effect on children will be mitigated. Therefore, I ask him to provide some assurances that this is the case, as a child’s future can be critically affected in their early years and morally we must do everything we can to protect them and give them every chance to lead a full and happy life.’
The Bill is an affront to basic principles of civil liberties undermining Theresa May’s claimed commitment to a ‘cohesive society’ – as claimed in her now notorious conference speech earlier in the month. It was a shame that the suggested – albeit weak – amendments by the Shadow Home Secretary were not carried into this reading.