On Tuesday of this week, Parliament had its first reading of the Immigration Bill. I am pleased to say that I have been chosen to sit on the Bill Committee and will be scrutinising the Government’s proposals in this area, which is a cause for great concern to my constituents – it’s the issue most often mentioned in my postbag and on the doorstep.
We’ve made progress on net migration so far, with it being cut by a third since 2010, but we need to go further to reduce overall levels. The Government’s proposals in the Bill include the restriction of the appeals process by ensuring that only those that raise the most important immigration issues get the right of the appeal, requiring payment from temporary visitors for NHS services, and further restricting housing for immigrants. Illegal immigration will be made harder by new requirements requiring landlords to check the immigration status of prospective tenants, and the banning of driving licences and bank accounts for illegal immigrants.
One subject about which constituents have raised particular concerns is the lifting of restrictions on immigration from Romania and Bulgaria. Clearly tightening immigrants’ entitlements to welfare and housing will provide scope for a natural reduction in how attractive Britain is to those who will soon be granted the right to move here, but as you will read in my contributions to the debate, we need to learn from the mistakes of previous Governments and not repeat them when those restrictions expire. That’s why I’m particularly pleased to be sitting on the Committee scrutinising the Government’s work here – we need to get it right.
Nigel Mills MP: While welcoming most of the Bill, I want to focus on some of its key areas. From my relatively limited immigration casework, I know that this can be a byzantine system and sometimes produces bizarre results. Reading some of the verdicts, I find it hard to work out what the facts of the case are or how the verdict bears much relation to those facts.
Dr Julian Huppert MP (Liberal Democrat, Cambridge): The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight the byzantine complexity and the errors in decision making. Does he agree that the Government’s priority should be to ensure that decisions are made correctly?
Nigel Mills MP: That should be a priority for every Department. I serve on the Work and Pensions Committee. Sadly, the DWP’s administration processes too often come up with the wrong decisions, but the problem is often fixed by a mandatory reconsideration process within the Department.
It would be interesting to hear from the Minister how the review process would work. I think it is the right idea, however, because we do not want to be troubling the courts and tribunals with mistakes in the system. If they can be corrected within the Department, that must be a more cost-effective, fairer and quicker system for all involved. We need to know that the person doing the reconsideration is independent, and not just defaulting to the previous decision—because he knows the guy who took it and so it must have been right. We all want a system that gives clear, quick, fair and accurate decisions first time around, avoiding a labyrinthine process that subjects people to an awful wait while trying to establish their status, which makes them miserable and gets them stuck in the system for longer than necessary.
That is a genuine concern for my constituents: why is the system still so slow? Let us get it right first time. If the person has no right to be here, let them be told that so that we do not have to go through multiple different appeals down different routes. The proposal that those with no right to be here no longer need a separate removal notice has to be right.
I also agree about article 8. We need to get the balance right between the interests of the public in this country and the interests of the person making the claim. I am not sure our courts have been interpreting that correctly. We have a right to be protected from serious criminals. I speak as someone who generally favours deregulation and does not favour imposing new burdens on people, so it is with some caution that I welcome the proposals to ask landlords to start checking the immigration status of their prospective tenants. I have an interest, as I rent out a house in Nottingham where Iused to live. I use an agent, so I am pretty certain I will be safe from these rules as long as the agent is competent.
There is a real public interest in trying to make sure that it is harder for illegal immigrants to avoid the system and stay here without a right to do so. One of the ways we can do that is to ask landlords to make sure that the person they are renting out to has a right to be here. In my constituency, most letting agents go through some hugely extensive and complicated processes, and take a lot of money off tenants, to check their credit history, references from previous landlords and all manner of things. I am not sure that it is that much of an extra burden to ask them to check a person’s status as well. Clearly there are some whose position is so complicated that it will not be easy for a landlord or agent to come to a clear understanding. That is why we need a service from the Home Office that gives a clear and quick answer and says, “Yes, you can rent to this person. No, you can’t rent to that person.”
Having worked with clearance mechanisms in my previous life, I know that getting that to be quick and accurate will not be straightforward, but it has to be the right thing to do. We need a system that is clear enough so that not every landlord seeks a clearance every time to be 100 per cent. safe. We need a clearance system that works and is used only where there is some doubt and not where there is clearly an easy situation to determine.
Most of us would think that it is ridiculous that someone who has no right to be here can get a UK driving licence or a UK bank account. That should never have been the case and it is right to stop that so that someone cannot build up a life here that they are not entitled to have, because that can make it harder for us to deport them.
I have no need to detain the House at great length. I welcome the Bill, which represents a real step forward. I am sure my constituents will welcome it, although there are things that sadly we cannot do which they would have liked to see in it. There is a great deal of concern about what will happen next year when restrictions on Romania and Bulgaria are lifted. We need to understand what can be done to make sure we do not repeat the mistakes of the past. But this is a welcome Bill, and I look forward to it making a speedy passage through Parliament.