The Committee consisted of the following Members:
Marek Kubala, Joanna Welham, Committee Clerks
† attended the Committee
See the explanatory statement for amendment 13.
“(c) confirm that no occupier of the premises is under 18 years of age.”.—(Keir Starmer.)
To provide protection to families with children from summary eviction under these provisions.
“( ) The notice may be given—
(a) by delivering it to the tenant or tenants,
(b) by leaving it at the premises,
(c) by sending it by post to the tenant or tenants at the address of the premises, or
(d) in any other prescribed manner.”
This amendment clarifies how a landlord may serve a notice terminating the tenancy on the tenant(s). Provision is made to allow for service by electronic means if prescribed in regulations at a future point.
James Brokenshire: Welcome back to the Chair, Mr Owen. Amendment 69 clarifies how a landlord may serve on tenants a notice terminating a tenancy. It provides that the notice may be delivered to the tenant or tenants directly—in other words, given to them by hand—left at the property, sent through the post to the property or delivered in any other prescribed manner. The clarification puts beyond doubt what constitutes effective service of the notice. I am pleased that in its evidence to the Committee Crisis welcomed the amendment as providing greater clarity. It ensures that, in circumstances where the illegal migrants choose to leave a property of their own accord once a Home Office notice has been issued, the landlord is able to use the powers in the Bill to recover his or her property at the end of the 28-day notice period and re-let it to someone with a legal right to occupy it. I note that the amendment has been welcomed outside the Committee.
James Brokenshire: The reference to possible future prescription in regulations regarding electronic means covers email. The wording is understood as referring to some means of service of documentation, and we give it that emphasis. I was about to say that the amendment future-proofs the provision—I think that the hon. and learned Gentleman took account of that. It enables the Government to introduce new methods of serving notice on tenants—email, for example—should such arrangements for dealing with tenancy agreements become more commonplace.
Amendment 15 ensures that a landlord can engage the powers of eviction in new section 33D only if they have a Home Office notice in respect of all the occupants. In the absence of such a notice a landlord cannot rely on the provisions in that new section.
Amendment 16 changes the definition of “occupier” of a rented property in respect of action taken to evict. New section 33D(7) provides that occupiers shall be taken to be tenants, named occupants on the tenancy agreement and others who the landlord, through reasonable
“(6A) A landlord does not commit an offence under s33A of this Act during the period of 28 days specified in subsection 4.”
To protect a landlord/landlady from prosecution for renting to a person without a right to rent during the period for which they are prohibited from evicting the tenant under subsection 33D(4).—(Keir Starmer.)
The condition in section 33D(2) is met once the landlord has received one or more notices covering all tenants, anyone else named in the agreement and anyone else occupying the premises. The definition of “occupier” is amended to ensure all these persons are adequately described.
“() any other person who the landlord knows is occupying the premises.”
See the explanatory statement for amendment 15.
“(3A) In section 37(4)(a) (provisions in which references to the landlord are to any of them) after sub-paragraph (iv) (inserted by section 12(5)(b)) insert—
(v) section 33D, and
(ii) section 33E,”.”
See the explanatory statement for amendment 13.
“( ) The amendments made by subsections (4) and (5) apply in relation to a tenancy or (in the case of subsection (4)) a licence entered into before or after the coming into force of this section.” —(James Brokenshire.)
This amendment makes clear that the provisions relating to evictions and other procedures for a landlord to obtain possession of their property will apply regardless of whether the tenancy agreement was entered into before or after the implementation of the Bill’s measures.
The Chair: The question is that clause 13, as amended, stand part of the Bill. As many of that opinion say Aye. [Hon. Members: “Aye.”] To the contrary No. [Hon. Members: “No.”] The Ayes have it. Sorry—are you saying No?
Keir Starmer: On a point of order, Mr Owen. This may just be a point of clarification. We have had a debate on the amendments to clause 13, but we have not had the debate on clause 13 itself as far as I recall. I do not want to miss that opportunity, and if I am about to I would like to know.
The Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury (Charlie Elphicke): Further to that point of order, Mr Owen. It seems that the hon. and learned Gentleman had his opportunity. We moved to a vote, and you already asked for a cry of voices. It is incumbent on every member of this Committee to ensure they are aware of its procedure.
The Chair: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, but I am as even-handed with the Minister as I am with Opposition Members when we go through these amendments. I tried to catch the Minister’s eye, but I did not do the same with Mr Starmer, so I am going to give him the opportunity to debate this clause before we move on. It is at my discretion.
Keir Starmer: I want to raise some issues about clause 13, because it contains some innovative measures that need to be considered. I want to address clause 13(2), on eviction. I understand that under clause 13 a landlord has the power to terminate an agreement under proposed new subsection (1) of new section 33D if the condition in proposed new subsection (2) is met, which is that the Secretary of State has given notice,
That is an innovation. It is a first in landlord and tenant legislation. In fact, it may be a first outside the area of civil penalties. It appears to be borrowed from a regime in which some orders can be treated under civil penalty schemes as an order of the court.
If applied to fines, the provision may not be problematic. In other words, it may not be necessary for the individual to go to court to have the level of the fine determined, but this is an order for eviction. The position in housing law is that in the 1970s a decision was taken to end for ever the prospect of people being forced on to the streets by landlords. Once upon a time, a landlord could change the locks, put the furniture on the street and throw the family out there and then. It was so repugnant to all parties that it was thought that we should set our face against that ever happening again. From then on, as far as I am able to research and as I know from my own practice, there has always been a requirement to go to a court to have an eviction order put through proper due process to avoid the prospect of a family literally being put on to the streets.
If the provision means what it says on the page—there may be an explanation for it that the Minister can help me with—it appears to reintroduce something that has been outlawed for the best part of 50 years. The provision means that, once the notice is served, if it is enforceable as if it were an order of the High Court, the landlord can resort to self-help and can change the locks, put the furniture on the street and put the family on the street as well, without any more ado.
Sarah Champion (Rotherham) (Lab): On top of the points of serious concern that my hon. and learned Friend has already mentioned, does he also share my concern that there is now no safeguard if the landlord pursues a wrongful conviction?
Keir Starmer: There is a very serious concern, because as far as I can see there is no ability in the clause for the tenant to appeal the landlord. I am not even sure under these circumstances whether judicial review is available.
Craig Whittaker (Calder Valley) (Con): I understand what the hon. and learned Gentleman is trying to put across. However, currently the eviction order is looked at by one person in a court. Surely he must agree that if the order comes from the Secretary of State, a much higher due diligence is gone through in following the eviction process first.
Keir Starmer: I accept that the notice will have come from the Secretary of State, but it will have gone to the landlord unbeknownst to the tenant. The first thing the tenant will know is when the notice is served on him or her. At that stage, there is nothing in the clause, as far as I can see, that allows the tenant to appeal or to challenge
Craig Whittaker: Although I accept the point the hon. and learned Gentleman was trying to make, to say that the tenant is not aware that they are illegal immigrants is, even he may agree, a little far-fetched.
Keir Starmer: That is why I did not say it. I said that the tenant would not know that the notice had been served. Just to stand back a moment, this issue was taken so seriously by the House because it happens in real life: landlords change locks, they put furniture on the streets and families are in the gutter. That is what happened and everybody thought it was something we could not tolerate in a modern democracy, whatever the rights and wrongs, whether the eviction was justified or not justified. Many evictions, for many other reasons in land law, are justified, but everybody considered that process was important, particularly where families would be put on the street. This is a step back to the dark ages of landlord and tenant law.
Craig Whittaker: Again, I see the exaggerated point that the hon. and learned Gentleman is trying to make, but can he explain what currently happens once someone has been to court as a landlord and got an eviction order from the court?
Keir Starmer: I will happily do that. Sensibly, the law has been set up in such a way that the landlord gets a High Court enforcement officer with powers of a constable to carry out the eviction if necessary. That is to prevent landlords from resorting to violence in the premises—that is why that change was made. The presupposition is that the eviction is lawful, but in order to regularise the process, the landlord gets a court order and then a High Court enforcement officer exercises the powers of a constable to enforce it. The whole point was to stop families being put on the street without due process and to avoid the violence that was happening when a landlord resorts to self-help and changes the locks and boots someone on to the street. That is why “with the power of a constable” is included. That is what happens now, but what is proposed here is radically different and I have seen nothing to justify it.
Paul Blomfield (Sheffield Central) (Lab): I guess that, like me, my hon. and learned Friend was pleased to hear the Minister a moment ago cite the expert evidence of Crisis in support of Government amendment 69. Crisis is a highly respected organisation doing extraordinary work to help sections of homeless young people. Does he therefore hope, like me, that the Minister will take note of Crisis’s view on the eviction routes that are being created by this Bill, which is that they should be completely opposed because they will make tenants much more vulnerable to rogue landlords?
There is no appeal, and I would again like to hear from the Minister, on the record, whether his answer to that point is that there should be a judicial review of the issue of the notice by the Secretary of State in order to challenge the eviction. I want that to be clear, because it would introduce a costly—much more costly—prolonged process than going to the county court in the ordinary eviction process under landlord and tenant law. If not, and there is either no remedy or appeal, what if the notice by the Secretary of State is wrong? Is that to be appealed by way of judicial review? Is that the only prospect? If that is the prospect, why is it better than going to the county court in the usual way, where it could be challenged in the eviction process?
Sarah Champion: Another consideration that I have not heard the Minister speak of is that if families are effectively made street homeless, it then falls on the local authority and will put additional pressures on existing housing stock. Going through this route, the local authority may have absolutely no awareness of it until the family literally rocks up on their doorstep.
Keir Starmer: That is the situation. The Government may say that I am just exaggerating, but I am not. I had a number of housing cases in my practice and some Government Members probably have as well. Having self-help evictions is a real problem for everybody, because of the injustice and the violence. Under self-help, there is nothing wrong with waiting until the family go out and changing the locks so that they cannot get back in when they come home. That means that families are out and, if there are children involved, it probably leads back to the same route, with the local authority having to carry out an assessment under the Children Act 1989.
This is a thoroughly bad provision. It is innovative—it has never been used, as far as I know, in landlord or tenant law or outside the realm of enforcement of regularised fines. There is no appeal and no regular forms of enforcement. To again clarify, under the existing regime, High Court enforcement officers have special powers of eviction and there are processes of eviction to ensure that there is no violence, that there is due process and that everybody is treated fairly.
There is absolutely no reason to change that scheme for this group of individuals. I hope that Members will not simply nod this change through as another bad provision not worth raising any concerns about. This goes way beyond immigration and into the housing field, where there has been unanimity about this process for a very long time. I ask the Minister to clarify, if necessary in writing, how he sees this provision working and what the routes of appeal are for an individual who says either that the notice from the landlord or the notice from the Secretary of State is wrong. This an area, as heard in evidence, where there are high levels of error.
Paul Blomfield: My hon. and learned friend is making the point extremely powerfully and, like him, I hope that Government Members will give consideration to it. Is he also concerned about proposed new section 33E of the 2014 Act, which allows the landlord to terminate the tenancy if one of the tenants no longer has the right to rent but others do? It provides a summary eviction route of the sort that he describes for people who actually do have the right to rent.
Keir Starmer: I am concerned about that provision but, in fairness to the Minister, I think there is a relationship between that and the amendment that he moved earlier this morning. I think that was the effect of the amendment he moved, so would he please clarify that—in other words, that the notice applies to all the occupants? If I am right about that, I hope it does not detract from the other points I am making. I am trying to make them powerfully because this is an important point of principle. The Committee needs to know what it is doing if it votes for such a provision, which is an historic first.
It might be helpful to set out the basis and background to the provisions. We recognise that the vast majority of landlords are diligent in their responsibilities regarding housing and immigration legislation. With the planned roll-out of the right to rent scheme, we wanted to help them more easily to evict illegal migrants through the mechanism outlined, the Home Office notice.
The hon. Member for Sheffield Central highlighted the technical point about the notice having to specify all occupiers of the premises, and that has been dealt with, as the hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras, in fairness to him, indicated in his contribution. I hope that is helpful on that narrow point.
Proposed new section 33D of the Immigration Act 2014 would provide a new power for landlords to terminate a residential tenancy agreement if the Secretary of State has issued one or more notices to the landlord naming all occupiers of the property and identifying all occupiers disqualified from renting as a result of their immigration status. To do that, the landlord must give written notice to all the tenants, specifying the date at which the agreement will end, at least 28 days after the written notice has been given. The notice is to be treated as a notice to quit, where such notice would otherwise be required to end a tenancy and is enforceable as if it were an order of the High Court, as the hon. and learned Gentleman said. That allows a landlord to engage High Court enforcement officers to evict occupiers in the event that they do not leave peacefully of their own accord. The minimum 28-day notice period gives an opportunity for illegal migrants to make arrangements to leave the UK. A landlord does not need to obtain a possession order from the county court in order to seek enforcement of the notice.
New section 33E provides for and signposts court eviction routes, which should be used in the case of a mixed household, where some occupiers are disqualified from renting as a result of their immigration status and others are not. That is the distinction that is drawn
The hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras highlighted what he considers an inappropriate reversal of the law. I would say to him that this is about people who do not have the right to be in the country. I will come on to what happens next and the manner in which the Home Office would exercise its duties. Ultimately, it is a parallel provision to other measures in the Bill to ensure that residential properties that are let are provided to people who have the lawful right to be in the country, rather than those who do not. The mechanism proposed by clause 13 applies where someone has been identified by the Home Office as not having that right. In other words, the mechanism does not allow someone wantonly to assert that; it has to be grounded by the notice from the Home Office.
James Brokenshire: I was going to come on to the hon. and learned Gentleman’s points about legal challenges, which may be helpful. There are two elements to that. If the Home Office notice is incorrect, it can be challenged by judicial review, but if the conditions for eviction are not satisfied, my clear understanding is that injunctive relief may be available in the county court. I refer to the distinction between whether the notice was lawfully issued and whether a landlord simply made that assertion, not on the basis of the notice, to try to rely on the provisions.
I can see two potential lines of challenge, which I think is what the hon. and learned Gentleman was seeking for me to elucidate. There is a right of challenge and the individuals concerned can also contact the Home Office to challenge the notice directly. There are routes available when an incorrect notice has been served, although I am very happy to give way to the hon. and learned Gentleman on whether I have clarified the questions he posed.
Keir Starmer: I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. On the first point, although I accept that the process is similar to the right to rent, in that it is the Secretary of State who makes the decision and serves a notice, the Minister must recognise that there is a fundamental difference between not letting premises to someone in the first place and turning them out on to the street. There is a fundamental difference between those two actions. Turning people out on to the streets who may have been living in the premises for years with their families is fundamentally different from saying that they cannot rent premises from tomorrow or next week or whenever.
James Brokenshire: The hon. and learned Gentleman is right to make the distinction, which is why the decision on whether a notice should be served has to be triggered by the Secretary of State, with all the duties and responsibilities that the Secretary of State holds. It is important to underline that because the Home Office
The Home Office will consider the circumstances of each member of the family. Eviction will generally be inappropriate where there are existing medical conditions or specific care needs evident, and eviction may mean that a local authority is placed under a duty to remedy the loss of accommodation. There will also be cases where invoking eviction is considered inappropriate. These will be cases where the family involved is considered to have recognised barriers to returning home. These instances can include no viable route of return to their home country, difficulties in securing travel documents or in ensuring that their home country will accept the family’s return, and medical or health conditions that make it difficult for a family to return home.
The intent of the issuance of the notice is that the Home Office will have gone through that process. It is only at the end of the process of examination that the Home Office would seek to issue a notice to allow the process contemplated in clause 13 to operate. That is the approach the Government will take in the operation of this provision before getting to the point that the hon. and learned Gentleman elucidated.
Keir Starmer: I understand and recognise the considerations that the Home Office will have to give to any particular case, but it will make mistakes. There will be errors. There will be information that was perhaps not before the decision maker that should have been. Everybody understands that position. In an ordinary, sensible system, there would be a simple right of appeal to correct those errors, which in these sorts of cases can range up to about 30%.
What is the justification and the thinking behind going the long route of judicial review at the High Court rather than a much simpler appeal route? I accept the Minister’s point about injunctive relief, but that is neither here nor there. That is where a landlord does not have a proper notice and is not doing what he or she is entitled to do. That was not the position I was aiming at. Why is it necessary, given that there is an automatic right of possession, to remove the court from the process and to go back to self-help in this small group of cases? What is the necessity for that? The landlord goes through the process and gets possession from the court almost automatically, unless it is challenged. What is the justification for the long route—which will be costly—and for removing the court?
James Brokenshire: I go back to the principle of ensuring that when properties are occupied by tenants who have no lawful right to be in this country, there is a speedy process, as part of the removals process, to ensure that those individuals can be evicted. That mechanism is therefore in place as part of the removal process, in order to assist with that removal. That is the
In respect of the hon. and learned Gentleman’s key point about how this provision will lead to violence, violent eviction will remain an offence under the Criminal Law Act 1977. It is important to recognise that that would remain in place in this context.
Keir Starmer: I see the Solicitor General nodding his head. Is it his proposition that a landlord will not be allowed to use reasonable force to evict a family who will not physically get out of the door? That is not an offence.
James Brokenshire: The hon. and learned Gentleman has already highlighted the avenue that is available to the landlord in terms of relief that is provided by virtue of the order being from the High Court. That mechanism is therefore available to landlords seeking removal if that cannot be achieved by peaceable means. That is why I made the point that the Criminal Law Act 1977 remains in place.
In that respect there is also the issue of children, and I am aware that what the Secretary of State will do when these duties are undertaken has been of concern. We would not give an undertaking that a family with children will never be evicted under any circumstances. As I have already indicated, a family will not be subject to eviction if there are insuperable barriers to their returning to their home country. Families in private rented accommodation are unlikely to be destitute if they are renting in the first place, but at every stage in the discharge of functions relating to the family returns process and when issuing a notice in respect of a child who would be disqualified from renting, regard will be had to the need to safeguard and promote the welfare of children in accordance with the duty in section 55 of the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009.
Again, I underline some of the safeguards which we already have within the family returns process. We have a family returns panel that examines the mechanisms and routes that are used to seek a removal of a family with children from the UK. The panel looks at the removal strategy; in essence, as moves are made towards deportation, the panel can and does comment on the removal approach. Equally, there are mechanisms in the context of section 55 that provide safeguards, as well as the practical operational steps that are embodied in the way in which immigration enforcement conducts its duties when removing family groups which, obviously, involve children.
Sarah Champion: I wonder whether the Minister can provide clarity on what would happen to the person or family’s bond, which can be quite a hefty amount of money. For a bad landlord, there is quite an incentive to get people evicted if they then keep the bond.
James Brokenshire: Again, this is not about rogue landlords and bond arrangements. This is about those who have no lawful right to be in this country and it provides a mechanism to create the eviction process.
The Home Office will work closely with individuals who are subject to the notification to facilitate removal prior to the service of the notice, so this measure should not be seen in isolation. The Home Office will not simply issue a notice; it will be part of an overall removals approach. Tenants will have access to Home Office support should they consider a notice has been served in error; it is not simply a judicial review route. We anticipate the individuals would have a route of direct challenge to the Home Office, although judicial review provides a further mechanism through the courts. As I have already indicated, the landlord would be able to evict only by using peaceful means. Force or violence could not be used. Where a landlord is not able to evict peacefully, they will need to seek the help of High Court enforcement officers to carry out the eviction.
We have considered the clause carefully because of all the issues. I hope that having clarified the process that is intended, the remedies that are available, the nature of the provision and the safeguards that are provided, the Committee will be minded to include the clause in the Bill.
To provide a court with a discretion as to whether or not it orders possession of a dwelling house on the grounds that the Secretary of State has issued a notice confirming that a person does not have a right to rent.
“or, in the case of joint landlords, one or more of them”
This amendment provides for a notice from the Secretary of State to be given to one or more landlords where there are joint landlords.
“or, in the case of joint landlords, one or more of them”
This amendment provides for a notice from the Secretary of State to be given to one or more landlords where there are joint landlords.
“which is for the time being let on a protected tenancy or subject to a statutory”—(James Brokenshire.)
This is a minor drafting amendment so as to better reflect the terminology employed in the Rent Act 1977, which this Clause amends.
The Chair: Before I move on to stand part, may I make it clear to members of the Committee that the clause is debatable? I have not been here for all the amendments, but there has been a full debate. If Members wish to speak, please rise to catch my eye before I move on.
James Brokenshire: Clause 14 amends the Housing Act 1988 to create a new mandatory ground for a landlord to obtain possession of a property following receipt of notification from the Secretary of State that an occupant is disqualified from renting as a result of their immigration status. The clause works in parallel with clause 13 and enables landlords to regain possession of their properties where some of the occupants are illegal migrants and some are in the UK lawfully with the right to rent. We have debated clause 13. Clause 14 provides slightly different mechanisms: it inserts a new mandatory ground into the 1988 Act, as I have indicated, and contains some ancillary provisions. Rather than delaying the Committee, I will leave my comments there and allow Members to ask questions and raise further points.
Keir Starmer: We debated the clause when we debated the Government amendments and the amendment to make special provision for children. That has been dealt with, so I will say little more than this: if the clause is agreed, it will provide a mandatory ground for eviction in cases involving children, older people, those with mental health issues and so on.
James Brokenshire: I think all I will do in response is amplify some of the points I raised in the previous debate on notices by the Secretary of State and the factors that he or she would take into consideration as part of the removals process. I indicated that medical issues may be a factor that he or she can take into account when determining whether to issue a notice. The clause is part of that process and builds on the debate we have had.
This amendment would limit the ‘right to rent’ provisions of this Bill so that they do not apply to Scotland.
This amendment would limit the ‘right to rent’ provisions of this Bill so that they do not apply to Scotland.
This amendment would limit the ‘right to rent’ provisions of this Bill so that they do not apply to Scotland.
‘(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.
‘(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.””
To remove the power to extend by regulation the provisions of this Act 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.
Anne McLaughlin: 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.
Keir Starmer: 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.
Gavin Newlands (Paisley and Renfrewshire North) (SNP): 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”.
“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.
James Brokenshire: 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
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.
Anne McLaughlin: 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.
Simon Hoare: 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.
James Brokenshire: 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.
Anne McLaughlin: 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.
‘(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.” —(Anne McLaughlin.)
This amendment would limit the ‘right to rent’ provisions in the Immigration Act 2014 so that they do not apply to Scotland.
James Brokenshire: 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
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.
The Solicitor General: It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Owen. Clause 16 amends schedule 2 to the Immigration Act 1971 to insert new paragraphs 25CA, 25CB and 25CC. These new provisions provide the power for an authorised officer, such as an immigration or police officer, to search for and seize a United Kingdom driving licence held by a person not lawfully resident in the UK. Searches of people and/or premises can be carried out. The clause builds on the
Subsection (2) of clause 16 inserts the new paragraphs which set out the circumstances in which the search, seizure and retention powers may be used. Safeguards are provided through a requirement that there must be reasonable grounds to perform a search. With the exception of a constable, authorised officers must generally also obtain the consent of a senior officer before conducting a search, unless it is not reasonably practicable to do so. A seized licence must be returned to the holder if a decision is taken not to revoke it or where the holder successfully appeals against revocation.
Subsection (3) of clause 16 amends the Immigration Act 1971 to provide that the holder of a seized licence cannot have access to that licence or be provided with a copy. That ensures that a copy of the licence cannot then be used as a form of identification that might help a person settle unlawfully in the United Kingdom. Subsection (4) amends the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 to allow an authorised officer to use reasonable force when searching for or seizing a licence.
Keir Starmer: I am grateful for that explanation, but I want to clarify the position. I think, having listened to the Solicitor General, that the primary purpose of the clause is to enable a valid—on the face of it—driving licence to be seized for the purposes of revocation, and if it is not revoked or if it is challenged, it is returned. It would be helpful if the Solicitor General could confirm that that is the driving purpose of the clause.
The Solicitor General: I am grateful to the hon. and learned Gentleman. The position is that, for revoked and unrevoked driving licences, the power will be there to seize both. For example, a valid driving licence can be seized and proceedings then undertaken to revoke it because it is held by someone who ought not to be here.
Keir Starmer: I do not think we are at odds, but I need to ensure that I understand. The process is straightforward where a driving licence is invalid or already revoked, but if a licence is not revoked and is, on its face, valid, the purpose of the provision is to allow a revocation process to be completed.
Sarah Champion: I understand the principles and the motivation behind the provisions, but I have some concerns about clauses 16 and 17. As with the right to rent provisions, they will undoubtedly have an impact on legal migrants, British citizens who cannot easily prove their immigration status and ethnic minorities. The measures could lead to an increase in the racial profiling of drivers. The powers are worrying in that they are, in fact, stop-and-search powers. If they are exercised by immigration officers those officers need to be regulated in the same way as police officers are, with checks and balances to prevent abuse of power. Can the Solicitor
In our evidence session, those points were, quite properly, put to the chief superintendent, and we received reassurances that it is all about intelligence-led policing and intelligence-led investigations by immigration officers. The provisions will not, in my view, lead to the random targeting of people based on their ethnicity. That would be wholly wrong and it is not something that the Government support.
As I said, the police will have cause to stop a vehicle; they may then check the driver’s circumstances, and then, if the driver is found to be an illegal migrant, the powers we intend to introduce can be used. There will not be a misuse of power, as the action taken will be based on information that is already available. Bearing in mind the demands that are placed on our investigative authorities, it is a sensible use of their resources. Certainly I, and the Government, will not encourage the authorities to randomly target individuals based on any arbitrary judgment about their status. I hope that that gives the hon. Lady the reassurance she seeks.
“(1A) A person does not commit an offence under subsection (1) if they had a reasonable belief that they had legal right to remain in the United Kingdom and acted in good faith.”
This amendment would provide a defence for those prosecuted for driving while illegally in the UK if they can show that they had a reason to believe that they did have legal right to be in the UK.
“(3A) Nothing in this Section shall prejudice the validity of insurance relating to motor vehicles.”
This amendment would ensure that the introduction of an offence of driving while illegally in the UK would not interfere with the validity of motor insurance.
Keir Starmer: I can be relatively brief. My underlying point, which I put to the Minister now, is that in the evidence we heard two weeks ago, it was made clear that the police did not seek the new power and that they had not found any gap in their ability to deal with drivers who did not have regular status. Will the Solicitor General, at least for the record, set out the evidential basis for the creation of a new criminal offence? I go back to a proposition I put forward last week that criminal offences should not be introduced unless there is a clear case of necessity and a gap in the provisions
Amendment 75 is in keeping with my other amendments to provide a defence for those who have a reasonable belief that they have a right to remain in the UK. The problem with this offence, as with the offence of illegal working, is that it is quasi-strict liability—in other words, there is no defence in the Bill. I ask Members opposite simply to read the amendment and ask themselves why they think it is necessary to criminalise someone who:
I use again the example I used last week or the week before, where someone has been sponsored but, unbeknown to them, there is something wrong with the sponsorship. They may therefore find themselves in a position where they do not have the status they should have, although they have a reasonable belief that they have a right to be here and they acted completely in good faith. What is the legal case and the moral case for criminalising a person in that situation? The measure applies only in a case of reasonable belief and only if the individual acted in good faith. What is the case for criminalising such an individual?
If the Minister indicates that amendment 76 is unnecessary, I will withdraw it. It is driven by a concern not for the driver of the vehicle but for the victim of a road accident. It introduces a whole new category of individuals where there is a concern that there is a possible consequence. If I am wrong about this, I will withdraw the amendment. A possible consequence of these measures is that otherwise valid insurance that would have been available to the victim of a road traffic accident will be unavailable, having been made invalid because of the driving offence that has been created by this section. That is a real concern to those who are concerned about victims of road traffic accidents.
Sarah Champion: As I said earlier, we do not have a problem with clauses 16 and 17. The two amendments are designed to protect innocents. If the Minister is able to confirm that protection is in place, either in guidance or in the Bill, we would like to hear it.
The Solicitor General: Let me deal first with the question raised by the hon. and learned Gentleman about the evidence. There is a loophole involving people who are unlawfully here—illegal migrants—who are driving with foreign-issued licences. The offence will cover all aspects of driving by migrants who are in the United Kingdom unlawfully.
Every year, about 10,000 queries are referred to the Home Office by the police relating to either road-side stops or vehicle stops. We do not have precise numbers on cases where an illegal migrant was found to be driving a vehicle, but of the one fifth of cases related to vehicle stops, about 10% relate to drivers who are in the
I recognise the reasons behind amendment 75, but in my view it is very broad and very subjective. It will create scenarios, for example, in which a defendant might claim they had reason to believe they were in the UK legally, simply because they had misunderstood the date on which their leave expired. It would be difficult to prove otherwise and then the purpose of the offence is undermined.
Let me deal with offences of strict liability in the context of driving. This concept is not new. For example, the offence of driving while disqualified under section 103 of the Road Traffic Act 1988, as amended, is an offence of strict liability, so this is not a new departure, although the defence would be a new departure when it comes to driving offences of this nature.
Keir Starmer: I am grateful to the Solicitor General for his explanation. I readily accept that this quasi-strict liability is not uncommon when it comes to driving and disqualification. The difference is that if someone is disqualified, they know they are disqualified. If there were a situation in which somebody, perhaps through sponsorship, genuinely and simply did not know that their status was as it was and would come within this defence, is the Solicitor General’s answer that that is just tough?
The Solicitor General: Not quite. There are a couple of caveats. First, a person who is prosecuted for this offence has the opportunity before the court issues judgment to put in mitigation about their belief as to whether they were legally present in the UK, and that would affect any sentence that might be passed by the court. Also, the Crown Prosecution Service will have guidance to ensure that migrants are not inappropriately prosecuted for this offence. Should a migrant be able to genuinely show that they believed themselves to be legally present, the public interest test, with which the hon. and learned Gentleman is very familiar, would apply.
Keir Starmer: I am grateful—I can see where this is going. Obviously, any guidance will be for the CPS to draft. Will the Solicitor General be writing to the Director of Public Prosecutions to ask her to consider whether this matter should be included in the guidelines? Obviously, it would be a matter for her, but he could suggest that she consider it.
I assure the Committee that the offence is not aimed at victims of modern slavery who have been forced to drive. I hope that goes some way to answering the concerns raised by the hon. Member for Rotherham. As she is aware, the statutory offence under section 45 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 will apply. If a person has
Amendment 76 has been tabled because of genuine concerns about the validity of motor insurance. We are exploring with the insurance industry the potential impact of the offence on policies, but I can give reassurance today that a person involved in an accident with an illegal migrant driver will be protected. By virtue of sections 151 and 152 of the Road Traffic Act 1988, insurers have certain liabilities to innocent third parties that they cannot exclude from insurance policies. Those liabilities derive from obligations under European law which mean that an innocent third party involved in a traffic collision with an illegal migrant driver will be entitled to make a claim on the illegal migrant’s insurance policy, even if the policy is voided as a result of the migrant being unlawfully present here.
Separately, for completeness, it is worth emphasising that the Motor Insurers’ Bureau scheme may provide cover as the insurer of last resort, where someone has had an accident with an uninsured illegal motorist, just as it does in many other cases with which we are all familiar. We do not expect an increase in costs to the MIB as a consequence.
This amendment and amendment 45 clarify that a vehicle must be released where a decision is taken not to institute criminal proceedings for the offence of driving when unlawfully in the United Kingdom.
The Solicitor General: As we know, clause 17 inserts a new offence of driving while unlawfully present. Amendments 44 and 45 are technical in nature. They make clear that a vehicle must be released from detention where a decision is taken not to institute criminal proceedings for the offence of driving when unlawfully in the United Kingdom.
Amendment 46 ensures that a police or senior immigration officer may detain a vehicle at any place where they are lawfully present, including private property that is open to the public, such as a privately owned car park. Amendment 47 provides a power for the police or a senior immigration officer to enter premises, such as
The provisions for obtaining a warrant reflect certain differences in the legal, procedural and administrative framework governing the issuing of warrants between Scotland and the rest of the UK. In particular, the Scottish criminal justice system does not provide for warrants to be issued for multiple entries to multiple premises by constables in Scotland. These forms of warrants are a feature of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 in England and Wales. The amendment therefore makes special provision to disapply this form of warrant for constables in Scotland. I hope Scottish National party Members note that great care has been taken to ensure that the two systems dovetail in a way that is acceptable to everyone.
Amendment 48 ensures that a person accompanying a constable in the execution of a warrant, such as a person contracted by the police to remove and store a vehicle used in the commission of the offence, may detain that vehicle. It also provides that a constable may use reasonable force in order to detain a vehicle.
See the explanatory statement for amendment 44.
‘( ) A power in subsection (1) or (3) may be exercised by a senior officer or constable at any place at which the senior officer or constable is lawfully present.” —( The Solicitor General.)
This amendment makes clear that a vehicle can be detained by a senior officer or constable at any place they are lawfully present .
‘(10A) Before laying regulations to bring Section 24D into force, the Secretary of State must ensure a pilot of the arrangements takes place.
(10B) Following the completion of the pilot mentioned in subsection (10A) the Secretary of State must prepare a report and lay it before each House of Parliament.
(10C) The pilot mentioned in subsection (1) must take place in a minimum of two police force areas and last for a minimum of six months.”
This amendment would ensure that the Home Secretary conducted a pilot of the proposed powers to allow police forces to confiscate the cars of suspected illegal immigrants before the measures were introduced.
I can deal with this amendment briefly. We have debated the provisions in the clause itself. Several concerns have been raised and several assurances have been given by the Government, but these are new provisions, so the
Sarah Champion: I was on the Select Committee for Transport and went out with the DVLA when it was doing some of its stops with police officers. I apologise for raising this question in this debate, but I did not know where else to raise it. I was shocked when the Minister said that 10,000 inquiries were made to the police last year. I know that the DVLA has vast concerns that it does not have the resources to investigate people driving illegal vehicles rather than illegal driving. How will the police, immigration and the DVLA work together? Also, has he considered the resources, which will be considerable if there are already 10,000 inquiries? Acting on those and investigating will be pretty resource-intensive. Can he comment on that?
The Solicitor General: I will certainly endeavour to answer the hon. Lady’s queries, but I will deal first with the substance of the amendment. I understand fully the intention behind it, but I view it as unworkable for two reasons. First, the regulations will set out the circumstances in which a vehicle may be released from detention and make provision for how vehicles should be disposed of where conditions governing the release of a vehicle are not met. Without laying regulations, therefore, we will not have the necessary legal powers to conduct a fully functioning pilot. I hope that the hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras can accept that.
Secondly, there is a point of principle here that I am sure he will understand straight away. A pilot would require a criminal offence to be enforced in certain parts of the United Kingdom and not in others. Such a piecemeal approach is clearly not desirable from a practical point of view given, for example, that vehicles can be driven across a number of regions. I do not know about you, Mr Owen, but the thought of car chases in 1980s American films is coming to my mind, where people cross a state boundary and offences that might have been committed in one state are not enforceable in another.
The Solicitor General: I am sure that the hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras would not wish us to go down that particular path—it is axiomatic, but it needs to be said. A pilot could therefore create confusion for migrants and complicate matters for the police when enforcing the offence.
As I have said, the chief superintendent, David Snelling, indicated to the Public Bill Committee in his evidence how the offence could work in practice. He explained that the police would first have cause to stop a vehicle and would then, as appropriate, ascertain the circumstances of the driver. If it is found that the driver is here illegally, the detention provisions can apply. The police
I will attempt to deal with the concerns of the hon. Member for Rotherham. The statistics that I mentioned concerned referrals to the Home Office. There is already a high degree of joint working and information sharing, which is proving an effective means for targeting and appropriately identifying people who are here unlawfully. On resources, for example training, the Home Office has been working with the police on developing the proposals and will continue to examine the potential need for further training with police colleagues. However, as I have said, these are not new types of power, so there is no absolutely overwhelming need for a complete start again on training.
I am assured that immigration resources are already in place and, as I said, this is not about a sudden general expansion in our expectation of how the police are going to behave. This is not an encouragement to the police to start randomly stopping people, which would of course have a huge impact on resources. Intelligence-led policing is not only intelligent, it is efficient. For those reasons, I hope that I have answered the genuine concerns that the hon. Lady raised.
Sarah Champion: With respect to the Minister, I am not concerned about resources for training; I am concerned about resources to have the police officers who can go out, stop or go into premises. In the Home Office cases that I get, a lot of the delays in deportation are caused by a lack of staff to carry out the work. Can the Minister reassure us that if we agree to this legislation, the police have the resources to act on it?
The Solicitor General: Yes, I can. Perhaps I have not clearly outlined that we do not expect police officers to take on a whole new swathe of different inquiries, independent of already existing intelligence and information; rather, this provision is a bolt-on. It allows police officers to follow another reasonable line of inquiry as a result of the intelligence they have already obtained. The scenario that the hon. Lady is concerned about is not one that is going to come to fruition. This is about putting another tool in the box, rather than an expectation that there are suddenly going to be new independent operations as a result of these new powers. I hope that gives the hon. Lady some reassurance.
Keir Starmer: The Minister mounts a “Dukes of Hazzard” defence. I am not quite sure that is right, because this provision is focused on the confiscation of the vehicle rather than the moving vehicle, but he makes a persuasive argument about the technical issue, which is his best point, and on that basis I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
“24DA Powers to enter premises to detain motor vehicle
(1) A senior officer or a constable may enter and search any premises for the purposes of detaining a vehicle under section 24D.
(2) The power in subsection (1) may be exercised—
(a) only to the extent that it is reasonably required for that purpose, and
(b) only if the senior officer or constable knows that a vehicle which may be detained under section 24D is to be found on the premises.
(3) The power in subsection (1) may be exercised—
(a) by a senior officer (“S”) only if S produces identification showing that S is an immigration officer (whether or not S is asked to do so);
(b) by a constable (“C”) only if C produces identification showing that C is a constable (whether or not C is asked to do so).
(4) Subsection (5) applies if, on an application by a senior officer or constable, a justice of the peace is satisfied that there are reasonable grounds for suspecting that a vehicle which may be detained under section 24D may be found on premises mentioned in subsection (6).
(5) The justice of the peace may issue a warrant authorising any senior officer or constable to enter, if need be by force, the premises for the purpose of searching for and detaining the vehicle.
(6) The premises referred to in subsection (4) are—
(a) one or more sets of premises specified in the application, or
(b) subject to subsection (10), any premises occupied or controlled by a person specified in the application, including such sets of premises as are so specified (in which case the application is for an “all premises warrant”).
(7) If the application is for an all premises warrant, the justice of the peace must also be satisfied—
(a) that there are reasonable grounds for believing that it is necessary to search premises occupied or controlled by the person in question which are not specified in the application in order to find the vehicle, and
(b) that it is not reasonably practicable to specify in the application all the premises which the person occupies or controls and which might need to be searched.
(8) Subject to subsection (10), the warrant may authorise entry to and search of premises on more than one occasion if, on the application, the justice of the peace is satisfied that it is necessary to authorise multiple entries in order to achieve the purpose for which the justice issues the warrant.
(9) If it authorises multiple entries, the number of entries authorised may be unlimited, or limited to a maximum.
(10) A justice of the peace in Scotland may not issue—
(a) an all premises warrant under this section authorising entry on premises by a constable, or
(b) a warrant under this section authorising multiple entries by a constable.
(11) In the application of this section to Scotland, references to a justice of the peace are to be read as references to the sheriff or a justice of the peace.
(12) In this section “senior officer” means an immigration officer not below the rank of chief immigration officer.”
This amendment provides the police and immigration officers with the power to enter premises in order to detain a relevant vehicle. This ensures that an illegal migrant who commits the offence of driving when unlawfully present in the United Kingdom cannot frustrate seizure by keeping the vehicle on private land.
‘( ) In section 16(2A)(b) of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (powers of persons accompanying constables in execution of warrants) after “seizure” insert “or detention”.
( ) In Article 18(2A)(b) of the Police and Criminal Evidence (Northern Ireland) Order 1989 (SI 1989/1341 (NI 22)) (powers of persons accompanying constables in execution of warrants) after “seizure” insert “or detention”.
( ) In section 146(2) of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 (use of reasonable force) before paragraph (a) insert—
“(za) section 24DA(1) (powers to enter premises to detain motor vehicle),”.”—( The Solicitor General .)
This amendment ensures that a person accompanying a constable in the execution of a warrant may detain a vehicle and that a constable may use reasonable force in order to detain a vehicle.
‘(4A) A statutory instrument containing regulations under subsection (1) in relation to Section 18 shall only be made after having been laid in draft before each House of Parliament and approved by a resolution of each House.”
This amendment would require the regulations bringing into force Clause 18 to be subject to debate and approval by the House of Commons and the House of Lords.
The Solicitor General: Without anticipating the arguments of Opposition Members, I will try to deal with matters in the round so that we can be as efficient as possible. I will speak to clause 18 and schedule 3 because they are indelibly linked and provide new powers to tackle existing bank accounts held by illegal migrants. That includes accounts that were opened during a period of legal stay by a person who is now, as a result of due process, deemed to be unlawfully in the United Kingdom.
These measures build on the Immigration Act 2014, which prohibits banks and building societies from opening new current accounts for known illegal migrants. As with other measures in the Bill which deny services to illegal migrants, the aim is to deter illegal migration and to encourage those who are here unlawfully to leave the country. The process introduced by the Bill will operate in the following way. First, banks and building societies—I will use the generic term “banks” to refer to both—must carry out immigration checks on all their current accounts at regular intervals. The check will be made against the details of known illegal migrants which the Home Office shares with an anti-fraud organisation, currently CIFAS. Secondly, the bank must notify the Home Office of any matches that it believes it has found. Thirdly, the Home Office, if it confirms that the person is disqualified from holding an account, will then have a range of options available to it.
Those options all enable action to prevent the illegal migrant continuing to use the accounts held with a bank. Under the powers provided in the Bill, the Home Office may apply to the court for a freezing order, with the aim that that remains in place until the migrant leaves the United Kingdom. That action will be reserved for a small number of individuals with significant funds. The circumstances of the individual, including the risk posed to the public and the person’s immigration history,
In the most routine cases, in which it is not judged necessary to apply for a freezing order, the Home Office will notify the bank that it will be required to close the illegal migrants’ accounts. Before closing them, the bank may take action to recover a debt or to disentangle the affairs of joint account holders who are lawfully present in the UK. Under other provisions in the Bill, we will also have the option to prosecute individuals for the new criminal offence of working illegally and to recover wages as part of the proceeds of crime. That measure will be used when there is sufficient evidence that assets are the proceeds of illegal working and that the person meets the requirement for prosecution. Of course, where we can simply remove those committing immigration offences from the UK without delay, that is rightly the preferred course of action.
Subsection (1) gives effect to schedule 3, which introduces the new bank accounts provisions into the Immigration Act 2014. Paragraph 2 of the schedule inserts proposed new sections 40A to 40H. Section 40A requires banks to carry out immigration checks on their current account holders. It defines an immigration check—made against data supplied to the specified anti-fraud organisation or data-sharing authority—and the persons who are disqualified from holding current accounts under the provisions. New section 40B requires banks to notify the Home Office if they believe that one of their current account holders is a disqualified person. Further detail will be specified in regulation.
New section 40C deals with the Home Office’s duties in response to the notification, including checking that the person is indeed disqualified. If so, the Home Office may apply to the court for a freezing order. If a freezing order is not sought, the Home Office must notify the bank that it must take action as set out in new section 40G—such action is usually the closure of the account. New section 40D provides for a court to be able to make a freezing order. Exceptions can be made, in particular to let a person meet reasonable living and legal expenses. A freezing order will be able to be made without notice—a power that is necessary to prevent accounts from simply being emptied before the order can be made. A person whose account is affected by a freezing order, as well as the Secretary of State, may apply for an order to be varied or discharged. New section 40E provides for appeals against freezing orders. New section 40F requires the Secretary of State to issue a code of practice, which will set out the factors to be taken into account in deciding whether to apply for a freezing order.
New section 40G deals with the closure process for bank accounts that are not subject to a freezing order, following it through the checking and notification that I have outlined in respect of other new sections. A bank is required to close all accounts that it holds for a disqualified person as soon as is reasonably practicable. That allows for a delay in closure for a reasonable period if an account is overdrawn or if closing a jointly operated account would have a significant adverse effect on other account holders. The bank will also have complied with its duty if it can prevent a disqualified person from using a jointly operated account while leaving the account open.
Paragraphs 3 to 6 of schedule 3 make a number of consequential amendments to the 2014 Act and paragraph 7 amends the Civil Jurisdiction and Judgments Act 1982 so that freezing orders may be enforced across the UK.
I am happy to deal with amendment 77 at this stage, before it has been spoken to. It would require schedule 3 to be commenced by regulations subject to the affirmative procedure, but that is an inappropriate level of scrutiny. Commencement regulations simply state when provisions come into force, and there would be nothing of substance to debate. The time for debate is now, when the clauses are being considered by Parliament, and when the secondary legislation is made. Schedule 3 contains a number of regulation-making powers and, where appropriate, they are already subject to the affirmative resolution procedure. Examples include regulations to exclude certain categories of current account from checking and those prescribing the information that banks must disclose to the Home Office.
Other regulation-making powers in the schedule deal with questions of administrative detail and so are subject to the negative procedure. They will none the less receive parliamentary scrutiny. The code of practice on freezing orders must be laid before Parliament before coming into force. The bank accounts provisions cannot come into force until the necessary regulations are in place. I therefore invite the hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras not to press the amendment. I will ask that clause 18 and schedule 3 stand part of the Bill, but I know that there will further debate on amendments that I would be happy to respond to in the usual way.
Keir Starmer: Let me indicate to the Committee that our general approach to these provisions is not to oppose them. Clearly there have not been difficulties in the provisions that are already in law, and we did not see in either the written or oral evidence any concern expressed by those operating banks that this proposal posed an undue burden on them. I think that is probably because banks are used to carrying out a number of checks—not just, as it were, immigration checks, but all sorts of other checks that are required now.
The concern we are really driving at—if I may, I will stray into schedule 3, which is triggered by clause 18—is the position of an individual where there has been closure or suspension in error and loss as a result. It is in that spirit and that limited way that the point is being made. That is what amendments 93 and 94 are driving at: essentially to explore—and, if necessary, push on—what the position of the individual is where closure is made in error and loss results from that.
Keir Starmer: I am grateful for that clarification, Mr Owen. To some extent, given the way that it is set out, the amendment pretty well speaks for itself in any event. There is obviously a distinction between the freezing provisions and the closure provisions, in terms of the right of appeal open to individuals. It may be that the Minister can give a degree of assurance about how that will operate, but the reason I raised it at this stage is because amendment 77, requiring scrutiny, is to
This amendment and amendment 23 change the definition of “relevant appeal court” for appeals in Northern Ireland. The effect is that an appeal against a decision by a court of summary jurisdiction in Northern Ireland to make a freezing order is made to a county court instead of the Crown Court.
The Solicitor General: Amendments 22 and 23 change the definition of “relevant appeal court” in relation to appeals in Northern Ireland. In effect, the amendments change the court to which an appeal against a freezing order is made. Where the order was made by a court of summary jurisdiction in Northern Ireland, the appeal would be to a county court rather than the Crown Court, which is the appropriate court in these circumstances. These amendments are the result of engagement with the devolved Administration in Northern Ireland in particular to make sure that these provisions are appropriate for the circumstances.