Awkward rows about who employs ‘cheap foreign labour’ aside, the immigration issue is going to blow up again in the next couple of weeks when the Immigration Bill reaches report stage in the House of Lords. There are two main problems with the legislation which could lead to some very awkward votes at this stage – and both are being highlighted in the current committee stage. The first relates to fines for private landlords who do not make adequate checks on tenants who then turn out to be illegal immigrants. It has been unpopular ever since it was announced, with landlords arguing that the government is trying to recruit them as border staff, but the criticisms gained greater currency when Mark Harper resigned as Immigration Minister after discovering that his own cleaner was working here illegally. Harper’s troubles suggest that if the Immigration Minister can’t tell whether his staff are illegal immigrants, then Joe Bloggs the landlord will find it even trickier.
Labour’s Baroness Smith has tabled amendments calling for pilots of these proposals, presumably to prove that they are unworkable and to force a government U-turn.
The party seems pretty confident that the amendments, which were debated last night at committee stage but withdrawn so that they can be voted on (having been rewritten to reflect any changes to the bill) at the report stage, will pass, despite resistance from ministers. Indeed, many crossbenchers are attracted by what they see as a ‘reasonable’ proposal from Labour; reasonable being the way to persuade unpartisan crossbench peers to support something that causes the government grief. Last night, a number of them raised concerns about the government’s proposals and praised the Labour amendments, including Lord Best, Lord Hylton and Baroness Meacher.
So another defeat for the government on immigration looms – report stage is likely to be in early April. There could be a second revolt, too: on the proposals to render foreign-born terror suspects ‘stateless’. The Joint Committee on Human Rights expressed concern earlier this month about the possible uses of this power, and called for ministers to amend the bill so that any order to deprive someone of their citizenship must be compatible with the UK’s obligations under international law.