Immigration Bill passes buck to doctors and buy-to-let landlords

Clampdown on immigrants gaining access to welfare state at heart of Queen’s Speech – but it won’t be easy on frontline

Column LAST UPDATED AT 13:39 ON Wed 8 May 2013

ALMOST two million buy-to-let property owners will be responsible for checking the immigration status of potential tenants under a new ‘do-it-yourself’ immigration law unveiled today as the centrepiece of the Queen’s Speech.

It will require GPs, hospital staff and landlords to police the new legislation. What punishment will be meted out to doctors who fail to spot cheats we don’t yet know, but landlords who allow illegal immigrants to rent their properties will face fines and there’ll be penalties for any businesses that employ illegal foreign labour.

The Immigration Bill is designed to curb immigration by stopping migrants gaining access to the welfare state, and to stop ‘NHS tourism’. Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said it was to stop the “pull” of free health care and housing benefits from attracting more immigrants to Britain.

However, it is likely to meet resistance from those on the frontline who have to police it by carrying out the checks on immigrants’ rights to health and welfare benefits. Details were sparse and it was not clear if it will tackle the expected surge in immigration from Bulgarians and Romanians at the end of the year on their accession to the EU.

Sir Andrew Green, founder and chair of campaign group Migration Watch UK, said: "These measures are absolutely right and necessary. The government will have strong public support in making it a good deal more difficult to stay on illegally in Britain.
 
"However, implementation will be very difficult, so much more money will be needed for enforcement."

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said: "The immigration measures in the Queen's Speech don't tackle important issues on exploitation and illegal immigration.”

The Immigration Bill will clamp down on the use in immigration cases of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights - the right to a private or family life – to avoid deportation. It will tighten the use of human rights law, following the protracted battle to deport radical cleric Abu Qatada, although his case – now subject to another appeal - will not be directly affected by  the legislation.

It was drafted before the rise in support for UKIP in last week’s shire county elections but is aimed at reassuring Tory voters who are threatening to defect to Nigel Farage’s party.

The list of legislation for the next 12 months includes:

  • the introduction of a higher flat-rate state pension of about £144 per week in April 2016;
  • reform of the long-term care for the elderly rules to cap their contribution to about £72,000 and avoid people going into care having to sell their family homes to pay for it;
  •  a Care Bill to introduce Ofsted-style ratings for hospitals and care homes after the mid-Staffs hospital scandal;
  • paving legislation for the construction of the high-speed rail link between London, Birmingham and the North of England.

But it shows Cameron and Nick Clegg, the deputy leader, have stripped out the more controversial measures in the hope of an easier cruise to the general election. Omitted was any legislation to implement the EU referendum promised for 2017. Forgotten, too, are plans for minimum alcohol pricing and plain covers for cigarette packs.

Labour attacked the Queen’s Speech, which included a total of 17 new bills, for doing too little to boost the economy and provide jobs. Labour MP Caroline Flint said: “Growth is flatlining. More people are unemployed but what we didn’t see was anything to tackle youth unemployment or rising living costs.”

Prince Charles attended the ceremony for the first time in 17 years, with the Duchess of Cornwall, which was seen as another symbol of the Queen’s eventual handover to her son following the news that she would not be attending the Commonwealth heads of government meeting in Sri Lanka. · 

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Welcome to the full surveillance society, a land of squinting windows & twitching curtains - 'twas ever thus but now it will be in spades (no pun intended).