During the committee stage of the Government’s Immigration Bill in the Lords on 12th March 2014, the Bishop of Newcastle drew attention to the potential impact of measures in clause 16 that require nationality checks on potential tenants by private landlords. The Bishop asked the Minister whether the need for private landlords to have regard to a code of practice was in itself robust enough to prevent discrimination against migrants or those of foreign name or appearance.
The Lord Bishop of Newcastle: My Lords, perhaps I may also ask for some clarification. One of my concerns about this part of the Bill is that many landlords will simply not rent to anyone who seems to be foreign or who does not hold a British passport for fear of getting it wrong and being fined. I am afraid that that will inadvertently result in further racial discrimination and provide a charter for those unscrupulous landlords who are racist.
In response to the consultation, the Government accepted that the new rules might provoke landlords to discriminate against people they perceive to be foreign rather than to conduct proper checks. They also recognised the risk that vulnerable people might be impacted. So, in relation to the code of practice and the associated guidance which will make it clear that the checks do not allow landlords to act in a manner inconsistent with the UK’s equality legislation, is that in itself sufficient? It simply requires landlords to read the code and adhere to it without any redress at all if they do not. Moreover, it will be extremely difficult and costly for any potential tenant to bring a challenge of discrimination or victimisation against a private landlord. If people cannot rent relatively easily, they will be forced to seek accommodation in the more shadowy parts of the housing market. I wonder whether the Minister can tell me whether I am right or wrong about this.
Lord Taylor of Holbeach: My Lords, I do not want to sound complacent because I recognise that this is a cause of anxiety which has been expressed in meetings I have attended. It has also been expressed by other noble Lords in our earlier discussions about the Bill. I do not want to lay too great a store by the codes, but those codes exist, and I do not want to lay too great a store by racial discrimination legislation, which would clearly apply in such circumstances.
What I will do is to ask the right reverend Prelate to accept that this surely applies in connection with employment. I do not know whether the right reverend Prelate feels, as he looks at the nature of people who are engaged in work in this country, that there is widespread evidence of racial discrimination, but I would have thought not. I think it is to the great credit of this country that it is able to welcome people, and this is certainly not a Bill that is designed to make people unwelcome, as long as they have a right to come here and to remain here. That is the principle of this legislation, and I hope the right reverend Prelate will be reassured by that. It is not meant complacently but I believe that, at bottom, the analogy with employer provisions is a good one and leads me to suggest that the particular fear that the right reverend Prelate refers to is not the cause for concern that he thinks it is.