UK Government pauses hostile environment data-sharing

This morning, Labour MP David Lammy was granted an Urgent Question in the House of Commons to ask about (in his own words) “[the Home Secretary’s] cynical decision to bury the Home Office’s admission of failures over the Hostile Environment during the England match.”

The MP for Tottenham has been vocal about the poor treatment of the ‘Windrush generation’ and has a record of speaking out critically about the ‘hostile environment’ created by British immigration policies.

While the UK government had already suspended some of the policies that led to a ‘hostile environment’ for people seeking asylum, the Home Secretary Sajid Javid yesterday confirmed that he has ‘paused’ the programme of pro-active sharing of data between government departments.

The Guardian report that this is “in order to prevent those from the Windrush generation being wrongly hit by measures designed to combat illegal immigration.”

“For a period of three months, officials will not share data from HMRC, the DWP and DVLA with the Home Office, halting these combative measures introduced in 2014 as part of what the government previously termed the hostile immigration environment.”

The sharing of patient data by the NHS and immigration checks on bank accounts had already been suspended.

In the wake of the Windrush scandal, the Guardian explain that these measure are intended to prevent more people who have lived in the UK for over 30 years from being “erroneously impacted by compliant environment measures” (to quote the Home Secratary).

David Lammy described the Home Secretary’s absence from the House of Common chamber this morning as “cowardly”, saying that it “shows disdain for the parliamentary process, the Windrush generation, and all the immigrants this government has failed.”

Minister for Immigration, Caroline Nokes, appeared at the dispatch box to answer the question. She emphasised the ‘temporary’ nature of the suspension.

“We have introduced a temporary pause in the proactive sharing of Home Office data with other organisations, including banks and building societies, for the purpose of controlling access to services. Data on persons over 30 has been excluded from sharing, to ensure that members of the Windrush generation are not inadvertently affected. This is a temporary measure.”

Replying to Caroline Nokes’ answer, David Lammy asked:

“She talks about a ‘pause’, but why not scrap the hostile environment that is bringing this country into disrepute?”

New guidance has been issued to employers and landlords to encourage them to use the Home Office checking service “if a Commonwealth citizen does not have the documents they need to demonstrate their status.”

Labour’s Diane Abbott called for “a total review of the hostile environment”. She acknowledged that “some elements of it” were introduced by a previous Labour government, but added:

“… unless we review it in total, the Windrush generation will not be the end of it in terms of unfairness and cruelty.”

Contributions from the MPs who took part in the discussion around the urgent question can be read on Hansard.

The Joint Public Issues Team released a report calling for an end to the hostile environment in June.

The topic was also discussed at the most recent meeting of CTBI’s Churches’ Refugee Network after which a response was issued which finished with the words:

“Migration is here to stay. Migrants are part of our shared humanity: where they are treated with inhumanity, we are all demeaned. We understand that God has a special concern for the alien and stranger, those who come among us as brothers and sisters with the right to dignity and respect.

“As representatives of the Christian churches in the UK, we are called to resist inhumanity and injustice and in the interests of a fairer and more equal society, we call for an independent commission to review immigration policy and practice.

“The matter is urgent. Exit from the European Union will produce an unmanageable workload of applications from the three million EU citizens remaining in the UK, many of whom will face similar difficulties.”

David Lammy’s UK Parliament portrait used under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported (CC BY 3.0) license