Draft Immigration (Entry Otherwise Than by Sea or Air) Order 2002

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Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey): I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Beard, as does my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Bob Russell) and I welcome the Minister in her new role to her first statutory instrument Committee.

We have no intention of dividing the Committee because we have no objection to the order. Having carried out the work typically done by the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Malins)—reading the order a few times, seeing the title and discussing options with my parliamentary colleagues—I was delighted to discover that the order has one of the most interesting titles that I have encountered for a long time. We came up with a few ideas, parachuting among them, but worked out that it referred to the more mundane traffic between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. I was pleased to discover that the Minister's arguments had not changed significantly or at all from those proposed by Lord Falconer on Friday in another place. The proposals obviously had such an easy ride that they needed no upgrading.

I have a few simple questions. By our simple calculations, it is a 31-year loophole, so how did it

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come to light and who drew attention to it? Neither the Minister nor Lord Falconer was clear about whether it has been abused at all. Is any evidence available to show that it has? The logical question that flows from that is: how many people have been caught illegally crossing the Irish-Northern Ireland border? It is a common travel area without a border control. How many people have been caught in the United Kingdom—presumably in Northern Ireland—after an illegal entry through Ireland? Does the Minister have those figures?

I was struck by a double thought. Conservative Front Benchers have for weeks waxed lyrical about reinstating bilateral agreements between the United Kingdom and France, but that is a short-term and limited measure and a Europe-wide system would be far better. If ever there were a case for a straightforward bilateral agreement to move people from one side to the other, it struck me that Ireland and the UK is it. Has there ever been a straightforward bilateral agreement between Ireland and the UK or the reverse? If someone is discovered who is illegal and does not benefit from citizenship of either of the two countries, that person could be handed back to the authorities across the border.

My last question is slightly tongue in cheek. One unexpected development from the Seville summit is that we failed to secure the policy that the Prime Minister had been advocating while we did secure the policy that he had not advocated—that a European border force should be viewed with greater enthusiasm. Given that the UK and Ireland have a common travel area, are there any plans for common policing of our common external frontiers?

One factor that makes the UK position on immigration and asylum in Europe different from elsewhere is that we are islands separated from the mainland—a position that we share with Ireland. That is partly why we stayed outside the Schengen agreement, why we do not have a common travel area and why we can police our own frontiers. My party has always supported the continuation of that policy. However, my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester who sits on the Home Affairs Committee argued that we should have a common border force. I agree and repeat the question: has any thought been given to common policing of the British Isles? It would be better to try it here first, before extending it elsewhere. I am not convinced that it will work well around the entire European Union: it is impractical.

When I asked a friend from Mexico how successful the United States had been at keeping people out through policing the frontier and significant border controls, the answer was, ''Not very successfully.'' People had found gaps. I am doubtful about the possibility of policing the whole outer rim of the European Union, however many gunboats a country

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has or however many people are snooping around the Mediterranean.

I have asked serious questions about numbers and about abuse. Has there really been a problem or is it purely academic? I would be grateful for answers, but we shall not oppose the measure. It is sensible to allow a non-bureaucratic procedure and to apply the same rules that apply elsewhere when people arrive by the more conventional, more frequent and more discussed routes into the UK.

4.49 pm

Beverley Hughes: I shall try to deal with the points raised by Opposition Members. I appreciate their frustration. When we introduce changes to legislation, it always behoves us to say what the need for it is.

The issue is twofold. First, local immigration officers have reported coming across people who evidently got to the UK by crossing the land border, even though they did not come across them at the point at which they tried to cross. We cannot say how many people cross the land border, but we know that people have got here through that route. I am sorry that I cannot give hon. Members more accurate estimates of the extent to which that has occurred, but the order is a precautionary measure to ensure that the land border does not become a better known route of entry, but is closed.

Secondly, we expect the cost to be small. With regard to removal by air and sea, the Secretary of State carries the cost where the carrier is not known and a removal direction is given to a different vessel, as the hon. Member for Woking knows. We have no intention of having joint UK and Irish controls. As I said, the problem of illegal entry and people trafficking is clearly not between Ireland and the UK. Discussions on those sorts of arrangements take place between countries where there is a problem, as the Prime Minister's discussions in Seville, and those today between the Secretary of State for the Home Department and Mr. Sarkozy, testify. The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) described the scenario of someone arriving illegally from Ireland directly. In that case, the Dublin convention could apply in principle across the sea between Ireland and the UK.

I am grateful for the questions asked by hon. Members, and for the interesting images created by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle) in the hypothetical situations that he described. As I said, I will write to him, as his proposals are intriguing, and we need to ensure that we do not need to return to the Committee to close other loopholes.

Question put and agreed to.


    That the Committee has considered the draft Immigration (Entry Otherwise than by Sea or Air) Order 2002.

Committee rose at seven minutes to Five o'clock.

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The following Members attended the Committee:
Beard, Mr. Nigel (Chairman)
Brown, Mr. Russell
Buck, Ms
Gardiner, Mr.
Gillan, Mrs.
Hughes, Beverley
Hughes, Simon
Kilfoyle, Mr.

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Liddell-Grainger, Mr.
Malins, Mr.
Osborne, Sandra
Quinn, Lawrie
Roy, Mr.
Russell, Bob
Twigg, Derek
Wright, Mr. Anthony D.

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Prepared 25 June 2002