|Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill
Column Number: 301Simon Hughes: There are equal concerns and slight mystification among the Liberal Democrats, specifically about subsection (4)(g). Organisations have made representations to us and, I would imagine, the Government. They include Liberty, which, I should declare, has its headquarters in my constituency, and the Immigration Law Practitioners Association. We will come to other issues about the mechanism for parliamentary approval of regulations and so on, but I want the Minister to explain the key issue of why information provided by travellers for immigration control should be used for purposes that do not concern immigration control. Otherwise, I am not sure that I can sign up to it.
We have not yet examined holistically the question of what information should move from one Department to another. The issue of transfer of information between public organisations appears more and more, especially in this Bill from clause 100 onwards. There are questions such as to whom we assent that information should be transferred when we give information voluntarily or it is taken from us compulsorily. I start from Liberty's point of view that the state should hold the minimum amount of information on me, that I should know what information is held, that I should be alerted that it is held and be able to check it, and that it should not be transferred to other people without my knowledge.
The Labour Government have been guilty of adding more and more powers to the state to obtain and to transfer information. This country is such a Big Brother state that I fear it is almost irrevocable, yet everything has been done on the basis of a good case made in a particular Bill on a particular day. We must be very careful to ensure that every provision that justifies more information going to the state is widely supported and seen to be acceptable. I should like the Minister to explain why this provision is necessary, but in any case the issue will return in different guises in subsequent clauses.
Ms Winterton: I want to explain the background to our thinking on the clause. It enables the making of regulations that would require a person applying for a visa or entry clearance or for leave to enter or remain in the United Kingdom to provide certain data with their application. The data that may be required extends to external characteristics, including the features of the iris; the developments in new technology provide many new ways of identifying people. We are trying to introduce automated verification of identify through those developments, which can assist UK immigration control. I emphasise that the developments are at an early stage but we envisage that the scheme will apply to certain categories of people seeking to enter or remain in the UK.
There was an earlier discussion about some of the difficulties with regard to fraud and it is important that new technology is used to increase the detection of fraud while at the same time, another benefit of the technology is that it will increase the number of people who can be processed quickly. The hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle mentioned the long queues at
Column Number: 302passport control; the new technology will help to alleviate such problems and make life easier for many people, especially frequent travellers, who will be able to enter the country more quickly.
The hon. Member for Woking referred to paragraph (i), which relates to different cases or circumstances. Flexibility is needed because circumstances may change in respect of the categories of people from whom we want the information. Questions were also asked about how the information will be collected and used, and who will know about it. The amendment would remove the reference in subsection (4)(g) to provisions on the use and retention of information, including for purposes other than immigration control. It would not limit the scope to include such provisions in regulations, as the list in subsection (4) is not exhaustive, but it would remove the reference to other purposes.
We believe it proper that information could be used for other purposes. The most obvious reason that springs to mind is the prevention of crime. Limiting our ability to use data would be inappropriate and not in the best interests of us all, including many vulnerable people who are used by those who participate in organised crime. That is partly why we want the ability to use information in other circumstances.
It may provide reassurance if I say that any exchange or use of data collected under the powers will be subject to the safeguards in the Data Protection Act 1998, and that any provision allowing the use of information other than for immigration purposes will be set out in regulations, transparent and open to parliamentary scrutiny. I re-emphasise that we are at an early stage of developing the proposals, but I hope that hon. Members accept that passing the amendment would limit the use of information for proper purposes, particularly in relation to crime.
Simon Hughes: I am afraid that I am absolutely not persuaded. If there are good reasons for using the information, such as the prevention of crime, they should be explicit in the Bill. The measure is ridiculously widely drawn—exactly the sort of provision that should not be in legislation. We have not seen the draft regulations, so we can take no comfort from them, and even though there is some protection under the Data Protection Act, the provision is unacceptably wide. Unless the Minister can provide a much better explanation and an undertaking to amend the provision by Report stage to define the limitations in the Bill, I shall have no option but to vote against it, continue to oppose it and seek to persuade the other House to remove it.
Mr. Malins: I do not feel as strongly as the hon. Gentleman about the amendment, which I tabled, but if I beg to ask leave to withdraw it, it may be that it cannot be voted on. I understand that there will be regulations and I accept the need for them. The clause is terribly widely drawn, which is of concern to us all, but we are debating in a slight vacuum, because we do not know what the regulations will say. The purpose of the amendment is to put down a marker that we shall return to the issue with some vigour when we see the regulations. I think that we had a ministerial assurance
Column Number: 303that we shall have enough parliamentary time to examine these matters more carefully. That is satisfactory for today.
Simon Hughes: On a point of order, Mr. Hurst. Before the hon. Gentleman finishes winding up, I want to clarify whether, if I insist on pressing the amendment to a vote, it will be possible to have one, irrespective of his different view.
The Chairman: One objection to withdrawal will trigger a vote.
Mr. Malins: We may be in a position to proceed on the basis of an objection to my withdrawal. I am pleased that I tabled the amendment. It has provided a peg for an interesting and important debate. We shall return to these matters, which require close scrutiny, later. I hope that the regulations will appear sooner rather than later. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Simon Hughes: No.
Question put, That the amendment be made:—
Division No. 7]
Simon Hughes: I beg to move amendment No. 316, in page 49, line 5, leave out from 'shall' to 'House' and insert
This is a straightforward amendment, designed to change the mechanism for dealing with regulations from possible to automatic. It would guarantee Parliament that the regulations will return for scrutiny. They are important enough to justify such automatic parliamentary scrutiny.
Ms Winterton: I am afraid that we cannot accept the amendment. It is intended that any regulations made under the powers in the clause would, for the most part, mirror the divisions contained in sections 141 to 143 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, which was subject to full debate. The affirmative resolution required by the amendment is unnecessary. It remains open to discussions within parliamentary procedure.
Simon Hughes: With this sort of amendment, Ministers do not normally give in on the first round.
Angela Eagle: If at all.
Simon Hughes: They are normally forced to give in by the House of Lords.
Angela Eagle: Very democratic.
Simon Hughes: It is undemocratic only because Labour has made it so. A way forward is now clear
Column Number: 304and we hope that it will be predominantly democratic soon.
I shall not detain the Committee further. By the end of our proceedings we shall have an idea of which regulations are most important, most in need of review and most requiring of automatic parliamentary scrutiny. I repeat my request to Ministers: can they ensure that drafts of all the regulations are published as soon as possible? The Minister said that she shared that view and saw that as being helpful. As we are due to finish the Committee stage next Tuesday, I hope that we can have the regulations either by the end of next week or at least more than a couple of days before Report.
Angela Eagle: I think that the hon. Gentleman may have misunderstood a move of my head and interpreted it as he wished. We certainly will not have the draft regulations written by next Tuesday. It would be wrong for him to go away with the idea that they are in detailed form and are just waiting to be published. They are not.
Simon Hughes: I would never wish to misinterpret the Minister. I would far rather that we disagreed. That is fine in terms of explanation, although not in terms of policy making. Parliament breaks up next Friday for an unusually long recess of two weeks. That is to do with the jubilee. I understand that it is also because half the Cabinet thought that the holiday week was before the jubilee weekend and the other half thought that it was afterwards and they booked their holidays accordingly. That may be entirely untrue.
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