Angela Eagle: I beg to move amendment No. 293, in page 50, line 12, leave out 'or 24A(1)' and insert ', 24A(1) or 26(1)(c) or (d)'.
The amendment adds offences under the Immigration Act 1971 to the list of offences covered by clause 100. It is an offence under section 26(1)(c) and (d) to make a false statement or present a false document to an immigration officer during an examination under the Immigration Act. The offences relate to categories of illegal entry. The clause provides the Secretary of State with the power to require local authorities on request to disclose to him information for the purposes of establishing the whereabouts of a specified individual whom he reasonably suspects has committed an immigration offence and is, or has been, resident in a local authority area. The offences include illegal entry, overstaying, working in breach and absconding from temporary admission.
Local authorities have always been an important source of information, but current practice in terms of co-operation with the immigration authorities varies widely because there is some ambiguity in the interpretation of the current powers, including the extent to which the Data Protection Act 1998 and the common-law duty of confidentiality inhibit disclosure. We aim to create clarity in the matter and the amendment will add to the clause the two offences that I mentioned earlier.
Simon Hughes: I do not object in principle to the amendment, but I want to make two points. First, the Minister listed a group of offences that she said were included in the provision. It would be helpful, now if possible, or later, if the full list of offences could be made available so that everyone can understand exactly what is the justification for the request. Secondly—I raise the matter now rather than on clause stand part, as it follows directly from what the Minister said—the amendment is to subsection (1) which states:
''The Secretary of State may require a local authority to supply information''.
It does not state what information the Secretary of State may require a local authority to supply. Although we can all think of obvious things, it would be helpful for the information to be specified.
What sort of information does the Minister envisage would normally be sought? Would it be appropriate at a later stage to agree to an amendment that defines it more generally than the clause does? I am not trying to be overly restrictive, and the Government may say that they would rather not define it. On the other hand, there is a potential for abuse. I can think of information that might come to the knowledge of the local authority that would be entirely inappropriate. For example, information concerning a social services child care matter may indirectly be relevant to immigration matters but nothing to do with the immigration and nationality directorate. A child abuse allegation might be tied up with immigration but it might not be appropriate to be
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able to transfer it from the local authority to the Home Office.
I hope for a considered reply from the Minister and an indication that we will return to the matter.
Angela Eagle: The hon. Gentleman should consider the offences in question: illegal entry, overstaying, working in breach and absconding from temporary admission. We will be seeking to establish information
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such as addresses from housing benefit or council tax records. He did not mention this, but I shall flag it up. The Secretary of State must reasonably suspect that an individual has committed a specific immigration offence—
It being twenty-five minutes past Eleven o'clock, The Chairman adjourned the Committee without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.
Adjourned till this day at half-past Two o'clock.
The following Members attended the Committee:
Hurst, Mr. Alan (Chairman)
Winterton, Ms Rosie