Simon Hughes: On a point of order, Mr. Hurst. I thank the Minister for the letter that has been sent to you, your co-Chairman and members of the Committee about Government amendments and new clauses. However, I want to register a protest about the fact that some of the amendments were tabled only today. My understanding of the Minister's undertaking to the Committee last week was that the amendments would be tabled on Tuesday. A number of Government amendments were tabled then, but two further starred amendments appeared today, including one relating to legal processes and leave for appeal. I should be grateful for an explanation of why they were not tabled with the others. It looks a bit odd for one of the most controversial amendments to appear two days later. Can we have an assurance that no more amendments are planned in Committee, and that these are all the amendments that will be tabled on the clauses that we have specifically put back to the end of the Committee to give us time to consider them?
The Chairman: As the hon. Gentleman will know, that is not a point of order for the Chair. It is up to the Minister whether she wishes to reply.
Angela Eagle: I do not wish to detain the Committee. Some amendments were tabled later than we had hoped. That was not deliberate, but a matter of necessity. They concern a complex area of law, and
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had to be right before they were tabled. I apologise to the Committee for their late arrivalit shows that it was wise that the Programming Sub-Committee agreed to my suggestion to have an extra day. We tabled them as quickly as possible for the convenience of the Committee but, regrettably, practicalities sometimes intervene.
Simon Hughes: I beg to move amendment No. 321, in page 50, leave out lines 36 and 37 and insert
'(a) the person has committed an offence under section 24(1)(a), (b), (c), (e) or (f) or 24A(1) of the Immigration Act 1971 (c. 77) (illegal entry, deception, &c.) and'.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to take Government amendments Nos. 294 and 295.
Simon Hughes: Clause 101 concerns the disclosure of information by the Inland Revenue. My amendment would narrow the circumstances in which the Commissioners of the Inland Revenue could supply to the Secretary of State information for the purpose of establishing where a person is. The clause has the same purpose as the previous clause, but concerns the Inland Revenue rather than local authorities. My amendment is wider than Government amendment No. 294, which affects subsection (1)(b). My amendment would replace subsection (1)(a) with different wording, and its purpose will be obvious to the Committee.
At present, the definition is non-legal and does not refer to any offences. It provides that the Secretary of State should be able to exercise the power when he or she reasonably suspects that the person does not have leave to enter or remain and it is not lawful for them to undertake employment. The Government amendment proposes a different formulation of subsection (1)(b). The two paragraphs are linked with the word ''and''. My amendment would replace the subsection (1)(a) with a prerequisite that the Secretary of State reasonably suspects an offence under the Immigration Act 1971, and the offences listed are those that the Minister listed earlier.
If we have a law about whether someone can be in this country or not, the prerequisite for the Secretary of State to act should be that he or she believes that that law has been broken. If I am wrong, I should be grateful if the Minister would explain the circumstances in which subsection (1)(a) could apply if an immigration offence had not been committed. I have not been able to think of any, and if there are not any such circumstances, I hope that she will consider my amendment favourably.
Angela Eagle: I hope that by referring to the Government amendments, I shall be able to satisfy the hon. Gentleman that they provide the clarification he seeks. His amendment would, unintentionally, widen the gateway to the Inland Revenue to include people who we would not want to include, which given the tenor of our recent debate I suspect is not his intention.
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The hon. Gentleman's amendment would enable the Inland Revenue to disclose information about people who had committed an immigration offence but had subsequently been granted leave to remain and were working legally. We do not want to capture those people. The Government amendments rectify a technical defect in the clause, which is designed to enable the Inland Revenue to disclose information from its records to the Secretary of State to establish the whereabouts of suspected immigration offenders. That is the same as the previous clause, but applies to the Inland Revenue rather than local authorities.
The gateway will operate when the Secretary of State reasonably suspects that a person is in the United Kingdom without leave and does not have permission to work, or that a person who has leave to enter or remain under temporary admission has undertaken employment in breach of their conditions. As with other immigration offences, the usual sanction for illegal working is removal from the United Kingdom rather than prosecution. That means that the Inland Revenue would not be able to disclose information to the Secretary of State using other provisions, such as the information gateway in section 19 of the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001.
Amendment No. 294 replaces subsection (1)(b) to make it clear that the Inland Revenue may disclose information in respect of persons whom the Secretary of State reasonably suspects do not have leave to enter or remain and who do not have permission to work. If the amendment were not made, we could not ensure that the Inland Revenue could disclose information about illegal entrants working in the UK who have yet to be subject to a restriction prohibiting them from taking employment. That would be at odds with the purpose of the clause. The hon. Gentleman has tried to put right the defect in the clause, but his proposal would turn the information gateway into a sort of M6, which is much wider than we require for the purposes that I have set out.
Simon Hughes: I am persuaded by the Minister's argument that a breach of the past remedy should not be a cause for triggering the information. Why not use the formulation in clause 100?
The Chairman: Order. We cannot return to a previous clause.
Angela Eagle: All that I would say to the hon. Gentleman is that the clause deals with information about people who are working, and the context of the gateways that we are discussing is slightly different for all the clauses. The previous clause related to whereabouts, for example. The same wording throughout the clauses would not always provide the necessary solution. That is complex but true.
Simon Hughes: I know that the Minister realises that I am always entirely fair and reasonable, so I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
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Amendments made, No. 294, in page 50, line 38, leave out paragraph (b) and insert
'(b) that the person does not have permission to work in accordance with section 1(2) of the Immigration Act 1971 (c.77) (general principles).'.
No. 295, in page 51, line 5, at end insert
'(3) The Commissioners of Inland Revenue may supply the Secretary of State with information for the purpose of determining whether an applicant for naturalisation under the British Nationality Act 1981 (c.61) is of good character.
(4) The Commissioners of Inland Revenue may supply the Secretary of State with information for the purpose of applying, in the case of an applicant for entry clearance within the meaning of section 33 of the Immigration Act 1971 (c.77), a provision of rules under section 3 of that Act relating to maintenance or accommodation.
(5) Information supplied to the Secretary of State under any of subsections (1) to (4) may be supplied by him to another person only
(a) for a purpose specified in any of those subsections,
(b) for the purpose of legal proceedings, or
(c) with consent (which may be general or specific) of the Commissioners of Inland Revenue, for a purpose for which the Commissioners could supply the information.
(6) A power of the Commissioners of Inland Revenue under this section
(a) may be exercised on their behalf only by a person authorised (generally or specifically) for the purpose, and
(b) may be exercised despite any statutory or other requirement of confidentiality.'. [Angela Eagle]
Clause 101, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
Simon Hughes: The Minister rightly said that the purposes for which information is collected may include the prevention of crime. She may remember the significant debates in both Houses during the passage of the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 on whether the threshold should be crime or serious crime. I and my hon. Friends took the view that it should be serious crime. Does the test of good character referred to in the clause require an individual to be absolutely blamelessin other words, crime-free in all respects? Would the lower end of crime, such as speeding or parking offences or other summary offences, stand in the way of an application? What is the test and is there flexibility? Would administrative offences that are technically crimes prevent someone from qualifying, and justify the exchange of information for which the clause provides?
Angela Eagle: The good character test is always left to the discretion of the Secretary of State for naturalisation purposes. Such a test would be ludicrous if it meant that someone with a parking offence could not become a naturalised citizen. Criminal activities range from parking and summary offences to far more serious crimes, and the power of the Secretary of State to exercise discretion should take
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account of that. There is no fixed statutory means of achieving that, which is why the Secretary of State has discretion. Clearly, minor offences carry less weight. The clause deals with the facts that the Secretary of State needs to take into account to exercise discretion under the law. A pattern of less serious offences might lead to a refusal, as might a more serious offence. As I have explained, the law currently leaves decisions to the discretion of the Secretary of State.
It is clear that inappropriate granting of British citizenship to people engaged in serious criminal activity is potentially harmful to public safety, so the clause provides a legal basis for chief officers of the police, the National Crime Squad, the National Criminal and Intelligence Service, HM Customs and Excise, certain contractors providing accommodation under the National Asylum Support Service and persons specified by order under section 20 of the 1999 Act to disclose information to the Secretary of State to verify good character for immigration purposes.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept that such information plays an important role in the appropriate exercise of discretion. The clause ensures that it can properly be passed to the Secretary of State by those specified bodies.