Draft Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 (Juxtaposed Controls) Order 2003

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Mr. Hawkins: Will the Minister undertake to look at what her fellow Ministers said recently to me and my hon. Friend the Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice) on the Crime (International Co-operation) Bill Committee? The hon. Lady's colleagues have made several undertakings to the effect that it would be wrong for foreign officers to carry firearms on British soil. Those remarks were not subject to any condition, apart from what will be covered by the statutory instrument. Ministers gave blanket assurances about the operations of foreign police officers. I am concerned that what the Minister is saying and that what will flow from the statutory instrument—French officers carrying weapons on British soil—is completely inconsistent with what her ministerial colleagues have said in the recent Committee on that Bill.

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Beverley Hughes: It is not in the least inconsistent, and the hon. Gentleman may be aware that I spoke on that Bill on Second Reading, so I am very familiar with its terms. In that case, we discussed the ability of French officers to pursue a suspect on British soil for a certain period. They would be able to move around the terrain of this country. The issue of firearms, as the hon. Gentleman rightly says, is of considerable importance to hon. Members of all parties.

We are talking about something completely different today, which is the ability of French immigration officers to exercise their functions in a defined control zone. We want to agree with the French authorities how those firearms will arrive at that control zone, but I am confident that the terms of that agreement will be consistent with the spirit of the Crime (International Co-operation) Bill when it comes to officers moving around the country.

Mr. Mark Francois (Rayleigh): The Minister has contradicted herself. She has just said that those officials would be allowed to carry firearms only within a specifically defined, control zone, but she said at the beginning of her remarks that the zones have not yet been completely defined.

Beverley Hughes: I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman thinks that that is a contradiction. The zone will be defined before the process is complete and before the order is made. Once the boundaries of the zone are defined, so will be the area in which officers may carry their firearms. I do not see that as a contradiction at all.

I am not in a position to tell hon. Members the terms of the agreements that we think we can reach with the French authorities on the transportation of firearms because the negotiations are not concluded. I am confident, however, that the terms of that agreement will be consistent with the spirit of the Crime (International Co-operation) Bill in so far as it relates to—

Mr. Francois: The spirit?

Beverley Hughes: Yes, the spirit of that Bill. The agreement will be consistent with the Bill in terms of how it relates to the carriage of firearms if the French authorities are moving around the country, as opposed to being in a defined zone.

Mr. Hawkins: I hope that the Minister understands that because there are so many ifs and buts in what she is saying—she is confident that certain things will be agreed both about the defined zones and the firearms agreement—we would say that passing the order is premature. Would not the Government have been much wiser to wait until those matters were agreed, and then bring the order before the House? We would then know what we were talking about. We are entirely unhappy that the measure has been introduced in its present form with so many matters yet to be agreed.

Beverley Hughes: Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will explain in his own speech why that issue concerns him now when the same arrangements already pertain at Cheriton and Waterloo. As far as I can recall, we have

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heard not a peep from the Opposition about French officers carrying firearms in those control zones.

I do not apologise for the measure at all. It is entirely consistent with the way in which previous arrangements have been made that we should reach agreement with the French authorities. The nature of the agreement will be made public, but it is important to deal with the order today, and deal with other—albeit important—details in the context of continuing discussions with the French authorities.

Mr. David Cameron (Witney): Will the Minister clarify one point? She has mentioned that the order says that French police will have immunity from prosecution in the control zone in the UK. Will they still be subject to French criminal law?

Beverley Hughes: Yes, they will—that is the point. That will be the avenue for redress for a person who feels that there has been a transgression.

Mr. Heath: There is something approaching a schedule of British laws that will have application within a control zone in France. There is no similar list of French laws that will apply in the control zone in the United Kingdom. Why is that? Have the relevant laws not been worked out yet?

Beverley Hughes: The appropriate place for those will be in parallel order and a process of application that the French Government will take. Their order, or the equivalent—the French Government have to go through a slightly different process—is the place where those issues will be specified.

Part 3 relates to what will happen in Calais and in other French ports; that is, it is about the exercise of immigration control by UK immigration officers in a control zone in France. The draft order applies the usual immigration controls to the control zone. Part 3 also allows UK police to operate in support of immigration officers in the control zone in France.

In relation to the point made by the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath), the enactments extended by article 11 to such a control zone include the Immigration Act 1971, and schedules 7, 8 and 14 to the Terrorism Act 2000, which relate to port controls, with the modifications set out in schedule 2. It is essential that immigration officers have all their usual powers under the 2000 Act, because a significant part of immigration control relates to preventing persons who may be a risk to national security from entering the UK.

Simon Hughes: On powers in France, does the Minister accept that the Vienna convention on the law of the treaties says:

    ''States may not discharge themselves of responsibilities under the 1951 refugee convention by moving border control away from their own frontiers or by invoking the inadequacies in, or the provisions of, their internal laws.''?

Can I assume that an application for asylum made by somebody on French territory, but to the UK immigration authorities, would be a treated as an application made in the UK, and that the person would not therefore be sent back to the French authorities if their case was going to be considered?

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Beverley Hughes: That will depend on whether the application is made in France on French soil outside the control zone or within the control zone. If somebody makes an application in the control zone, the French authorities will process it, unless there are special circumstances or reasons why it should not be, because the control zone remains French territory. Under the Dublin convention, it would fall to the French authorities to process that claim.

Simon Hughes: Will the Minister reflect on whether that answer is consistent with what I have just quoted, which says that a country dealing with refugee applications is not allowed under international law to rid itself of its obligation by moving its borders or control mechanism to another country? The logic of the convention—the Minister has seen the representations that many people have made about this—implies that if asylum seekers or refugees, rather than other, illegal entrants, put their case to the British authorities, even on French territory, they should be dealt with from then on as if they had made their claim on British territory.

Beverley Hughes: It is important that Members understand that the designation of the control zone does not define that area of French soil as UK territory in law—it remains French territory. Therefore, in accordance with the international agreements that have already been made across Europe, which set out the way European states will operate together in such circumstances, the place at which a person first makes an asylum claim is, by common agreement, taken to be the state that will process the claim. By definition, therefore, it will fall to France to process such a claim, whether it is made on French soil in the control zone or outside, unless there are very special circumstances.

A number of criminal offences, principally under the Immigration Act 1971, are extended to a control zone in France under part 3. In addition, criminal law is extended to such a control zone for things done by an immigration officer or a constable in the exercise of his functions, and on the protection of such officers and their property. An immigration officer may exercise his usual powers of arrest, search and seizure in a control zone in France and may request the assistance of a constable when so doing. A constable may also exercise a power of arrest under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 in respect of any offence extended by the order to such a control zone. All that is provided for in the treaty to which the draft order gives effect.

Juxtaposed controls are an essential element in our overall strategy for tackling illegal immigration, and I commend the order to the House.

2.55 pm

Mr. Hawkins: Mr. Pike, I welcome you to the chairmanship of our proceedings. My concerns about the proposed order fall into three areas. First, there are the concerns that my noble Friend, Baroness Anelay of St. Johns, raised in the other place when the order was considered there two nights ago. Secondly, there are the concerns that have been raised with me—and perhaps drawn to the attention of one or two other

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Committee Members—by the British Ports Association. Thirdly, there are the concerns that my hon. Friends and I have already raised during interventions.

I shall begin with the concerns that Baroness Anelay of St. Johns, my party's spokesperson in the other place, has raised with me. In the other place, the order was considered between two other debates in what is referred to as an order taken within the dinner break. It is the convention that debate on an order taken during that time can extend for whatever length of time is required. Towards the end of the period normally allocated for that dinner break, I understand from my noble Friend that the Government Minister, Baroness Scotland of Asthal, was about to give a detailed response to some of the concerns that my noble Friends, Baroness Anelay of St. Johns and Lord Avebury, had raised, when the Minister was told by Lord McIntosh that she had only two minutes, and she ended her remarks very abruptly.

My noble Friend, Baroness Anelay of St. Johns, has asked me to make the point—which I hope the Minister will pass on to her noble Friend—that it is important to recognise that, although there is a set period of time for orders within the dinner break, the debate on those matters can continue until the debate is concluded. My noble Friend is hopeful that there will be no repetition of the sudden aborting of a Government Minister's response after that Minister has indicated that she will give a full reply.

 
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