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Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Bill

Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Bill

Column Number: 39

Standing Committee B

Thursday 8 January 2004


[Mrs. Marion Roe in the Chair]

Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Bill

Clause 2

Entering United Kingdom without passport

Amendment proposed [this day]: No. 2, in

    clause 2, page 2, line 3, after 'him', insert

    ', or fails to produce to an immigration officer within three days,'.—[Mr. Malins.]

2.30 pm

Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.

The Chairman: I remind the Committee that with this we are discussing the following amendments:

No. 6, in

    clause 2, page 2, line 9, after 'him', insert

    ', or fails to produce to an immigration officer within three days,'.

No. 58, in

    clause 2, page 2, line 38, leave out

    'to an immigration officer on request'

and insert

    'without reasonable excuse following a request from an immigration officer, within a reasonable period, which shall be no less than seven days from the date of that request.'.

No. 16, in

    clause 2, page 2, line 39, at end insert 'or within three days'.

Mr. Humfrey Malins (Woking) (Con): I was about to give way to the Minister just before the lunch break, so I will do so now.

The Minister for Citizenship and Immigration (Beverley Hughes): The hon. Gentleman said that, in the circumstances that he outlined, an immigration officer at a screening unit who was presented with somebody without a document would, in practice, invariably arrest that person on the reasonable suspicion that they had committed an offence by not having a document. Does he not accept that where a person claimed that they had entered the UK lawfully and had, therefore, used a passport, the official would check the facts, assess the story's credibility—including claims that the situation in that person's country had changed substantially—and make a judgment? Does he not accept that immigration officials make judgments about credibility all the time, at every stage of the process? If there were no reasonable suspicion that the person had no document, the reasonable thing—this is what I would expect—would be to allow that person to produce the document that they claimed to possess.

Column Number: 40

Mr. Malins: The Minister is right to the extent that where an in-country applicant who claimed asylum was asked to produce a document and said, ''I've left it back at home, a hundred miles away, but I'll have it here by tomorrow,'' the immigration officer would inevitably have the good sense to say, ''Go and fetch it and bring it back tomorrow.'' However, I fear that the Bill is drafted in such a way that the immigration officer would undoubtedly have a reasonable suspicion that an offence had been committed; he would not be concerned with a reasonable excuse, and could—though, in practice, he surely never would—make the arrest and take the person into custody.

We have had a good debate about whether to allow someone to produce a document within three days. I remain of the view that no harm or mischief would be caused by agreeing to the amendment. As I said, there are reasons why in-country applicants, in particular, may not have the relevant documents when they are first interviewed by an immigration officer. They may simply have left them at home or in the safekeeping of a family member. They may, indeed, have left them with a court or even with the Home Office in connection with a family member. Such documents may also need to be obtained from abroad from time to time. To return to the parallel with the driving licence—it is perhaps not the best parallel—there is an argument for saying, ''If you don't have the document on you, produce it within a few days.'' That is what happens in the motoring world.

Having said that, I think that the Minister understands the thrust of our arguments. I am reassured by one or two of her comments, if not by the totality of what she has said. In those circumstances, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Malins: I beg to move amendment No. 4, in

    clause 2, page 2, line 4, after 'immigration', insert 'or other'.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments:

No. 5, in

    clause 2, page 2, line 5, after 'is', insert 'or has been'.

No. 52, in

    clause 2, page 2, line 6, leave out 'and' and insert ','.

No. 54, in

    clause 2, page 2, line 9, leave out 'an immigration' and insert 'a'.

No. 7, in

    clause 2, page 2, line 9, after 'immigration', insert 'or other'.

No. 8, in

    clause 2, page 2, line 10, after 'is', insert 'or has been'.

No. 55, in

    clause 2, page 2, line 11, leave out 'and' and insert ','.

No. 61, in

    clause 2, page 3, line 10, leave out from 'time)' to end of line 15.

No. 62, in

    clause 2, page 3, line 12, leave out paragraphs (a) and (b) and insert

    'any document which contains sufficient information to identify that person or dependent child or their nationality or citizenship.'.

Mr. Malins: I welcome my hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk (Mr. Bacon) to the Committee.

Column Number: 41

Amendment No. 4 relates to the production of identification documents. It would permit the applicant at the first interview to produce another document that has been in force even if it is not currently in force. The purpose is straightforward. Why is it necessary for someone to produce a document when first interviewed by an immigration officer? The obvious answer is to establish who that person is. That is the mischief of which the Government complain in the explanatory notes on clause 2. By destruction of documents or something similar, too many people do not give immigration officers or other officials a clue as to who they are and where they are from.

Can that be cured? Yes. Can it be cured by the production of an immigration document, which according to the explanatory notes is effectively a passport or ''equivalent document'', whatever that may mean? Yes, that is one possible cure. Is it possible or sensible to amend the clause to give the person presenting himself the opportunity to present, if not a passport or other equivalent document, some other satisfactory means of identification? It would be all to the good if that was possible.

As I mentioned earlier, a huge proportion of births across the world go unregistered, meaning that the person has no birth certificate and it is difficult for them to get a passport. Huge numbers of people would not have a passport or equivalent document, such as travel permission from their country, but such people may have a document that can satisfactorily identify them. Some countries may, for example, have a military call-up document. We all carry documents that can establish who we are to a reasonably satisfactory degree. There is a variety of such documents in the UK.

If, on first interview, an asylum applicant was unable to produce a passport or relevant travel document, because they had never had or been given one, would it be satisfactory if they said, ''This is me, here is another document that adequately establishes who I am, and I am doing my best to co-operate with the authorities''? My amendment would allow them to do that.

The same general point emerges from amendment No. 5, which would allow someone to use an immigration document that either is or has been in force, by which I mean an expired document. It is a question of slightly widening the range of documents that are satisfactory on first interview.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): I have tabled a series of amendments in the group, and they fall into two distinct sets. One set would achieve exactly the same as the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Malins), so I will not expand at length. Amendment No. 52 would delete the word ''and'' in the phrase

    ''identity and nationality or citizenship''.

In the absence of something that specifically refers to nationality or citizenship, and given that the one should and could lead to the other, that would allow

Column Number: 42

for another acceptable means of properly identifying a person. Replacing the ''and'' with a comma would extend the range of documentation that is appropriate for the identification of an individual, which seems right. The argument is exactly the one that has been expounded by the hon. Member for Woking, so I shall not repeat it. I hope that that is sufficient to explain amendments Nos. 52, 55 and 62.

I confess that I am slightly puzzled about why amendment No. 51 was not selected, as it is analogous to amendment No. 54 but relates to a different subsection. It was an attempt to improve the Bill's structure. I do not claim superiority of any kind, but I find it puzzling that the term ''immigration document'' is used in two consecutive clauses but defined differently. That is confusing and unnecessary. If you would give me the leeway, Mrs. Roe, I would like to explain what amendment No. 51 would have done had it been selected, as it will help the argument. I hope that I shall not be straying too far from the scope of the group.

Amendment No. 51 would have removed ''immigration'' from subsections (1) and (2), so the clause would have read ''if he does not have with him a document which (a) is in force, and (b) satisfactorily establishes his identity and nationality or citizenship.'' The clause would define the document for the stated purpose. Such wording would have avoided difficulties that might have arisen because the same term is defined in two different ways in two consecutive clauses. If the provision were self-defining, one would not need the definition of an immigration document in subsection (10).

I am not going to die in the ditch over that, but it might improve the Bill's structure, which should avoid later difficulties. I would be grateful for the Minister's consideration of whether that might be appropriate.


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