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Standing Committee Debates
Asylum and Immigration

Asylum and Immigration

Column Number: 81

Standing Committee B

Tuesday 13 January 2004


[David Taylor in the Chair]

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

9.10 am


    That the Programming Order of 8 January be amended, so that the table reads as follows:
    Proceedings Time for conclusion of proceedings
    Clauses 1 to 6. 5.15 pm on Tuesday 13th January.
    Clauses 7 to 9. 5.15 pm on Thursday 15th January.
    Clause 10; Schedules 1 and 2; Clauses 11 and 12; Schedule 3; Clauses 13 and 14. 11.25 am on Thursday 22nd January.
    Clauses 15 to 25; Schedule 4; Clauses 26 to 28; remaining proceedings on the Bill. 6.55 pm on Tuesday 27th January.

    —[Mr. Heppell.]

Clause 2

Entering United Kingdom without passport

Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con): I beg to move amendment No. 79, in

    clause 2, page 2, line 39, at end insert—

    '(6A) A person commits an offence if he aids or abets or provides a craft used in the commission of an offence under subsections (1) and (2).

    (6B) It shall be a defence for a person charged with an offence under subsection (6A) to prove that he could not reasonably have known that an offence was being committed.'.

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

Amendment No. 82, in

    clause 2, page 2, line 44, at end insert

    ', or

    (c) on conviction on indictment for an offence under subsection (6A) to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years for each offence under subsection (1) or (2) aided or abetted, to a fine or to both; or

    (d) on conviction on indictment for an offence under subsection (6A) involving a craft, a fine not exceeding the value of the craft.'.

Amendment No. 80, in

    clause 2, page 3, line 7, at end insert—

    ' ''craft'' means any boat, ship, aeroplane, hovercraft, balloon, airship, rocket, train, tractor, motor-car, carriage or any other movable structure used in the commission of an offence under subsections (1) and (2);'.

Amendment No. 81, in

    clause 2, page 3, line 15, at end insert

    ' ''provides'' means owns, lets, captains, pilots or drives.'.

New clause 3—Impounding of craft—

    '(1) An immigration officer may impound a craft used to transport a person to the United Kingdom if it appears to him that that

Column Number: 82

    craft may be used or may have been used for an offence under section 2.

    (2) The craft shall be released to its provider if—

    (a) it appears to the immigration officer that no offence has been committed, or

    (b) the provider of the craft notifies the officer of the craft's next destination, being outside the United Kingdom, and agrees to remove the person whom the immigration officer suspects of committing the offence with the craft to that destination.

    (3) In this section—

    ''craft'' means any boat, ship, aeroplane, hovercraft, balloon, airship, rocket, train, tractor, motor-car, carriage or any other movable structure used in the commission of an offence under subsections (1) and (2) of section 2;

    ''provider'' means the person having charge of the craft.'.

Mr. Turner: It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Taylor, and to face the two Ministers in the Committee. I should first apologise for my absence from the first two sittings, when I was inspecting one of the craft that is less likely to be impounded even if new clause 3 becomes law.

The group of probing amendments is designed to find out how serious the Government are in dealing with the problems of people trafficking, and whether they recognise voters' concerns, both about the different ways in which people reach the country and about the lack of coverage, in particular by Customs and immigration authorities. Those concerns are general, but are particularly strong in my constituency.

I do not intend to make a Second Reading speech. I want to give the Minister the opportunity to assure me, the public and the Committee, on each question that I raise, either that our collective concerns are ill founded, or that they are dealt with elsewhere. In response to any of the amendments, the Minister could say: A, it is not a problem; B, it would be a problem but the law already deals with it; C, it is a problem but this is the wrong way to deal with it; or D, it is a problem and she accepts my thoughtful and constructive intervention. If the answer is A, B or C, it would be helpful if she would explain why that applies.

I shall briefly describe the content of each amendment. Amendment No. 79 would make it an offence to aid or abet a crime committed under subsections (1) or (2). I read the assurances that the Minister gave on Thursday about the intention to prosecute under those subsections, and I ask her: A, B, C or D—which is the answer to the problem of people aiding or abetting such offences? The amendment would also make it a crime to provide ''a craft'' used to commit the offence. I am aware that there was a debate on Thursday about airports, but a number of different craft other than aeroplanes are used to reach the country, and I address that in a later amendment. However, on the question of the use of any craft in committing such crimes, I again ask the Minister whether the answer is A, B, C or D.

I give a defence in proposed new subsection (6B) that the person charged with the offence

    ''could not reasonably have known that an offence was being committed.''

The question is whether people are providing craft for the commission of immigration offences and

Column Number: 83

whether they are doing so knowingly or recklessly. If they are doing so knowingly, they are clearly assisting in an offence, and if they are doing so recklessly, they are assisting in the defeating of immigration laws. That is why I want the high standard of proof that they

    ''could not reasonably have known''.

Amendment No. 82 would provide for penalties on conviction under proposed new subsection (6A). The first essential element is that there should be a recognition of the extent of the offence and the fact that it is one thing to import one person illicitly to this county, but another to import a large number of people, or aid or abet such an offence. That point is dealt with in proposed new paragraph (c). The second element is that it is important to recognise the value of the craft that is used. An offence of using a lorry to import illegal immigrants already exists, and vehicles may be seized for other kinds of smuggling, so I wonder whether there should be a fine, not exceeding the value of the craft used, for the use of a craft in the commission of an offence under subsection (1) or (2).

Amendment No. 80 would define the craft. I have been a little generous and used my imagination, because we need an all-embracing definition. The last few words of the amendment might amount to such a definition, but my question is whether the Minister is confident that any craft used for people trafficking will be recognised in the definition of the offences. Is she confident that the definition is broad enough and that any craft, however unlikely, used in the commission of an offence may be seized? My hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Malins) has made some play of the use of the word ''rocket'', but people can be fired from rockets without any long-term danger to themselves. They can also use windsurfing boards, hang-gliders and other apparatus.

Mr. Tom Harris (Glasgow, Cathcart) (Lab): I am intrigued. Has the hon. Gentleman requested from the Home Office statistics on the number of people who have illegally entered the country using an airship or rocket?

Mr. Turner: I have not requested such statistics, because what matters is not what is happening today or happened yesterday but what might happen in the future. I contacted the Library to ask what information was available on the number of people committing offences under immigration laws, but I confess that I did not ask about the means used to reach this country. I thought that it would be appropriate to draft a broad definition to embrace every possible craft.

Mr. Humfrey Malins (Woking) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that there is a subtle difference between the number of people who enter the country illegally by a craft and the number of people who are caught entering the country illegally by a craft? The former may never be known, while the latter are a statistic.

Mr. Turner: That point is likely to be at the heart of many of our debates. If it is an offence for a craft to be used, perhaps the Minister is confident that the offence

Column Number: 84

embraces all possible craft, and she could assure me that the amendment is not necessary. If it is not an offence, I hope that I have been constructive in tabling the amendment.

Mr. Gwyn Prosser (Dover) (Lab): I have been listening to the hon. Gentleman's arguments with interest, but does he recall that the party that he supports vehemently opposed the imposition of £2,000 fines even for people found smuggling illegal immigrants into the country, let alone people using space rockets?

Mr. Turner: Indeed. That was at least partly because the defence contained in proposed new subsection (6B) of amendment No. 79 was not specified. As I understand it, smuggling was a strict liability offence; this is an offence that is committed only if a person

    ''could not reasonably have known that an offence was being committed.''

It is extremely unlikely that people in a small vessel could not know that someone on that vessel did not have immigration papers. The 57 miles of coastline in my constituency are covered by immigration officials for a maximum of half a day a week. The officials are assiduous in covering the island, but they have a considerable length of additional coastline to cover. That is why it is important to recognise that if people use craft of any kind—surfboards, small yachts or a rocket—


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