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

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

Column Number: 359

Standing Committee B

Thursday 22 January 2004


[Mrs. Marion Roe in the Chair]

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

Clause 15

Electronic monitoring

2.30 pm

Mr. Mark Oaten (Winchester) (LD): I beg to move amendment No. 165, in

    clause 15, page 16, line 1, after 'comply', insert 'without good reason'.

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

No. 166, in

    clause 15, page 16, line 3, at end insert—

    '(2A) Where the reason given for an alleged breach in subsection (2)(b) above is not accepted by the person imposing the restriction—

    (a) the monitored person shall have seven days to make representations to a Chief Immigration Officer, and

    (b) the Chief Immigration Officer shall make a decision to continue, vary or revoke requirements including a decision to detain under this section only after having carried out a review and given written reasons for that decision.'.

No. 169, in

    clause 15, page 16, line 13, at end insert 'necessary and reasonable'.

No. 172, in

    clause 15, page 16, line 40, leave out 'may' and insert 'shall'.

No. 173, in

    clause 15, page 17, line 2, leave out 'and'.

No. 174, in

    clause 15, page 17, line 6, at end insert

    ', and

    (c) must not impose a disproportionate restriction on the liberty of the individual.'.

Mr. Oaten: I welcome you to this afternoon's sitting, Mrs. Roe. I do not intend to detain the Committee for long on these amendments. They are probing amendments designed to find out the Government's intentions for electronic tagging. In keeping with the spirit of co-operation from the Minister, I accept that I cannot have my cake and eat it.

If we had had a chance to debate clause 14, I would have pointed out that I prefer the forced removal process to some of the Government's suggestions as laid out in clause 7. I do not have difficulties with the suggestions in clauses 14 and 15. There should be greater use of electronic monitoring, or tagging, in the general criminal justice system as an alternative to sending people to prison. I have no problems with the Government's intentions, but I want to highlight concerns, and I hope that the Minister can provide clarification.

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I remind the Committee that we are discussing the possibility of tagging—I shall call it that rather than electronic monitoring because it is easier—for people who have not been convicted of a crime. It is important to establish and to recognise that there is a difference between the conventional use of tagging and the forms of tagging being suggested in this case. Will the Minister clarify in what situations the Government would suggest using tagging? For example, how often does she think that tagging will be used for residence restrictions, reporting restrictions, or to enforce conditions of immigration bail? Tagging could be acceptable for use in some scenarios more than others, such as reporting restrictions.

Have the Home Office considered alternatives to tagging? For example, voice connection would be a sensible way to achieve the same aim without using tagging. A requirement to phone in using voice recognition technology—a recognised form of technology—might achieve the same aim. Similarly, we could employ the kind of tagging used for home curfews, for example, between 7 pm and 7 am, rather than full conventional tagging. Is the Minister suggesting a move to new forms of technology, such as satellite tagging, which could track down and trace individuals 24 hours a day?

As I said, these are probing amendments intended to establish in which categories the use of tagging is envisaged, and to ask whether forms of technology other than full tagging could achieve the same aim.

Finally, powers exist under immigration law to allow the Home Secretary to detain individuals if there are extreme concerns. What does the Minister intend to achieve through the powers in clause 15 that could not be achieved through existing powers of detention?

Mr. Neil Gerrard (Walthamstow) (Lab): I want to speak briefly on the points raised by the hon. Gentleman and how the powers in the clause may be used.

The clause uses slightly different phrases on residence and reporting, referring to where

    ''a residence restriction is imposed on an adult''

and where

    ''a reporting restriction could be imposed on an adult''.

The second provision seems wide. When someone is given temporary admission, the IS96 form issued to them will almost always include a requirement for that person to report to an immigration officer at a particular time and place. That is now common.

The question is how widely the power will be used and whether the intention is to use it, in some cases at least, as an alternative to detention. The Government's policy in recent years has been to increase the size of the detention estate, with the obvious implication that more people will be in detention, or do the Government envisage the restrictions being used in addition to detention? It will be interesting to hear the Minister's views on the extent to which and the cases in which the power will be used and the relationship between its use and detention.

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There is also the question of age. Subsection (7) defines adult as

    ''an individual who appears to be at least 18 years old''.

It would help to have some clarity on that point and on how it is intended that the power will be used.

I echo the hon. Gentleman's comments about the criminal justice system. Like many of us, the Home Secretary has made it clear that he wants fewer people in prison in general and that we should be looking at alternatives to prison. With that in mind, I will be interested to hear whether the Minister views the power in the clause as an alternative or addition to detention.

Mr. Humfrey Malins (Woking) (Con): I want to make a few random comments and to ask a few general questions on the group of amendments on the basis that I shall not try to catch your eye on any stand part debate, Mrs. Roe. I have only a little to say.

There are two purposes of electronic tagging in the criminal justice system. The first is to establish where a person is at the material time, and the second is to ensure that, at the material times, they are not free to commit crimes. When bail and sentences have been considered in the criminal justice world, tagging has by and large been something of a success. I planned to ask the Minister how many people she envisages being electronically tagged under the clause and what the total cost will be. However, she could rightly reply that tagging is an alternative to custody, which is even more expensive, so it may save money. Tagging is an alternative to custody for the criminal courts and is to be applauded because it does not involve deprivation of liberty.

At the beginning of a criminal court process, the court and police must consider bail. A recent change has been that, in addition to a judge or magistrate, a policeman can grant bail. Police bail can carry certain conditions, including one of residence, or a doorstep condition, which means that someone must answer the door when it is tapped on at night to prove that they are there. Courts and police take bail very seriously.

Tagging will have a role in the immigration world, but someone, somewhere will have to take a decision about who will be tagged and in what circumstances. Will the Minister say a little more about that? Does she envisage an asylum applicant appearing before, say, a district judge? Will such a judge, in his or her court, or lay magistrates have a power to impose a tagging condition on an asylum seeker? I doubt it because, by definition, people appearing in those courts have committed a criminal offence, and the asylum seeker has not. I do not see how the asylum seeker would find his or her way to a district judge or magistrate in relation to either the imposition of a tagging condition or an appeal against one. However, I should be glad of confirmation of that. I suppose that a person will be tagged on the instructions of an immigration officer or a Home Office official. Again, perhaps the Minister could say more about that.

The age point raised by the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard) is fair. I think that a case

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involving the London borough of Merton in 2003 had something to say about who decides how old a person is. Tagging is meant to be for over-18s. Under the clause, someone is over 18 if they appear to be over 18

    ''in the opinion of a person who . . . imposes a residence restriction''.

Who will have that opinion, and is there any back-up? I think that, in the Merton case, the court said quite clearly that, whatever the Home Office said about someone's age, in truth the local authority should rely on its own inquiries, possibly involving a paediatrician or whoever, to make it plain what the age was. The question of age is interesting.

We should like just a little more explanation of cost, numbers, who will impose the measure, and age. That said, any right-minded person will broadly welcome the clause, not least because by doing so we may be ensuring that more people have their liberty than might otherwise be the case.

Mr. Tom Harris (Glasgow, Cathcart) (Lab): Following the contributions by the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Malins) and by my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow, can my right hon. Friend the Minister offer some clarification of the clause? The prospect of asylum seekers being tagged has been welcomed in some parts of the community as an alternative to detention. There is inevitably controversy over the Government's continued policy of detention in a very small minority of cases.

I believe that the policy is correct, even when it means having to detain whole families, including children, provided that the periods of detention are as short as possible. However, I think that we all recognise the political difficulties arising from genuine concerns about children who, for one reason or another, are detained with their parents for longer than any of us would like. Perhaps the Minister can say that tagging will be used as often as possible as an alternative to detention specifically with regard to families with children.

That suggests another problem, which follows on from the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow last week or early this week. One justification for not separating families in detention is that, if children are placed in the community but the parents are in detention, they could be tempted to judge that they would rather their children remain in the community and the country, even if they themselves are to be deported. The fear is that they would use their children's separation from them as a way of either postponing their own deportation or ensuring that their children had a better quality of life than they would have when they returned to their homeland.

Will the Minister comment on how the Home Office is considering approaching that issue? Will there be circumstances in which the Government may decide that tagging is unsuitable for a family currently in detention because of information received about their motivations or history? Alternatively, will they decide that all families with children who are in detention will be suitable in all circumstances for some form of electronic tagging?

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2.45 pm

I should also like to know how long such a tagging regime would continue. We are reassured by the Government that families or individuals are placed in detention only when their removal is imminent or there is some dispute about their identity. That is the case with the Dungavel detention centre in Lanarkshire. Will there be a similar time restriction on electronic tagging, will people be tagged indefinitely or for what some would consider unjustifiably long periods? With those reservations, like the hon. Member for Woking, I generally welcome the clause.


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