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Standing Committee Debates

Draft Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 (Juxtaposed Controls) (Amendment) Order 2006

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman: David Taylor
Benyon, Mr. Richard (Newbury) (Con)
Bryant, Chris (Rhondda) (Lab)
Campbell, Mr. Alan (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury)
Clappison, Mr. James (Hertsmere) (Con)
Clarke, Mr. Tom (Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill) (Lab)
Dobbin, Jim (Heywood and Middleton) (Lab/Co-op)
Fabricant, Michael (Lichfield) (Con)
Featherstone, Lynne (Hornsey and Wood Green) (LD)
Flello, Mr. Robert (Stoke-on-Trent, South) (Lab)
Green, Damian (Ashford) (Con)
Hoyle, Mr. Lindsay (Chorley) (Lab)
Hunter, Mark (Cheadle) (LD)
McCafferty, Chris (Calder Valley) (Lab)
McDonagh, Siobhain (Mitcham and Morden) (Lab)
Moran, Margaret (Luton, South) (Lab)
Ryan, Joan (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department)
Streeter, Mr. Gary (South-West Devon) (Con)
Hannah Weston, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee

First Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation

Monday 30 October 2006

[Mr. David Taylor in the Chair]

Draft Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 (Juxtaposed Controls) (Amendment) Order 2006

4.30 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Joan Ryan): I beg to move,
That the Committee has considered the draft Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 (Juxtaposed Controls) (Amendment) Order 2006.
The order enables two pieces of UK immigration law to be applied to the juxtaposed controls in the northern French ports of Calais, Dunkirk and Boulogne. As the Committee knows, the UK has several international agreements with France to allow UK authorities to carry out immigration and other controls in France and for French authorities to do the same in the UK. Controls are carried out by UK officers in a defined geographical area and for specified purposes only.
The juxtaposed controls provide the UK with an important opportunity to carry out immigration controls before a person physically enters the UK and are essential to our ongoing efforts to secure our borders. The controls in Calais, Dunkirk and Boulogne are provided for at an international level by the Le Touquet treaty signed on 4 February 2003 and are given domestic effect by the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 (Juxtaposed Controls) Order 2003, made under section 141 of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002.
This order amends the 2003 order to apply to authorised persons other than immigration officers the powers in sections 40 and 41 of the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act 2006 and those to take and retain fingerprints of certain persons under sections 141 and 143 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999.
I shall deal first with the power to authorise persons other than immigration officers to search ships, aircraft and other vehicles. Prior to sections 40 and 41 coming into force, only an immigration officer had the power to search a
“ship, aircraft, vehicle or other thing for the purpose”—
of ascertaining—
“whether there are individuals whom an immigration officer might wish to examine”.
The 2006 Act provides the Secretary of State with a power to authorise police, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs officers or private contractors to carry out such searches.
It is important that those powers apply to the juxtaposed controls at Calais, Dunkirk and Boulogne where the UK immigration service has a considerable freight examination operation. It is intended that private contractors will be authorised to carry out vehicle searches in order to free up immigration officers to concentrate on more complex work, for which they have undergone considerable training, such as forgery detection, the application of civil penalty and asylum screening, and debriefing.
Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con): On the employment of private subcontractors, does the Minister imagine that they will always be British or could they be of the nationality of the port where the inspections are taking place?
Joan Ryan: They could indeed be both, or even neither, but they are likely to be of the nationality of the country in which the work is being conducted.
Those contracted to undertake the work will be known as authorised search officers. The legislation demands that they be suitably trained and fit for the task assigned to them, and if they are not, the Secretary of State will not give authorisation. Furthermore, he can and will revoke an authority should the contracted party fail to perform effectively and in accordance with the standards set.
Careful consideration has been given to the powers of search and detention that ASOs will have, and they have been limited to the minimum necessary to enable ASOs to fulfil their functions properly. The aim is for them to find people seeking to enter the UK clandestinely, to detain them for the shortest period “reasonably necessary” and for not more than three hours, and to take them to an immigration officer for examination
“as speedily as is reasonably practicable”.
We expect that in practice that delivery will indeed be swift, as the contractor will have a cellular vehicle permanently at his or her disposal. Checks and balances will be in place to ensure that the ASOs deploy their powers appropriately and efficiently. They will be directed and supervised by the UK immigration service on site, and a monitor will be appointed by the Secretary of State to oversee the operation of those powers and to investigate any complaints or failings.
I turn now to fingerprinting. When the immigration controls at the juxtaposed controls were initially established, no provision was made for the application of sections 141 and 143 of the 1999 Act. At the time it was felt that it would not be necessary to take and retain fingerprints as all persons refused entry at a UK control zone are handed over to the French authorities. The management of their movement within the UK was therefore of no significance because they would not enter the UK. However, it has become apparent that there is a real need for identification of certain persons and that we should have the same powers to take fingerprints as we have at UK mainland ports.
The application of that power in the juxtaposed controls would focus on those persons detected concealed in vehicles who seek to enter the UK clandestinely and those trying to use false documentation. Taking their fingerprints will provide a bank of physical data that can be used to identify people who have previously attempted to enter the UK unlawfully and who subsequently present themselves at the juxtaposed controls. Fingerprinting will support an intelligence-led approach to border security, providing information regarding its efficiency and the level of displacement between ports.
Michael Fabricant: The Minister is very generous to give way again: she is one of the most generous Ministers in the Government. She mentions the ability to take fingerprint evidence, and I agree with her about that. What about DNA samples, which are now becoming ever more important and are taken as a matter of course in criminal investigations?
Joan Ryan: The order applies only to fingerprint samples and we are not at this point talking about DNA. Under the legislation that we seek to amend, the measure would apply only to fingerprints.
For completeness, I should add that the contracting out of search provisions and the taking and retention of fingerprint powers will also be applied, where appropriate, to the juxtaposed controls in France and Belgium connected with the channel tunnel. Where secondary legislation is required to do this, this has been done under the Channel Tunnel Act 1987, which provides for the negative procedure. The relevant orders are the Channel Tunnel (International Arrangements) (Amendment) Order 2006 and the Channel Tunnel (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Amendment) Order 2006, which came into effect on 26 October 2006.
The application of these measures—the use of contractors and the power to fingerprint—at juxtaposed controls will increase the security of the border. They allow warranted immigration staff to concentrate on more complex work and ensure that all those intent on circumventing the control have physical data recorded for future identification. I commend the order to the Committee.
4.38 pm
Damian Green (Ashford) (Con): I am grateful to the Minister for her explanation of this important order. This is a significant detail of an extremely important wider issue. In that context I can only express regret that the Liberal Democrat members of the Committee, including their spokesman on immigration, have not bothered to attend the Committee to discuss this issue. It is characteristic really.
I can assure the Minister at the outset that we have no objection in principle to either of the proposals in the order before us, but we have a number of questions because the detail is so important. The Minister will be aware that among the long-term failures that caused the Home Secretary famously to describe the immigration and nationality directorate as “not fit for purpose” was the failure to operate proper and competent border controls. Therefore measures to plug some of the gaps, both literally and metaphorically, are very welcome. As I said, we have a number of questions about the practicality of the measures that the Minister has just outlined, and about their implementation. I hope that she can answer them today, or if not, subsequently.
First, the Minister mentioned the individual ports to which the regulations would apply. However, are there any plans, either in the short or long term, to extend those arrangements to other ports? I have been informed by police sources that there are always about 500 would-be illegal immigrants around the port of Calais trying to get here, and that inevitably, as controls there are tightened, many of those people are moving to other ports, both inside and outside France. It would seem short-sighted if we were trying to plug the gaps in certain ports but leaving other ports relatively unprotected. What are the Minister’s long-term plans for extending juxtaposed controls, particularly the use of ASOs, to other ports? Can she also explain whether the use of private contractors will make it easier to extend the coverage along the coast?
Secondly, what will be the incentive regime for the private contractors who will be employed? Clearly, whether it is done on a success basis or simply a volume basis of searches done may affect the effectiveness of the regime over the long term.
Thirdly, my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) raised the issue of fingerprinting. What is the scale of the problem that the new power is designed to combat? How many people are coming back after trying once, failing, and coming back again, which makes having fingerprint evidence all the more important? In the wake of my hon. Friend’s intervention about DNA, the Minister will be aware of our concern on these Benches about the indiscriminate collection of data. Can she reassure us that only those who have tried and failed to beat the system will be fingerprinted in the way that she set out?
My fourth question relates to the consultation document that was produced in April this year about the legislation. In particular, page 5 of that document is slightly unclear as to whether more searches will be done on freight as a result of the new powers to use private contractors. It would be interesting to know what percentage of freight is being searched. In particular, can the Minister address the point made in subsection (e) of the document? It says:
“The impact of this measure will be upon traffic, mainly freight, located at the berth side embarkation area in the port of Calais. The impact will be minimal as vehicle searches already take place”.
I am genuinely puzzled by that, because I would like the impact to be something more than minimal. I assume that the effect of the measures would be, as the Minister said, to release immigration officers for other, more complex and difficult duties, while keeping more people on the ground to do the routine searching. If the impact is going to be minimal, I fail to see the point, frankly. Can she clear that up? It may be that the minimal impact will simply be on the speed of the traffic going through.
Michael Fabricant: My hon. Friend may recall that, for a while, I sat on the Home Affairs Committee, which looked at the integrity of the United Kingdom’s ports of entry. One of the problems that we encountered was that modern equipment that could detect life was not available to many of the people doing the inspections. Surely the way to ensure that there is not much disruption, but improved and increased searches, is to ensure that people are given the tools to finish the job, including X-ray machinery and devices to detect radiological materials.
Damian Green: My hon. Friend makes an important point, and I am certain that the Minister will be aware that there has been some introduction of materials of that kind to detect people coming in through other areas. The essence of my puzzlement about the consultation document is that it fails to tell us—indeed, as the Minister has not yet told us this afternoon— whether there will be more capacity as a result of this change. Will more searches be done? Will anyone who indulges in this repellent trade of people trafficking feel that they are more likely to be caught as a result of this because there will be more searches of freight vehicles or more fingerprinting? That seems to be at the heart of the purpose of the order.
My final point for the Minister is simply about cost. How much will the changes cost? She will be very aware that with the range of powers available to the Government, value for money is vital in this area. To sum up, we wish these changes well. I hope that the Minister can address these important, detailed questions before we sign up to them.
4.46 pm
Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere) (Con): I want to speak in support of the pertinent questions posed by my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Damian Green). I should like to add my support to one question in particular, which was a thought that came to my mind too: what is the end product of the process that is being described here? I had the opportunity with other members of the Home Affairs Committee to visit Calais earlier this year to see these processes. I certainly pay tribute to our immigration officers in Calais and the work that they do there. I was also impressed by the detection work that is being carried out.
The point that my hon. Friend made is extremely important: what happens at the end of the process in which a person has been detected, detained, taken to an immigration officer and fingerprinted? I would be grateful if the Minister could throw as much light on that as possible because one of the other things that was apparent during our visit to Calais, as my hon. Friend quite rightly said, is that there seems to be a permanent presence of people. They were there in May this year and I imagine that they are still there. If one goes round at various times of the day one sees them in certain places. I believe that there are food kitchens set up in some places for them. So there is certainly a belief in some quarters that being there might be of some avail.
What happens to somebody who has, for example, been detected and detained for a limited period and fingerprinted? Are they in a position to make another attempt? I would be grateful if the Minister could throw some light on that as well as on the other very pertinent points that my hon. Friend made. I do not want to go into the details of the technology as that is not appropriate. But certainly I would draw an inference from the permanent presence of a substantial number of people in Calais who are obviously there to try to beat the system.
4.48 pm
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