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Session 2005 - 06
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Standing Committee Debates

Third Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation

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Third Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation

The Committee consisted of the following Members:


†Mr. Eric Martlew

†Burnham, Andy (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department)
†Carmichael, Mr. Alistair (Orkney and Shetland) (LD)
†Carswell, Mr. Douglas (Harwich) (Con)
†Curtis-Thomas, Mrs. Claire (Crosby) (Lab)
†Dunne, Mr. Philip (Ludlow) (Con)
†Garnier, Mr. Edward (Harborough) (Con)
Hague, Mr. William (Richmond, Yorks) (Con)
†Kemp, Mr. Fraser (Houghton and Washington, East) (Lab)
Leech, Mr. John (Manchester, Withington) (LD)
†McDonagh, Siobhain (Mitcham and Morden) (Lab)
†Mahmood, Mr. Khalid (Birmingham, Perry Barr) (Lab)
Prisk, Mr. Mark (Hertford and Stortford) (Con)
†Ryan, Joan (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty’s Treasury)
†Smith, Mr. Andrew (Oxford, East) (Lab)
†Trickett, Jon (Hemsworth) (Lab)
Waltho, Lynda (Stourbridge) (Lab)
Tom Healey, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee

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Tuesday 1 November 2005

[Mr. Eric Martlew in the Chair]

Draft Immigration (Provision of Physical Data) (Amendment) Regulations 2005

10.30 am

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Andy Burnham): I beg to move,

    That the Committee has considered the draft Immigration (Provision of Physical Data) (Amendment) Regulations 2005.

I am pleased to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Martlew, especially on a Committee that includes many distinguished Members, including a former Leader of the Opposition. I thought for a moment that visa fingerprinting would be the platform on which the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) made his foray into the current leadership campaign, but no such luck.

I believe that we can be brief this morning. The regulations are uncontroversial, and they further develop the roll-out of biometric visas around the world. They are made in exercise of the powers conferred on the Secretary of State under the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002. Section 126 of that Act enables the Secretary of State, by the making of regulations, to require that an immigration application be accompanied by specified information about an external characteristic, or to enable an authorised person to require an entrant to provide such information.

Three sets of regulations have already been made under that power. The Immigration (Provision of Physical Data) Regulations 2003 require an entry clearance application made in Sri Lanka to be accompanied by a record of the applicant’s fingerprints. The Immigration (Provision of Physical Data) (Amendment) Regulations 2004 extended that requirement to entry clearance applications made in Djibouti, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Tanzania and Uganda, and to those seeking leave to enter the United Kingdom who, upon doing so, present a 1951 refugee convention travel document issued by a country other than the UK.

The Immigration (Provision of Physical Data) (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations 2004 added Kenya and Rwanda to the list of countries covered by the regulations to supplement our efforts to combat abuse of our immigration and asylum processes in east Africa.

The purpose of the regulations under consideration today is to extend the power to collect fingerprint data from those applying for entry clearance to the UK to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Netherlands and Vietnam. They also amend the meaning of “application”, so that the holder of a 1951 convention travel document who makes his
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application in a country to which the fingerprinting regulations apply will not be fingerprinted a second time upon arrival in the UK.

Results from the countries covered by the previous regulations are encouraging. The information collected under the 2003 and 2004 regulations is proving effective in revealing applicants who seek to conceal an adverse immigration history from the entry clearance officer by using a false identity. The Government remain convinced that the greater use of biometric technology will support our efforts to prevent document and identity fraud. It will enable those entitled to enter the UK to do so without hindrance, yet prevent those who seek to circumvent our controls from doing so. We are committed to the collection of biometric fingerprints in posts throughout the world by 2008.

I appreciate that some are concerned about proportionality and data protection, but we consider the safeguards built into the regime established by the 2003 and 2004 regulations adequate. Those safeguards are designed to deal with the collection of data and their subsequent use. Applicants who are under 16 years of age will have their fingerprints taken in the presence of a responsible adult—someone over the age of 18—who is not employed by the UK Government.

Fingerprints collected in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Netherlands and Vietnam will be added to the immigration and asylum fingerprint system database. That will allow for the identification of visa applicants who subsequently make asylum or immigration applications under different identities once they are in the UK. That, in turn, will help to establish the nationality of those who no longer have a basis for remaining in the UK; it will assist in securing their removal. In common with other fingerprints collected in respect of immigration and asylum applications, those data will be shared with the police and other law enforcement agencies in the prevention or investigation of crime. All such exchanges will comply with the relevant data protection provisions. On data retention, regulations 7 and 8 of the 2003 regulations require records to be retained for a maximum of 10 years, after which they will be destroyed.

Any entry clearance application that is not accompanied by the necessary fingerprint data may be treated as invalid. There may be exceptions—including applicants who, because of physical disability or injury, cannot provide a record of their fingerprints—but it is anticipated that the majority of applications that are not accompanied by a record of fingerprints will be treated as invalid. The consequence of an application being invalid is that the applicant will enjoy no right of appeal.

I give members of the Committee the reassurance that the system will be operated in a reasonable way to limit the impact on applicants. The regulations are a practical extension of the biometric visa scheme that is already under way in posts around the world, and I commend them to the Committee.

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10.36 am

Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough) (Con): I join the Minister in welcoming you to our Committee this morning, Mr. Martlew. As Henry VIII said, I shall not keep you long, although he used to say that to his wives, not to Committee Chairmen. I shall not keep you long because my voice is not very strong today and because the regulations are almost wholly uncontroversial. However, I have just a few points to make.

First, as the Minister explained, taking fingerprints is not always a reliable manner in which to establish a person’s identity, as he and I know from our discussions on the Identity Cards Bill in Committee during the summer.

Secondly, although the absence of appeal is not fundamental on this occasion and does not have an impact on the good sense of the regulations, I hope that the Government will bear it in mind that something should be done to remedy injustices that arise through the absence of a right of appeal.

Thirdly and finally, the Opposition’s absence of opposition to the regulations should not be seen as amounting in any way to a lessening of the Conservative party’s support for—sorry, absence of support for or opposition to—the Identity Cards Bill.

Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): An easy mistake to make.

Mr. Garnier: I am so sorry, but I did not hear what the hon. Gentleman said.

Mr. Carmichael: I was just saying that the hon. and learned Gentleman’s mistake is an easy one to make, because the Conservatives have had so many positions on this issue.

Mr. Garnier: That was deeply witty; I am so grateful that the hon. Gentleman spared the time to join us. The Identity Cards Bill raised huge concerns for my party and, I believe, for the hon. Gentleman’s Liberal Democrat party. We shared our opposition to the Bill, and I am sorry that he got out of bed on the wrong side this morning.

Let me return to the serious point behind this statutory instrument. Although we shall allow it to go through without a Division, I hope that the Minister will not allow our lack of opposition to it to be taken as a lessening of my party’s opposition, in terms of both practicality and principle, to the measures that lie behind the Bill, including the collection of biometrics on a national scale.

With those remarks, and with my voice still just about intact and my temper wholly intact—[Interruption.] I know that Parliamentary Private Secretaries get wildly excited when they are allowed to grunt and groan in Committee, but that is about the limit of their activities. Having said that, I shall sit down and allow us all to go away and have a cup of coffee.

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10.39 am

Andy Burnham: Given that the hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) is in such a good mood this morning, I begin by thanking him for accepting the regulations. For once, Conservative Members are correct, because they have offered us their support for the regulations, which are uncontroversial, as he says.

I would summarise the hon. and learned Gentleman’s main concern as whether the fingerprinting technology is reliable. It might help him if I give figures from the eight countries in which visa applicants are already being fingerprinted. Between 1 September 2004 and 1 September 2005, there have been 736 hits against records on the visa, immigration and asylum fingerprint system, which shows that the technology is having a practical impact today on enhancing the security and integrity of the immigration system. That means catching people who have sought to enter the United Kingdom and then to claim asylum under a different name. Fingerprinting enables us to find out where that is happening. Its other application is catching people who apply for entry clearance and then destroy documents on route, because that enables us to ensure that we have a record of those people if they choose to do that.

We believe that the technology is reliable. As I say, it is already proving to be of use to us. It is already widely used by United States immigration, which takes fingerprint records from all incoming visitors, including UK citizens, even though we are part of the visa waiver scheme. The technology is not fancy or some way off; it is being widely used today, and is of practical benefit to the integrity of immigration systems of countries throughout the world. At the moment, we are taking only two fingerprints, but we are considering taking more records—we could even take all 10 fingerprints—further to enhance the quality of the operation.

The hon. and learned Gentleman makes a fair point about the absence of appeal. At present, applications are valid only if the applicants supply all the relevant required information, including a photograph, to support their application. This process is no different, as it simply requires all applications to be submitted with the necessary supporting information. An appeal right must, of course, arise from a valid application. I take the hon. and learned Gentleman’s point, but the broader question is whether the requirements will be applied sensitively in cases that involve people with a disability or a difficulty in enrolling. I assure him that they certainly will be.

If I may, Mr. Martlew, I shall conclude by making a few cheap hits about identity cards. Interestingly, another Front-Bench colleague and I yesterday debated the introduction next year of biometric passports, which the Conservative party seems to support. Today, we are discussing biometric visas, which it also seems to support, yet we constantly hear that support for the Identity Cards Bill is predicated on a belief that the technology does not work and it cannot be delivered. Increasingly, that has been shown
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to be an untenable position. The technology is working and is in use today around the world. Biometric visas will be in all posts around the world by 2008.

Mr. Garnier rose—

The Chairman: Order. I remind the Committee that we are not discussing identity cards.

Mr. Garnier: That is precisely what I was gently going to remind the Minister about. The Government and the Opposition agree about a host of issues, but the cheap shot was cheap, and I am sorry that he did not think of a better point to make to conclude an otherwise very happy proceeding.

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Andy Burnham: This is a very happy proceeding. I am sure that our disagreements on ID cards will continue, but it is interesting that all three main parties clearly agree that the biometric technology that we propose and which is under a great deal of scrutiny in the public arena has the practical benefit of enhancing the security of travel documents and visas. That is something from which we will draw comfort.

It is good to have the support of the hon. and learned Member for Harborough and the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael). I am grateful for the way the Committee has dealt with the matter and urge Members to allow the regulations to proceed.

Question put and agreed to.


    That the Committee has considered the draft Immigration (Provision of Physical Data) (Amendment) Regulations 2005.

Committee rose at fifteen minutes to Eleven o’clock.


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