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Secondly, the Bill provides new powers to tackle the modern day slave tradethe people trafficking and human smuggling that may have cost up to 2,000 lives en route to Europe in the last decade alone. Through this Bill, foreign nationals helping people to enter the UK illegally, for whatever reason, will no longer be able to hide behind the fact that they perpetrated their crime abroad. They now stand to be arrested should they come to the UK or to be extradited from abroad to face prosecution here.
We are also strengthening our prosecution powers to make it clear that facilitators or traffickers who are active in the secure areas of our ports can be arrestedfor example, those who dispose of documents after arrival. The issue of smuggling and trafficking is fundamental to the future of immigration control and I am glad that, over the past few months, right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House have made that argument. It is a field of work that demands international solutions. In the IND review that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary launched last July, we committed to working jointly with European and international partners to tackle the challenges of global migration, including cross-border criminality. The Bill is, therefore, important in helping us to deliver some of those commitments because facilitation is often carried out by those involved in organised crime, including networks involved in smuggling other items, such as drugs, weapons or worse.
Margaret Moran (Luton, South) (Lab): I welcome the provisions in the Bill to tackle those people who seek to make profit out of human misery or people trafficking. My hon. Friend will be aware that there are major concernsas I learned in Ukraine when I visited that country recentlythat those who are trafficked are often given relatively little support. They can return to their countries of origin only to fall into the hands of a different set of traffickers. Does his Department propose any measures that will prevent that cycle of repeat abuse?
Mr. Byrne: I congratulate my hon. Friend on the work that she has done in this area and the consistent way in which she has underlined this issue to Ministers. The Bill is but a first step to help us ensure that we have the powers to tackle the problem. Other measures are part of our reform programme, whether that is the work that we are undertaking on the convention, which my hon. Friend will know well; the work we are doing through the European Union; or the work we are doing with the Department for International Development to ensure that we are fully exploring the opportunity to develop facilities in foreign countries to stop the problem at the root.
Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal) (Con): The Minister will understand that, in Felixstowe, which is Britains largest port, various aspects of the border protection provision used to work well together. However, the actions of the Government have removed the ability to work locally and everything has to go through a central point, so it takes longer to do any of the work. Can the Minister guarantee to look at the issue again to make things more efficient?
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for that intervention. It is something that I would be anxious to support, because the direction of reform
that we seek to make in the IND and the border and immigration agency is not centralisation, but devolution. That is why we will produce proposals to regionalise the IND in the months to come. The IND needs a much stronger connection with the communities that it serves. It simply is not possible to achieve joint working locally without a much stronger connection to local communities.
Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): Nobody doubts the commitment of my hon. Friend and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to trying to sort out the mess that is the IND, but my hon. Friend has just talked about a fundamental review and decentralising the IND. How can he do that when there will be a cut in his budget? He will have to give away some of his resources for the Prison Service to be managed. We want a more effective system, and obviously the Government feel that we should have more legislation, but we actually need the implementation to be more efficient. How can he do it without the money?
Mr. Byrne: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his intervention [ Laughter. ] My right hon. Friend knows that I will take advice from him any day of the week at any time of the day or night and I will always seek to profit from it. As he knows, we are always looking for more money in our bit of the Department, which is precisely why I will shortly produce proposals to double the budget for enforcement and removal.
Andrew Mackinlay: It will no doubt have occurred to my hon. Friend that the Governments regions often follow riparian boundaries; for instance, the south-eastern region includes Gravesend, Tilbury is in the eastern region, and London is next door to my constituency. Will we have a situation in which somebody in Gravesend says, I cant come over because its another region? Will a person in Rainham be unable to go down to Purfleet? The Ministers proposal fills me with horror. While he is at it, can he deal with the West Lothian question? Why do clauses 1 to 4 exclude Scotland? Surely the issue is not devolved.
Mr. Byrne: Let me deal with my hon. Friends second question first. The advice of the Attorney-General and of Scottish advocates is that the powers that we propose relate to devolved matters and would therefore require a Sewel motion. As there are only seven international ports in Scotland, compared with 44 in England, Scottish Executive colleagues have proposed an operational solution to the problem, which they have talked through with the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland and with which I am satisfied.
On my hon. Friends first point, we obviously have to work with existing ports as they are. We will not allow arbitrary lines on a map to divert us from our intention of seeking to secure the border. We will work closely with operators when we devise solutions.
The third set of provisions, clauses 20 to 27, provides us with a range of measures to shut down the exploitation of illegal migrant labour. We cannot secure our borders unless we take that on. The Bill therefore builds on the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act 2006 to make it more difficult to employ people illegally and to increase the penalties for
doing so. The Bill extends existing powers of search and arrest to the new offence of knowingly employing an illegal worker. It introduces new powers for immigration officers to seize cash suspected of being gained during the commission of an offence under immigration law. We ask, too, for the power to sell assets once we have seized them as part of a criminal investigation, following the forfeiture of such property to the Secretary of State by the courts.
As we toughen the regime for businesses that break the rules, we must make it easier for employers to double-check who is who and who has the right to work. At present, that is too complicated. Up to 60 different documents could be proffered as evidence of entitlement to be in this country and to work, so clauses 5 to 15 would change that situation by phasing out insecure 20th-century forms of identification and phasing in a single biometric identity card for foreign nationals. The Bill therefore introduces powers to make regulations requiring those subject to immigration control to apply for a biometric immigration document. We will start to issue those documents in 2008 and roll them out incrementally thereafter.
Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough) (Con): Can the Minister tell usif he would care to listenwhether this part of the Bill adds to, subtracts from or merely replicates what is already in the Identity Cards Act 2006?
Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): Often the people who end up with the most complicated problems are those whose status is not absolutely clear and where the Home Office takes a very, very long time to decide their status. Can the Minister assure us about the time that decisions to issue such documents and to clarify peoples status will take in future?
Mr. Byrne: That is an extremely important point, which has been put to me by right hon. and hon. Members over the past few weeks, and I will talk about it in a moment. Suffice it to say that, because of the issues that my hon. Friend alludes to, we will not seek to introduce overnight the cards for the estimated 3.9 million third-country nationals who are in Britain today. In fact, we will seek to phase them in over a number of years, beginning from 2008. However, such a document allows us to phase out many of the insecure documents in circulation, giving employers and benefit providers the benefit of being able to know whether the person presenting themselves is who they say they are and has the right to work.
A further point that has been made to me over the past few weeks is whether there is any possibility of the police being able to stop someone in the street and demand to see their biometric immigration document. That is not the case. Clause 5(1) limits the powers to
take biometric samples and to make checks for immigration purposes and procedures. Regulations will establish the grounds for verification, but there is no intention to give the police the power to stop and search someone who they believe is a foreign national.
I understand that, under the stop-and-search rules, officers are currently constrained to needing reasonable suspicion that someone is about to perpetrate a serious act of violence or is conveying stolen or prohibited articles, but that must be based on current and accurate intelligence. Suspecting someone of just being a foreign national and stopping them to ask for their documents is subjective and therefore an arbitrary use of power, which is subject to certain remedies.
Stewart Hosie (Dundee, East) (SNP): The Minister made the point that the cards will be used in certain circumstances. Of course, the briefing notes and the research document suggest that the cards will be used in relation to nationality or immigration issues, but that could involve employment, access to benefits, health care, education, following arrest and on imprisonment. There are a large number of occasions when a biometric card would be checked. Is that not the case?
Mr. Frank Field (Birkenhead) (Lab): Given that the basis on which people gain entitlement to welfare is changing and that it is crucial if the host population is to continue to support welfare that they believe that it is not being misused, will the ID card be used also as an entitlement card to gain access to both health care and social security?
Mr. Byrne: That is the foundation that the Bill will put into place. Obviously, the rules that govern the way that services are accessed are set out in different kinds of regulations and laws, which different parts of the Government have in place, but there are a number of services that require public servants to check whether someone has an entitlement to themgood examples are the issuing of a national insurance number, secondary health care and certain local authority services provided under other immigration lawsso we are seeking to put in place the power for both employers and public services to validate and verify whether the document belongs to the person who presents it and whether it is current and in force. The Bill provides an important platform, but it does not provide everything. The regulations and rules for other public services will need to be modernised as the biometric immigration document becomes more widespread.
Mr. Andrew Love (Edmonton) (Lab/Co-op): I apologise to my hon. Friend for arriving after he started to speak. Some concern has been expressed to me about whether the provisions will be extended to children under the age of 16. Will he tell the House his intentions in that regard? Under the Identity Cards Act 2006, those aged 16 and under are not covered.
Mr. Byrne: There are no plans to seek such an extension. The important point that I should underline is that, where we seek to extend biometric immigration documents to different groups of foreign nationals, we will come back to the House to seek authorisation to do so.
Mr. Stewart Jackson (Peterborough) (Con): I am listening carefully to the Ministers comments on biometric documents. If the raison dêtre of the clauses is the curtailing of illegal working, why have the Government hitherto not used the detailed provisions of the Asylum and Immigration Act 1996 to tackle that issue?
Mr. Byrne: Sorry; I thought that the hon. Gentleman said 2006. If the question is about the 1996 Act [ Interruption. ] Absolutely, that is a different matter. If the question is about the 1996 Act, the answer is simple: it is clumsy and difficult to operate. That is precisely why a civil penalty regime had to be proposed in its place. The hon. Gentleman will know that late last year I accelerated the timetable for introducing those penalties from 2008 to 2007, becauseI underline this pointwe need to tackle illegal working in a serious way and to tackle the exploitation of vulnerable people who are here illegally. That is why the civil penalty regime and the sanctions in the Bill are important. It is also why we must make it easier for businesses to check who is who and whether they have the entitlement to work.
Mr. Frank Field: I intervene again only because I am anxious that those who want the Governments policy to be as robust as possible in the House and the country express those views. I want to go back to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Mr. Love) about whether the measures will be rolled out for those under 16. If, in the end, the document is going to be an entitlement card that will register a persons rights to benefits and servicesand that will counter fraudsurely there is a case for the Government moving, at some stage, to the issuing of the card when people register births, and thereby gain entitlement to child benefit.
Mr. Byrne: My commitment to my right hon. Friend is to continue to listen to those arguments. If he will forgive me, we will take things one stage at a time. From 2008, we will introduce biometric visas for everybody who seeks to come to the country to work or study, or to stay for longer than six months. The Bill is intended to ensure that the 3.9 million third-country nationals who are already here are put on the same kind of footing. But, of course, we will listen to arguments about its further extension.
The introduction of compulsory biometric ID cards for people from outside the European economic area and the EU will begin in 2008. The Ministers programme will overlap with the development of voluntary ID cards for UK citizens. I
am not quite clear what time scale he is now putting forward for the introduction of voluntary ID cards and how that fits in with the compulsory programme for foreign nationals that he is talking about. I wonder whether he could set out the assumptions that he is making.
Mr. Byrne: I am happy to provide that clarification for my right hon. Friend. We will introduce biometric immigration documents and ID cards for foreign nationals in 2008. We will then introduce voluntary ID cards for British citizens in 2009. We will, of course, seek to designate biometric immigration documents once the national identity register comes online.
The next set of important clauses are those that strengthen our hand in detecting and removing those who are here illegally. Clauses 36 to 38 provide a new statutory gateway for information sharing between Her Majestys Revenue and Customs, its prosecutions office and the IND. That power consolidates and builds on existing gateways and allows us, with improved information sharing, to work much more closely together, to help us tackle illegal working, to help us check the information in applications for leave, and to help us detect those who may be defrauding the asylum support system.
Deportation, however, once somebody is detained, must be faster than it is today, especially for those who abuse this countrys hospitality and breach our laws. The Home Secretary has consistently made it clear that public protection is his No. 1 priority, and this Bill therefore takes forward commitments to ensure the mandatory deportation of foreign national criminals in cases of serious offences.
Significant work has already taken place to improve the processes within the IND for dealing with foreign national criminals. The Bill takes those measures forward in one significant way, by providing a statutory framework for triggering mandatory removal. With the Bill, subject to certain exceptions, a non-EEA foreign national who commits a serious offence as set out in an order made under section 72 of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 and receives a custodial sentence will automatically be presumed to be subject to deportation, unless that would breach our international obligations. The same applies where a sentence of 12 months or longer is imposed for any other offence. I give way to the hon. Member for North Thanet (Mr. Gale).
Mr. Gale: The Minister will appreciate that this matter is of particular importance to Kent, as a front-line county. It was said earlier that 14 per cent. of the population of our prisons come from overseas. Clause 28 exempts anybody subject to a prison sentence of less than 12 months. Why? Why, in any event, are these people not deported immediately on conviction? I do not think that my constituents will begin to understand the Governments methods.
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