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As the House will know, the ambition in the policy is for all foreign nationals to be compelled to have such a card in time. With any system of compulsion, however, there is the unfortunate necessity of a sanction for non-compliance. It is not a reasonable proposition to introduce the sanctions that we have debated in order to take action against children, and we therefore propose a designated adult as the alternative. We will
seek to make the adult aware of that responsibility, and there is, of course, the comfort that if a civil penalty is imposed, the adult can object or, indeed, appeal. The amendment seeks to close a gap in the operation of the civil penalty regime.
Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal) (Con): The Minister is distinguished by the courtesy with which he has dealt with these matters. He has mentioned that when there is compulsion, there is unfortunately always a need to have some recourse. Given that we are dealing with children as well as adults, will he explain why the courtesies have been removed from the border arrangements in all those circumstances and why there is no question of asking anybody anything? There are no pleases or thank yous, and the whole process has become peremptory. Is that not a bad thing, particularly when we are dealing with children?
Mr. Byrne: I spend a good deal of my week visiting our ports and airportsI hope to go to Portsmouth tomorrow, and I was at Stansted a week or two ago. Border and Immigration Agency staff are a courteous bunch, and for those who travel internationally, as I used tosadly, that is no longer the casethe courtesy of our welcome is good compared with others. If, however, the right hon. Gentleman were to point out specific examples, I would be happy to investigate them, because the courtesy of our welcome is long-established and important to preserve.
designate an adult as the person responsible for ensuring that a child complies with the requirements of the regulations.
I am genuinely unsure who the Minister means by a designated adult. Would that include a foster carer? I am sure that he, like me, has met many people who have been foster carers and who therefore deserve our admiration and support, which is particularly true of those who take in unaccompanied children who have come to this country. Such children may not speak the language; they may have experienced trauma in their lives; and they may experience difficulties in adjusting to a new society. Will the Minister clarify whether the designated adult could be a foster carer? If so, and if the child were involved in an infringement, would the adult be in any way responsible, as the amendment suggests, and would that designated adult be subject to penalties, which would give rise to even greater difficulties than those we face at the moment in persuading people to become foster carers?
Secondly, I want to ask the same question in a different context. If the designated adult were appointed to represent an individual child by the local authority in a legal case involving adoption or another matter involving children, would the sanctions apply to that individual child only, in which case what is the point of designating the adult? As it stands, the amendment is confusing; it does not appear to achieve anything very much. If my second assumption is right and the designated adult mentioned is a guardian appointed by the court, I should say that there are only so many courts to go around and they are extremely hard-pressed at the moment. If added work and pressure are to be put on the court system, there may well be resource implicationsin respect of not only asylum-seeking children, but children generally.
Mr. Heath: I shall also raise the issue addressed by the hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green). Designation is fine when there is an appropriate designated person; if a parent or adult guardian enters the country with the child, there will be no difficulty in identifying who should be the designated person. However, I should be grateful for a small explanation from the Minister of how a designation would be made on the entering into the country of an unaccompanied child or a child unaccompanied by any obvious adult who may properly be said to have care and control over them. Would a person from the local authority be designated, or would there be children without a designated adult for that purpose?
I should like to make a brief observation about the intervention made by the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer). The Minister says that in his current role he does not travel abroad often; I fully understand that, as he has a lot to deal with here. Perhaps he has never visited some of the southern states of the US. The United States has always been notorious for their rather unhelpful immigration process. However, if the Minister visited Dallas Fort Worth airport, he would see a welcome innovation that we might consider. Volunteersnormally of retirement age; people who give their time freelywalk up and down the queues at immigration control to proffer support and help and ensure that the forms are filled in correctly and that people are queuing in the right places. Those volunteers give a genuinely warm welcome on behalf of the state of Texas. We might consider such an idea for some of our busier airports.
Mr. Gummer: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the courtesy of the people at the desks has also improved? The only trouble is that such people wish to chat with the travellers. I was lectured for some time on the subject of global warming from the Bush point of view, and wondered whether it was immoral of me not to argue because I wanted to get through. Perhaps I should have had a proper debate.
That is a real dilemma. The experiences are still variable; despite my possible future best interests, I am not here to sing the praises of US immigration control staff. However, easing if possible
peoples passage into a country and reassuring them that they are doing the right thing in what are a difficult few momentsor few hours, sometimeswould be worth considering as a model to emulate. I commend it to the Minister.
Mr. Byrne: I consider every couple of weeks the arrangements between BAA, the Border and Immigration Agency and other partners, and I must confess that we have not yet got the reception arrangements entirely right. I am not sure that BAA contractors have quite matched the service that the hon. Gentleman has observed at Dallas Fort Worth.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green) for the opportunity to clarify this point and glad that he agrees with the principle. He will remember from debates in Committee that the code of practice that will need to be set alongside the implementation of the civil penalty regime will be subject to public and other scrutiny. This is one of the most important questions on which we will need to consult as regards that code. It is possible that parents could be designated, but so could permanent carers, relatives with parental responsibility for children in their care, or guardians. Of course, before we seek to draft the code we will consult local authorities and child exploitation and online protection teams, as well as Government and non-Government agencies. I hope that the House will see the results of that consultation fully reflected in the code that we put to it for consideration.
Amendments Nos. 8 and 14 are designed to define exactly what the Home Secretary can do with the information, specifically biometric information, that is retained. Hon. Members will remember that we had a wide-ranging and important debate on this in Committee, where I was very sympathetic to many of the arguments that were made. There was assent in all quarters that the rather blanket powers that we were proposing to put in the hands of the Home Secretary could, under some circumstances, be a little problematic. Opposition Members tabled helpful amendments seeking to bind that power a little more tightly. I had concerns about how some of them were phrased, particularly in relation to prerogative powers, so I undertook to go away and come back with a better package, as I have sought to do. I think that the purposes that we have set out comprise a good list that
touches on some of the points that were acknowledged as important on both sides of the Committee, including the possibility of retaining such information for the purposes of crime protection, immigration control, national security and nationality. Those issues were all raised, and I hope that the House will see them adequately reflected in the amendments, which also preserve the common law powers whereby the Home Secretary already has to share data.
Stewart Hosie (Dundee, East) (SNP): I broadly agree with the Minister. The previous drafting basically allowed the Home Secretary to do anything he or she liked with the information. The new provisions are slightly tighter in relation to immigration, borders and nationality, until we get to paragraph (f), which contains the phrase:
for such other purposes...as the regulations may specify.
Mr. Byrne: That is an important point. I am happy to give the hon. Gentleman that comfort. We were merely conscious of the fact that because identity fraud is a fast-moving area, it is necessary to have a degree of flexibility, subject to the order-making provisions in the Bill, to ensure that we do not have to keep coming back to the House to ask for primary legislation.
Mr. Heath: Although I accept that this is a fast-moving area, the provisions must be related to an offence. If not related to an offence, they must be concerned with national security or one of the other issues laid down in previous provisions. It is a little difficult to understand why the Minister feels the need for such a wide provision in the final subsection.
Mr. Byrne: I suppose that the fault to which I am confessing is that I am not perfectly clear sighted about what the future will bring. Organised crime is at work and the nature and design of crime is changing in this area, which is why we could require further provisions. Rather than having to come back to the House to keep asking for different bits of primary legislation, we may need to preserve the possibility that different functions need to be added subject to the scrutiny arrangements in the Bill.
Mr. Byrne: We are still outside the Schengen agreement, and while it remains difficult to see how effective policing of Europes external border could keep this country safe, that is a position we propose to preserve.
The second package of amendments is important because it provides an extra layer of protection for biometric information. That was the intention of the original clause, but it was not clear enough. There are
already protections in place for biographical information, principally the Human Rights Act, especially article 8, and the Data Protection Act 1998. There are parliamentary precedents for additional protection for biometric informationspecifically the need to set out when destruction of biometric information should be undertaken. Our plan is to set out regulations on the retention and destruction of information in this area. There is a carve-out for cases where biometric information is shared with agencies such as the police. In such cases, the Data Protection Act and the Human Rights Act provide the requisite protection. It would be difficult for the Secretary of State to be responsible for the destruction by the police of biometric information shared with them.
Damian Green: While we are all telling anecdotes about border services, I would like to add that the last time I flew through New York, about 12 months ago, the service was not just exemplarily polite but rather quicker than what I experienced going through Heathrow as a UK citizen. On one of the last occasions that I flew through Heathrow, a group of American tourists were wandering through, about to enter Britain when they did not want to because they were trying to transfer flights. I looked at the signage and I could see why they were in the queue to get into the country; it was worded in such a way that they would never have assumed that they could go the way they were supposed to. As a final point, the person who looked at my passport was not wearing one of the Ministers new uniforms, so they are not universal yet.
David T.C. Davies (Monmouth) (Con): While we are still on anecdotes, has my hon. Friend noticed the sort of thing that I have experienced, where the queue for non-European Union residents is almost zero while UK and EU residents have to queue for long periods of time? Perhaps there is an argument for ensuring that citizens of Great Britain can get back into their own country without having to queue a lot longer than those who come from outside even the EU.
I would like to extend the point made about the Schengen agreement. The Minister has helpfully confirmed that the Government will not sign up to it. Will he also confirm that the Government will maintain our position on the Commissions blue card proposal, and that they have no intention of giving up our reservation on that?
As the Minister correctly said, Conservative Members expressed a great deal of anxiety throughout earlier debates about the catch-all quality that the measure would grant the Home Secretary. In so far as the powers are now less all-embracing, we welcome the step forward. Again, several questions have arisen during the Bills passage through both Houses, which Ministers have not yet answered. I hope that the Minister can do that now, in the last knockings of our proceedings.
My first question relates to the use of documents in the proposed national identity register. When the information is destroyedfor which the group of amendments would providewill it be removed altogether from the national identity register? If the intention is to destroy sensitive personal information, it will be more reassuring for those to whom it refers to know that no traces of it exist anywhere on a register, which many of us believe will be a honeypot to hackers, and a principal target of global attack by hackers who may have nefarious purposes, such as fraud, in mind.
My second question is about the spread of information around Departments. The national identity register is a compendium of three different Government computer systemsif they all talk to each other. That is a large assumption, but I shall make it for the purposes of the debate. Is it the intention to add the new biometric information to all three systems that will form the national identity register? What tests have been conducted to ensure that that is technically possible? I appreciate that those are technical questions about the future, but the Minister will understand the thrust of the point: even though he has restricted the Home Secretarys powers, which is good, genuine, serious questions remain about the proposals practicality. I hope that he can tackle them.
Mr. Heath: I do not want to add a great deal to the comments that I made in my interventions. It would be churlish, to use a fine parliamentary phrase, to complain about a move in the right direction by the Minister in Lords amendment No. 8. It is better to have some rather than no specificity about the purposes for which the information can be used. However, I still find proposed new paragraph (f) difficult because it appears to open the door to any further thought that a future Home Secretaryor the current Home Secretary in the regulationsmight have about extending the purposes for which the information could be used. I strongly argue that the list in proposed new paragraphs (a) to (e) is comprehensive and covers the proper use of the information that is to be held.
The Minister says that he cannot foresee future developments in criminal behaviour. Of course he cannotnone of us can. One problem is that we are always running to catch up with new developments, especially in identity fraud offences. However, we can be sure that any nefarious activity will occur in relation to prevention, investigation or prosecution of an offence, nationality or national security. It is therefore unnecessary to include a further proviso which falls outwith all the previous provisions. My concern is not sufficient to argue that hon. Members should reject the amendment, but it poses the question why the Minister insists on retaining the remaining catch-all provision. The more definition he can give as to how he will not use proposed new paragraph (f), the more satisfied we will be that there is no potential or real threat of extending the use of information into quite different areas that we might find entirely inappropriate.
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