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House of Commons
Session 2006 - 07
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General Committee Debates
UK Border

UK Borders Bill

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairmen: Mr. David Amess, † Mr. Eric Illsley
Blunt, Mr. Crispin (Reigate) (Con)
Byrne, Mr. Liam (Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality)
Campbell, Mr. Alan (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury)
Clappison, Mr. James (Hertsmere) (Con)
Davies, David T.C. (Monmouth) (Con)
Green, Damian (Ashford) (Con)
Hemming, John (Birmingham, Yardley) (LD)
Hodgson, Mrs. Sharon (Gateshead, East and Washington, West) (Lab)
Jackson, Mr. Stewart (Peterborough) (Con)
McCarthy, Kerry (Bristol, East) (Lab)
Mole, Chris (Ipswich) (Lab)
Reed, Mr. Jamie (Copeland) (Lab)
Rowen, Paul (Rochdale) (LD)
Ryan, Joan (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department)
Ussher, Kitty (Burnley) (Lab)
Wright, David (Telford) (Lab)
Wright, Mr. Iain (Hartlepool) (Lab)
Emily Commander, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee

Public Bill Committee

Tuesday 6 March 2007


[Mr. Eric Illsley in the Chair]

UK Borders Bill

Further written evidence to be reported to the House

UKB 11 Joseph Rowntree Charitable Foundation
UKB 12 Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association - Supplementary
UKB 13 Mayor of London
UKB 14 Refugee Council
UKB 15 Still Human Still Here
10.30 am
The Chairman: Before we begin, I have a few preliminary announcements. First, hon. Members may remove their jackets if they wish. Please will all Members ensure that mobile phones, pagers and other electronic devices are turned off or switched to silent mode during our proceedings? I remind the Committee that there is a money resolution in connection with this Bill, copies of which are available in the room. Last week, the Committee sat to take oral evidence, but we are now back on the more familiar territory of clause-by-clause scrutiny.

Clause 1

Designated immigration officers
Damian Green (Ashford) (Con): I beg to move amendment No. 35, in clause 1, page 1, line 11, at end add—
‘(4) The Secretary of State shall, by regulation, make provision for the regular inspection of immigration officers designated under this section.’.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 36, in clause 1, page 1, line 10, after ‘period’, insert ‘of not less than six months’.
Damian Green: I feel compelled to re-welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Illsley, as we return to a comfortably old-fashioned way of scrutiny after last week’s exciting innovation. I am not being satirical; it is an extremely good innovation, for which I am happy to commend the Leader of the House. Some of my remarks on these amendments arise from the evidence that we heard. It would be extremely useful to show that taking witness evidence helps us to have better debates during the scrutiny stage of the Bill.
The need for such an amendment is backed up by some of the written evidence that we received. I was struck by the remarks from Liberty that once an immigration officer has been designated, he or she will enjoy considerable power, covering not only detention but search and the use of reasonable force. Indeed, anybody who absconds from the custody of an immigration officer who holds the new powers will be committing an offence. Liberty acknowledges that there might be occasions when no police constable is present on which it is appropriate to detain and search. It also notes, crucially to the amendments, that the extension is part of a general trend to grant powers traditionally reserved for the police to those who have not received police training. Indeed, the Government state in background notes that a person must be fit and proper and suitably trained.
In this and other amendments we are seeking to strengthen and tighten the definitions. Clearly, if the extra powers given to immigration officers are to work, they will require substantial extra training, probably at considerable expense. Therefore, amendment No. 36 seeks to protect the taxpayer, inter alia, by seeking to ensure that there is no great turnover of designated officers and that people trained at public expense are not designated officers for only a short period. I imagine that that is in no way the Minister’s intention, but for the reasons I have outlined, it would be useful to have provision in the Bill to ensure that once someone is a designated immigration officer, they are expected to be so for a considerable period. Throughout the public service and in the private sector, anyone who has managed an organisation will recognise the benefits associated with continuity of service. In particular, when we are asking people to do not only a difficult job, but a difficult job that they have not been asked to do before, with all the powers that they have been given, maintaining the benefits of continuity of service seems particularly important.
I was struck by a concern pointed out to me by an immigration lawyer, which was not just the cost of training, but the availability and suitability of staff. She was particularly concerned about the treatment of asylum seekers and the need to monitor the scheme very carefully in order to ensure fair treatment; she was worried about the assumption of criminality that seems to infuse that approach, although that debate is for another part of the Bill. She made one important point that affects the issues raised by the amendments: the fact that the possibility of criminal charges means that the immigration officer should be working with the criminal standard of a presumption of innocence, rather than with the current code followed in immigration matters, which works on the balance of probabilities.
Again, that individual issue is not a matter for the amendments, but I think it illustrates an important point. These challenges will be new ones for immigration officers. It would therefore be unfair for the legislation to ask the officers to proceed with the new powers without expecting that they will do so for a considerable period and also, under amendment No. 36, an awareness that they will be properly inspected.
I should like to pray in aid some of the oral evidence that we heard from Mr. Richard Thomas in our second sitting:
“If immigration officers were to be given these powers, the only benefit would be if they were properly trained. If there were to be specialist people at ports who had a specialist understanding of the needs of foreign nationals who are entering and of the certain circumstances that arise, there would be a benefit from it. There is not a benefit from creating an ad hoc further police service at the ports when those people do not have the appropriate training.”——[Official Report, UK Borders Public Bill Committee, 27 February 2007; c. 40-41.]
I think that that is probably true, and moving specifically to amendment No. 36, it is also true that the people exercising the new powers need to know that someone is looking at them. As I said, the Government have stated that such a person must be “fit and proper”, and the Bill is awarding to immigration officers some of the strongest policing-type powers that can be afforded to an individual. On amendment No. 35, the explanatory notes make no reference to any sort of public accountability or redress for people who feel aggrieved or have complaint, which is why we feel that there should be a mechanism for the inspection of new immigration officers.
The whole Committee will be aware of the sensitivity of immigration as a public policy issue. If we are to regain confidence in a system that has clearly lost public confidence, people will need to know that the system is fair to those who go through it, robust enough to protect our borders and well managed. The vast majority of people will wish to see that those who arrive at our ports seeking to enter are decently treated. An inspectorate along the lines of Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary would go some way towards instilling confidence in that respect.
I am aware that the Minister has proposed bringing together various regulatory bodies that affect the immigration service, but I hope that he recognises that the amendments are designed to improve the Bill. If he accepts them, they will make it clear that the immigration officers, who have been given the new powers, will be expected to exercise them for some time and so improve their own professionalism in the knowledge that there is a properly funded, properly constituted inspection authority that will reveal regularly to the public how good their performance is. In that spirit of helpfulness, I commend the amendments to the Committee.
The Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality (Mr. Liam Byrne): I join the hon. Member for Ashford in saying how glad I am to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Illsley, now under the more traditional arrangements that we are used to in Committee. I congratulate the Leader of the House on the constitutional innovation that we experienced last week. I thought that the opportunity to listen to a wide-ranging debate on some of the subjects that we will consider in detail over the next few weeks was extremely valuable.
I shall make a few points in response to the hon. Gentleman. I should like to thank him for the thoughtful and constructive way in which the amendments were presented and the arguments constructed. He is right to say that the powers are considerable. They are important, because it is vital that immigration officers have the chance to play their role in the fight against crime and in the battle for national security. Different proposals to strengthen our border have been discussed by Opposition parties. There are no real legal barriers to a greater alignment of powers at the border, but there are certain police-like powers that it is important for immigration officers to take if they are to play their part effectively in the challenges ahead.
The powers that we propose have been constructed carefully. They are considerable; as the hon. Gentleman said, they include the power to use reasonable force, but they have not been constructed so as to encompass arrest. The obligations that we put on immigration officers include summoning a police constable as soon as is reasonably practicable to conduct arrest or interview or to carry out other core police functions. We do not propose that immigration officers take on those responsibilities, so it is important that the oversight arrangements that are put in place are matched to the powers that we give to immigration officers. The slight concern that I have about the amendments is that they would delay implementation; they would add a burden of secondary legislation and constrain the tactical ability of chief immigration officers to designate immigration officers to secure our border at times of particular crisis. I shall offer a few words of reassurance in the hope that the hon. Gentleman will see fit to seek to withdraw the amendment.
10.45 am
The first point that the hon. Gentleman made concerned training, which is an important area. We have already worked closely with the police in putting together quite a wide range of training that is appropriate to provide immigration officers with the skills and the capabilities that they will need in order to do a very difficult job, with the type of professionalism that we see day in, day out in the immigration service. Against these powers, we will need to put in place new training proposals and we are working closely with Centrex—the Central Police Training and Development Authority—which provides the police training programme. That partnership will be important in ensuring that there is police support to provide the type of training that will be necessary if immigration officers are to do this job effectively in future.
There are four or five points that I shall make in order to explain the oversight arrangements that we envisage coming into place. Those arrangements should give the hon. Gentleman some of the reassurance that he is seeking when he asks, quite rightly in my view, for greater transparency and accountability about how immigration officers are asked to perform their jobs.
Mr. Byrne: The hon. Gentleman makes a valuable point. He may know—
The Chairman: Order. I apologise for interrupting the Minister, but I should like to say that the point made by the hon. Gentleman and the matter of training will be covered in the debate on the next amendment. I intervened rather than have the Minister necessarily repeat the same point, but it is obviously up to him to decide.
Mr. Byrne: I am grateful for your guidance, Mr. Illsley, and I hope that I will be able to satisfy the hon. Gentleman at a later stage.
I want to make four or five points about the type of oversights that we envisage coming into place. Of course, the first is that immigration officers are subject to a number of administrative oversight arrangements, which will be used in order to monitor the powers contained in the clause. Those arrangements will be similar to the oversight arrangements that are already in place. Immigration officers already exercise quite a wide range of powers, including, for example, the power to detain foreign nationals. So there are a number of oversight arrangements and review arrangements that are administrative in nature and they will be helpful as a first layer of defence in this system.
The second point is about the right to redress, to which the hon. Member for Ashford referred. That right is important. Currently, there is an independent complaints procedure, which the immigration and nationality directorate operates, I believe very successfully. That would also be available to help to provide the type of accountability and transparency that he is seeking.
The third point about oversight transparency and accountability relates to the power of detention. The detention facilities provided for and by the immigration service are subject to oversight by three organisations. First, many hon. Members will know about the independent monitoring boards, which are extremely important, giving members of the community a chance to serve and to help us to get facilities and procedures right. Secondly, there is the prisons and probation ombudsman. Thirdly, there is Her Majesty’s chief inspector of prisons. The immigration service and I often rely on the chief inspector’s reports in helping us to get many of our arrangements correct.
My fifth and final point about accountability and scrutiny relates, as the hon. Member for Ashford may have guessed, to what we call the single inspector. When I was first asked to take the job that I currently perform for the Home Secretary—to greater or lesser degrees of success—I was surprised to see that about 11 different organisations were responsible for providing scrutiny and accountability for the immigration service. I think that that is far too many. It is very difficult for 11 organisations to provide effective scrutiny and to present conclusions with the force and punch that is required for the immigration service to take a sustainable path to improvement over the next few years.
It is not possible for the immigration service to implement the radical reform that the Home Secretary announced last year unless there is much stronger oversight. I believe that the oversight should be independent and include the opportunity for communities to understand how the immigration service is performing in their area. I will be seeking to table Government amendments that provide for much stronger independent inspection arrangements. I envisage that they will apply to the enforcement functions that we are asking the immigration service to perform, under powers available already and those proposed in the Bill. With these reassurances in mind, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will seek to withdraw his amendment.
Paul Rowen (Rochdale) (LD): I welcome what other Members have said about your organisation, Mr. Illsley, and that of the Officers of the House in what we did last week. It was a very valuable and useful process that we can build on in our more formal deliberations.
I support the amendment. I believe that, as the Minister said, we have extended the powers of immigration officers considerably over the past few years, and the Bill builds on that process, recognising as it does that the work of police officers at ports has become increasingly busy. If they are to concentrate on some of the more important or pressing issues such as trafficking and drug running, the use of immigration officers provides a useful addition to their ability to stop people. However, it is important that there is a very clear framework within which these officers work to give them certainty about their powers and their role. I thought that the earlier intervention on that particular matter was quite important, because if an officer uses force inappropriately, they can be subject to some sort of sanction through the courts. It is therefore important that the powers that officers have are set out clearly and that before they take on those powers, they are given proper training.
I would like to refer Members to the comments made by Richard Thomas last week:
“Our concern is that from the 1999, 2002 and 2004 Acts, there have been extended powers to immigration officers. What has not gone on at the same time has been the support provisions that go with that for training officers and ensuring that they have access to the relevant Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 training.”——[Official Report, UK Borders Public Bill Committee, 27 February 2007; c. 39.]
That is very clear. We have had three immigration Acts that have extended immigration powers considerably. The immigration and nationality directorate and the Government have so far failed to give the necessary training that they have promised in the past. I appreciate what the Minister has said and I look forward to seeing the amendments that he tables. However, if we are to rebuild the immigration and nationality directorate as being fair, effective, transparent and trusted, as set out in the review, we must ensure that training is built in at the start of the process, not as an afterthought. That has not happened before.
I appreciate what the hon. Member for Ashford said about officers who are designated to act in a quasi-police position. It should not be the case that when there is pressure at a port someone without any training can be designated for that purpose. The six-month stipulation would give certainty; it would provide a period during which training can take place and ensure that people gain experience that comes only with using the powers over a considerable time. Police community support officers who operate on our streets get far more training than is given to immigration officers. I am happy to support the proposal, but I hope that the Minister, too, will table amendments.
Mr. Clappison: I join hon. Members in welcoming you to the Committee, Mr. Illsley, for the first part of our formal consideration of the Bill. You were right to call me to order in your initial ruling on the question that I sought to ask the Minister. I had perhaps not sufficiently co-ordinated my question regarding amendment No. 37, to which we will come later, which calls for consultation on the code of conduct to which immigration officers will be subject. I mentioned the word “consultation”, which is dealt with in that amendment.
However, I want to make a different point now, Mr. Illsley. The code of conduct relates to the behaviour of immigration officers; it is the substance of that later amendment and of our debate this morning, which has been a proper debate, with proper questions put by my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford and proper answers given by the Minister.
The subject of the debate is the conduct of immigration officers, how they will be designated and how they will exercise their responsibilities in relation to a person who can be detained for up to three hours pending the arrival of police officers. My point now is that we should consider the matter from a slightly different point of view, without taking anything away from the need for immigration officers to have high standards of behaviour in how they use their powers.
I am slightly concerned about the question of guaranteeing the safety of immigration officers, because the Bill gives them a power that may involve the use of reasonable force to detain a person. It does not take a great leap of imagination to realise that there will be situations in which problems give rise to the exercise of that power. As I said, a person who is subject to that power may not see the necessary distinction between being detained and being arrested.
As a member of the Select Committee on Home Affairs, I visited immigration officers carrying out their duties at ports and other places, and I and other hon. Members know that when immigration officers exercise their current powers people can become very heated. I foresee some very heated situations indeed if they have to exercise the power of detention. I want reassurance from the Minister that immigration officers’ safety will be borne in mind and that they will be given the necessary training and equipment to carry out their responsibilities safely.
Damian Green: I was interested in and, in part, gratified by the Minister’s response. He recognises the need for better oversight than exists at present or will be available through the Bill. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere and the hon. Member for Rochdale said, that is a widespread concern on the Opposition Benches and beyond. The Minister will have heard Keith Best of the Immigration Advisory Service say in his oral evidence that one of the material aspects of accountability, to make it transparent and acceptable, is independence. Without that element of independence, he feared that any system would fall down and would not gain public confidence.
11 am
I am sure that the Minister is as interested as anyone in ensuring that there is proper public confidence in the system. With that in mind, I am gratified that he will be introducing Government amendments to allow us to look at his proposals for inspection of the immigration system. I hope that before we conclude the debate on these amendments, he will let us know when that will happen, because I have been around long enough to have seen Bills radically changed in their lordships’ House with only a short amount of time allowed for the Bill’s remaining stages on Third Reading in the Commons. In such cases, legislation is passed that the House of Commons has effectively not scrutinised at all. I am sure that he wants to avoid that happening in this case, not least because he will have seen the widespread concerns. I hope that he can give us some reassurance that this House will have a decent opportunity to look at his proposals.
Mr. Byrne: We hope to introduce the amendments this week.
Damian Green: That is extremely good news. I am delighted that on the first group of amendments on clause 1 we have already seen a positive response from the Government. In that spirit of mutual good will, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Damian Green: I beg to move amendment No. 34, in clause 1, page 1, line 11, at end add—
‘(4) The Secretary of State shall, by regulation, make provision as to the necessary qualifications and training for a designated immigration officer.
(5) Regulations under subsection (4) shall be published no less than six months before the commencement of Section 1 of this Act.’.
Damian Green: As you observed earlier, Mr. Illsley, it may seem that some of the debate has already taken place. Amendment No. 34 is about the vital issue of training the designated immigration officers who will be given the extra powers. It specifies that the regulations that we want to add to the clause should be published no less than six months before the commencement of clause 1 of the Bill. The interaction of the commencement of various provisions of the Bill, and the ability of the public and those who are particularly concerned with this to scrutinise it, seems to me particularly important. Too often—this is a wider point than the one that I just made about parliamentary scrutiny—important regulations are consulted on over the summer or at Christmas, which makes it extremely difficult for those who want to contribute to do so in a coherent way. Heaven forfend the cynical suggestion that that is precisely why that tends to happen.
Amendment No. 34 would require the Secretary of State to specify the qualifications and training requirements of the designated immigration officers before the Bill comes into force. Over the past half hour, the Minister will have observed that I have said how important many people consider that to be. For example, in evidence that we took last week, Mr. Richard Thomas made the point that there are not enough trained officers to do the new jobs. I am sure that the Minister is aware that the training of the new officers will be crucial in deciding whether the Bill has a positive effect. The first time that a badly trained and badly prepared officer makes a mistake using the new powers, the wrath of many people will be brought down on the head of the Minister and, indeed, of the Home Secretary. The Minister and the Government therefore have an interest in ensuring that the training of designated officers is as good as it can be.
The problem is that substantial powers are being granted, but we cannot tell from the Bill what they will be. It is not unreasonable for Parliament to know about the calibre of the people being granted the extra powers and the training that they will receive. As I have said, those who suffer at the hands of an ill-trained officer will certainly be angry. Turning that around, however, it is important for the House to do its duty by immigration officers as well, because they will find themselves in potentially violent and dangerous situations. We must insist that they are adequately trained for the job that they are being asked to do.
David T.C. Davies (Monmouth) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that immigration officers, who occasionally face violent and angry people, should spend time being trained in self-defence techniques and Centrex holds to enable them to detain suspects without hurting them?
Damian Green: On the principle that politicians should not micro-manage professions for which they have responsibility, I would not seek to specify the exact balance of training. However, my hon. Friend has made the valuable point that training should be relevant to the day-to-day jobs of immigration officers and, indeed, of all front-line staff in the public service, who should be adequately trained to deal with the situations in which they are likely to find themselves. I shall resist the temptation to say that training should be provided by Centrex, because it closed a police training college in my constituency.
Amendment No. 34 asks for, among other things, the advanced publication of the regulations, which is not new or unusual. It will allow this House, immigration officers themselves, the relevant trade unions and other interested parties to know what officers are being asked to do and how they will be trained to do it, and to seek to improve the regulations. Liberty has raised a vital point: for the first time, immigration officers will be given quite extensive powers over British citizens, who will be brought under the control of the immigration service. Such powers will be even more sensitive than other immigration powers, particularly when they involve detention. We have had a mild debate already about the difference between detention and arrest, and I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere that for those on the wrong end of it, it might involve a distinction without a difference.
There is particular concern about how immigration officers will be trained to deal with such matters, because there is no need for the suspected offending to be related to border control. Liberty has argued that if the powers are to be created, they should be limited to situations in which the offence is concerned with immigration. I do not agree with that point, because such powers would be too narrow, but it illustrates the valuable point about the sensitivity arising from the extra powers. There may well be British nationals involved in, for example, people trafficking, and extra powers will clearly be extremely welcome in such areas. However, I invite the Minister to consider the absolute centrality of good training for the successful application of these new powers not only to those arriving in this country from abroad, but to the millions of British citizens who travel through our ports and airports every year and who, on returning to this country, will be going past immigration officers who have been given these powers.
Mr. Byrne: I thank hon. Members for praising the professionalism of our immigration service; they are absolutely right that it does an extremely difficult job. The number of passengers travelling through our ports is not decreasing but rapidly increasing, which is precisely why we have tripled the number of warranted officers in the IND over the past few years, with about 70 per cent. of those officers serving on our borders. We have ensured strengthened training provisions as we have increased numbers, so that those new officers are able to operate with the pride and professionalism that is a hallmark of the immigration service.
I want to respond by coming back to one central point: we have to ensure in our arguments here that we are calibrating both the training and the oversight to the power that we are seeking. It is perfectly appropriate for the training and the oversight to be slightly different from and not symmetrical to the arrangements that we already have in place for the police. We are not asking immigration officers to conduct the same activities as the police or equipping them with the same powers.
Secondly, the point about training is so important that we do not believe that the Secretary of State should have the power to designate an immigration officer who he does not believe to be a “fit and proper” person. So, there are a number of hurdles that immigration officers must pass before they can put themselves into the category where they might receive such a designation, and there are a number of checks about which the Home Secretary must be satisfied before he can designate somebody as “fit and proper”. Adequate and appropriate training would, of course, be integral to that definition.
The hon. Member for Hertsmere raised a valuable point about whether this matter has been discussed with unions; the answer is yes, and they are satisfied with these new arrangements provided that training is given and that clear guidance is in place. That is already happening in the immigration service under a programme we have in place called “Developing enforcement capability”, which is designed to reduce our reliance on the police not only at the border but in-country and to create the kind of operational independence that we think that the immigration service will need in future.
11.15 am
Damian Green: I want to take the Minister back his point that the Home Secretary will be very careful about how he creates a designated immigration officer, and to the need to be certain about the appropriate level of skills and training. What percentage of existing immigration officers will become designated immigration officers?
Mr. Byrne: I am grateful for that intervention. During one of our evidence sessions last week, the director of border control, Tony Smith, said that he imagined that possibly as many as 25 per cent. of immigration officers could be so designated. We would need to keep the number under review, because it might have to go up—we would have to adjust it in light of operational realities and the changing picture at our borders. As I said a moment ago, the volume of traffic through our borders is going up, not down. The patterns of immigration, migration and travel through our borders might change and the number of British citizens as a fraction of the total travelling might increase if the budget airlines continue to expand at the rate at which they have in recent years. We would need to keep that under review.
However, the checks that the Home Secretary must be satisfied about before designating somebody as a fit and proper person are important. They might include background or health checks. They would certainly include a particular kind of training. I mentioned a moment ago the training that has been developed by Centrex. That is a pass or fail course, so immigration officers would need to pass before they could be designated as fit and proper.
We will seek to discuss with both the Association of Chief Police Officers and the policing standards unit the process of designation and the criteria on which an officer must satisfy the Home Secretary before he can be deemed fit and proper. I can give the hon. Gentleman a couple of points of reassurance. The first is that once we have had those discussions we will seek to make the criteria public so that they can be subject to scrutiny. The second is that I fear that the effect of the amendment would be to make it rather difficult not only to implement regulations but to adjust them. Given the dynamic and changing nature of our borders and the traffic going through them, it might well be that best practice will emerge quickly. I do not think that hon. Members would want to slow down the speed with which we could introduce improvements and refinements to the guidance.
If there is no parliamentary check on the implementation of the regulations through secondary legislation, that poses an important question about how the House can be satisfied that there are appropriate scrutiny arrangements to ensure that we do not designate officers who do not have the right training. That is why I think that it is so important for enforcement to form part of the terms of reference of the proposed new single regulator. The new regulator should have the ability to scrutinise the way in which the IND performs its enforcement responsibilities. The hon. Gentleman will know that a little while ago we published a consultation document on how we envisaged that new regulator coming into being. That posed some questions about the number of organisations that should be folded into the new regulator and the scope of that regulator’s responsibilities.
I hope to be able to table the relevant amendments by Thursday. At the same time, we will seek to publish the Government’s response to the consultation and a summary of the consultation responses that we received. It is important that the House has not only the Government’s take on the subject but that of the organisations that responded. I do not think that I will get into too much trouble with the parliamentary authorities if I say that the responses to the consultation were overwhelmingly supportive, not least from the existing regulators. They recognised that 11 different regulators are far too many to hold the IND to account. It is much more important that we have regulator punch.
With those reassurances in mind, and with my concern that we can modify and update regulations to reflect best practice as quickly as possible, subject to having more effective scrutiny arrangements in place, I hope that the hon. Member for Ashford will feel able to withdraw the amendment.
Damian Green: I enjoyed the sting in the tail of the hon. Gentleman’s remarks, about affirmative resolutions. I am sure that the Minister will want to respond at the appropriate time, perhaps when he moves the amendments later this week. I am grateful for his response. Obviously he wants designated immigration officers to have proper training, but I sense that he accepts the other half of the thinking behind the amendment, which is about the transparency and the accountability that we all want. I hope that his proposed amendments will achieve that too. One aspect that he did not discuss was the cost. Clearly if we are to have something like 25 per cent. as an initial target for designated immigration officers, the Department must have some figures about what sort of training costs will be needed. I hope that as this Committee progresses we can discuss that too.
The Minister will be aware from submissions that have been made that there is concern not just about the costs of training but about the necessity for it because of the patchy nature of the Department’s current reputation. Members on both side have rightly paid tribute to those on the front line of the immigration service, who work at our ports and airports doing a vital job. The Minister will be aware as anyone that it would be an exaggeration, and indeed untrue, to say that there is huge and widespread public confidence in the IND. The Secretary of State himself famously described it as not fit for purpose. Therefore this combination of proper training and transparency is particularly essential if public confidence in the new system is to be maintained.
I take what the Minister has said at face value. I am sure that he said it in good faith. We will look forward to the Government amendments that will be moved later this week. In eager anticipation of those, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn. .
Damian Green: I beg to move amendment No. 37, in clause 1, page 1, line 11, at end add—
‘(4) The Secretary of State shall issue a code of practice relating to the conduct of designated immigration officers for the purposes of section 2.
(5) Before issuing a code of practice under subsection (4), the Secretary of State shall consult—
(a) representatives of the Immigration Service;
(b) the Director General of the Immigration and Nationality Directorate;
(c) representatives of relevant trades unions;
(d) representatives of the Immigration Law Practitioners Association; and
(e) such other persons as he thinks fit.’.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments:
No. 67, in clause 1, page 1, line 11, at end add—
‘(4) Designated immigration officers will conform to the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (1984) Codes of Practice.’.
No. 68, in clause 1, page 1, line 11, at end add—
‘(4) Complaints against designated immigration officers may be referred to the Independent Police Complaints Commission.’.
Damian Green: The amendment would require the Secretary of State to issue a code of practice for immigration officers and to consult relevant bodies and individuals. It is a natural successor to the previous debate. Proper consultation, about not only the training of immigration officers but their conduct when they do the job, is important. [ Interruption. ]
The Chairman: Order.
Damian Green: Thank you, Mr. Illsley. The most effective heckle I ever received was from my three-year-old daughter, who, at a constituency function, asked in that piercing voice that only three-year-olds have, “Mummy, why is Daddy being so boring?” I have long experience of heckling from the young.
I shall refer briefly to amendments Nos. 67 and 68, but I shall leave the hon. Member for Rochdale to speak to them in detail. Amendment. No. 37 would ensure a proper level of consultation in relation to a properly published code of practice for when the new powers are in operation. I share Liberty’s concern that the Bill and the explanatory notes make no reference to any sort of public accountability or redress for people who feel aggrieved or have complaint. We are all waiting agog for the proposals for the new regulator and the amendments to them, as we will have something against which to test them.
The code of practice would be hugely important, not only for potentially aggrieved members of the public, but for the designated immigration officers themselves, particularly in the early months and years of the operation of the new powers. The officers will want to know that they are acting correctly, that they are not pushing boundaries and that what they are doing would not be regarded as unacceptable by their political masters, let alone by the general public. At present, this area of the Bill is a bit vague and therefore inadequate to achieve what the Minister hopes.
We have suggested in the amendment a number of bodies that should be properly consulted: the immigration service, which goes without saying; the director general of the IND; the relevant trade unions, which I hope would commend the amendment to some Government Members; representatives of the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association, who spend their daily lives in contact with the effects of the actions of immigration officers; and such other persons as he thinks fit, as it is not an exhaustive list. It would be foolish to try to put in the Bill an exhaustive list of those who should be consulted before a code of practice is issued.
I think that the Minister will recognise that the issue is so important that it is worth having a proper consultation and, equally, a proper code of practice. Without it, one can foresee all sorts of obvious pitfalls for the legislation and those who have to implement it. I hope that the Minister will cast a sympathetic eye over the amendment.
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I will leave amendments Nos. 67 and 68, which are grouped with my amendment, to the hon. Member for Rochdale to speak on at length. I would merely make the point that, while the amendments might well achieve some good things, I suspect that the hon. Gentleman would agree that they would be unnecessary were the proposals before us for a properly integrated border police force. That is what his party and mine—indeed, almost everyone else in the country—want to see, leaving the Minister and the Government on their own in not wishing to see such a force.
Paul Rowen: Again, I echo and support the remarks of the hon. Member for Ashford on his amendment and on my amendments. We are attempting to place a little bit more detail in the Bill on what code of practice should apply to immigration officers when they exercise a police function.
I would again like to remind the hon. Members of and refer them to the remarks of Mr. Richard Thomas in our deliberations last week, when he said that the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 was first introduced for the very reason that we are proposing now: to give police officers some support and assurance about what their powers were and were not. We are proposing a sizeable extension of immigration officers’ powers; we are asking them to act in a quasi-police position. I know that the point was made on Second Reading, but it is important that the actual code of practice that the immigration officers will work under is well known and is published and in operation before they are asked to exercise those powers.
PACE is relevant because those regulations are tried and tested. We have already had a discussion about the training and when it takes place. As other hon. Members said, there needs to be a clear framework not just for the person who is being dealt with by the immigration officer but for the immigration officers themselves. There needs to be certainty about what powers the officers have and what training they have. We believe that the PACE regulations, which are tried and tested and have the support of all the various people involved, offer the way forward. They may need adaptation; there is no reason why the Minister cannot lay regulations before the House that would set out which provisions were being put in place.
Amendment No. 68, which is also in my name, has already been referred to by the Minister and is about the ability of persons who feel that they have not been properly treated to use the IPCC. I should be interested if the Minister would outline which provisions of the IPCC he proposes to apply to immigration officers. I believe that the use of the IPCC will only occur very rarely; as I said earlier, immigration officers will operate to a high standard. However, when something goes wrong, how someone makes a complaint, how that complaint is dealt with and investigated and how any necessary action is taken are an important part of the Bill. I hope that the Minister can outline some of the discussions that have already taken place and what provisions from that process will apply. If he does so, we will have made progress on this part of the Bill.
Mr. Byrne: I start by reassuring the hon. Member for Ashford that no one on the Committee shares his daughter’s analysis, although she might have a degree of insight that we do not. However, we are following his argument with great attention to detail and he made it with much thought and insight.
That said, I am very sympathetic to the ambitions of the amendments and I hope that my words will provide reassurance sufficient for hon. Members to see fit not to press them. Amendments Nos. 37, 67 and 68 effectively would provide for three things to happen: for the introduction of a code of practice subject to consultation with stakeholders, for designated officers to conform to PACE, and for them to be referable, as it were, to the IPCC. The points with which I have particular sympathy are twofold. First, it is essential that operational guidance is in place, that immigration officers understand the role that they are expected to play and that the public can see what kind of guidance we are putting in place.
Secondly, it is important that that operational guidance is discussed at length with stakeholders in order to get what is often very valuable advice from organisations such as the Immigration Law Practitioners' Association, ACPO and the Police Standards Unit, and from trade unions, particularly the Public and Commercial Services Union, which have to bear on the decision. The operational guidance that we propose to put in place will be discussed with the immigration service, ACPO, the Police Standards Unit, the mainline staff of the IND, and trade unions. It will also be shared and discussed with the IND’s wider group of stakeholders, from whose advice we profit daily. I am delighted to say that that stakeholder group includes ILPA. As the hon. Member for Ashford said, that organisation is in daily, if not hourly contact with many of the consequences of the immigration system. Its advice is often extremely helpful and we are grateful for it.
Therefore, the guidance that we draw up, on the basis of that consultation with stakeholders, is and must be publicly available. It is vital that it be subject to public scrutiny and to the degree of transparency to which I alluded earlier. My only concern about the amendments is that they might impose, through the parliamentary process, delays, and administrative and regulatory burdens, when refreshing guidance quickly enough to take account of best practice as it is developed on the front line.
I offer two or three points by way of reassurance. If oversight is not to be provided by a parliamentary scrutiny process, another form of scrutiny must take its place. That said, it is important to re-emphasise this point: we are asking immigration officers not to supplant, but to support the police. That is why we have stated in the Bill that it is important that immigration officers summon a police constable as soon as is reasonably practicable, in order, where necessary, to make arrests, as well as to conduct investigations. We are not asking immigration officers to conduct investigations, which is why we do not think that it is appropriate to subject immigration officers to the provisions in PACE.
If immigration officers, as a matter of course in all their activities, were subject to PACE, we would of course have to introduce PACE facilities at all our ports. For example, we would have to introduce recording facilities and many of the other protections. That might be a step too far for many private sector operators at ports, but the Committee can be reassured that we are not extending the orbit and remit of immigration officers to such a dramatic extent that PACE protections would be important.
Mr. Stewart Jackson (Peterborough) (Con): If I may, Mr. Illsley, I want to probe the Minister on the substance of the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford. The Minister will know, because we discussed it last week, that my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth has not received satisfactory answers in respect of the number of compensation claims made against the IND and immigration officers, which is troubling, and he has therefore had to resort to the Freedom of Information Act 2000. Does not the Minister believe that there would be a causal link between including the code of practice in the Bill and the reduction of vexatious and malicious complaints against the immigration service?
Mr. Byrne: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for reminding me that I must follow up on my commitment last week to respond to the hon. Member for Monmouth.
If we accept that there are problems with the application of PACE to the functions conducted by immigration officers, not least the practical costs that we would impose on ports that would be required to make PACE facilities available, it would still leave us with the question of what is the most appropriate and transparent form of oversight and scrutiny of the immigration service—an issue to which the hon. Member for Peterborough rightly drew attention.
An important triple check is in place to provide guidance to steer immigration officers in carrying out their duties, and to scrutinise their conduct when doing so. It is important for independent monitoring boards and for the prison and probation ombudsman and Her Majesty’s chief inspector of prisons to review detention facilities, and to provide detailed and frequent reports to Ministers and to the House about what they find, and for the Home Office and the IND to state clearly how they intend to respond to them.
Secondly, section 41 of the Police and Justice Act 2006 provides for an augmented role for the IPCC in specified functions. I had the privilege of taking the Bill through its Report stage in that heady fortnight in May last year during my brief sojourn as the Minister with responsibility for police and counter-terrorism. It is important that the scope of that remit is not just something that the Home Office or the IND makes up, but that it is subject to public consultation. Having secured Royal Assent to the 2006 Act, we plan to embark on that consultation to open up a debate on what precisely the IPCC’s remit should be. As I said, we hope those regulations will be commenced, debated and scrutinised by October.
The third check is the single regulator on which my arguments greatly rely: I underline that it is important that the regulator is given the chance to scrutinise the enforcement activities that immigration officers perform in relation to foreign nationals and British citizens.
Paul Rowen: Can the Minister confirm that the regulations and codes will be subject to negative or affirmative parliamentary approval?
Mr. Byrne: I am grateful for the opportunity to clarify the issue. We would impose what could be a very inappropriate delay if we subjected a code of practice and regulations to parliamentary approval. Instead, it is important that we have the flexibility and ability to update those regulations with speed. When we find that there is good practice somewhere, it is important that that becomes good practice everywhere. Therefore, the flexibility to update regulations quickly is important. I accept that that leaves a question about how we ensure transparency, accountability and scrutiny, and that is why the triple check that I have outlined is essential. I hope that my argument provides some satisfaction for hon. Members and that they will see fit to withdraw the amendment.
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Damian Green: The Minister has said the same thing twice, namely that a level of parliamentary scrutiny would introduce a degree of inflexibility. He is now moving on to territory that I find quite disturbing, and also, frankly, not very realistic.
We all agree that there should be a proper code of practice. It is clearly sensible that that should be consulted on as widely as possible, and published, and that Parliament should be able to examine it. It is just not the case that the existence of that degree of parliamentary scrutiny would, in some way, impair the operational efficiency of the immigration service.
Mr. Byrne: It is important that Parliament has the opportunity to scrutinise the code of practice, but I fear that, if we gave Parliament the role of approving it before its implementation, that might create a delay that is disproportionate and possibly dangerous.
Damian Green: I am grateful to the Minister for clarifying what he meant, but I disagree with his clarification. First, as a matter of principle, I become extremely uneasy when representatives of the Executive say that they want to change something but that it would be inefficient to allow Parliament to approve it. After all, that is what we are here for. It is why we are sent to this place: to approve or disapprove of proposals by the Executive. It seems to me that, if the Minister would listen to his own words, he would recognise in private moments that they are not an acceptable expression of the balance of power between the Executive and the legislature in this system.
The Minister is setting up a straw man to knock down; I do not think that there would be any reduction in operational efficiency. Also, the doctrine that he has espoused, of unnecessary delay being caused by the need for parliamentary approval of regulations, is quite dangerous.
Having aired those views, I do not wish to press the amendment to a vote, so I will beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment. However, I hope that the Minister has taken note of my remarks.
Paul Rowen: I believe that the Minister has been genuinely helpful this morning, in outlining what the Departments are planning to do. I look forward to seeing the amendment when we receive it on Thursday, and, based on what he said, I believe that we are moving in the right direction. The consultation with and involvement of a range of organisations, including the independent regulator, is important.
Nevertheless, as the hon. Member for Ashford said, there is an important principle at stake here. All organisations and all laws should be accountable to this House. I would ask hon. Members to look at the problem in the US at the moment with their border police, who are virtually a law unto themselves. Last week, a 19-year-old young man who went over to the US to spend some time with family was summarily arrested and deported back to Britain. If we are to introduce new powers that give immigration officers the powers to stop and detain and to ask questions that, if anybody responds to them inappropriately, can be subject to criminal sanction, then I believe that the code of practice and the framework that we are setting in place need to be subject to some form of recourse to this House. I do not believe that that would be a time-consuming and lengthy process. We do not have these codes of practice. I mentioned earlier our concern that the last three immigration Acts had promised that regulations and codes of practice would be introduced and it did not happen. We have waited since 2001. I believe that if the Bill is to operate successfully and efficiently, those regulations and codes of practice must come back to this House.
Therefore, although I shall withdraw the amendment, I do believe that when we see the Minister’s amendments we may wish to amend them further to ensure that that Parliamentary scrutiny is built in.
The Chairman: For clarification, the hon. Gentlemen’s amendments have not been moved but simply debated as part of a group and we will arrive at the amendments later on in the grouping as we move through the Committee. The only amendment that we are considering at the moment is amendment No. 37 in the name of the hon. Member for Ashford.
Damian Green: I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Paul Rowen: I beg to move amendment No. 70, in clause 1, page 1, line 11, at end add—
‘(4) After section 11(1)(m) of the Children Act 2004 (c. 31) insert—
“(n) designated immigration officers in England.”’.
We have had a discussion in this section about the powers that we are asking immigration officers to accept. Clause 1 gives them the power to detain foreign nationals and British citizens, and that can include children. The effect of my amendment is quite simple and straightforward. At the moment immigration officers are not subject to the Children Act 2004; they are specifically excluded from it. We believe it is vital for the protection of the officer, as much as for the person that they may come into contact with, that the provisions of the 2004 Act apply. That will ensure that certain checks take place and that certain procedures are followed. At the end of the day, that can only be for the protection of the officer as much as for the person.
It is an important point, which several people who have submitted written evidence have mentioned. I refer Members to the written submission by the Refugee Children’s Consortium, which particularly expressed concern about this. It is a small amendment but an important one. It ensures that immigration officers are subject to the 2004 Act, which in my view can only be a strengthening of their position and something which I hope all hon. Members can support.
Damian Green: I think this area of immigration policy is as difficult as any. The hon. Gentleman is quite right to raise it because there are two genuinely conflicting principles here and I am sure that the Minister feels as strongly about them as anyone. The first is that we need a proper, efficient, secure immigration system and the second is that we should pay particular regard to the interests of children. It is not easy to reconcile those two principles at our borders at a time when something like 3,000 unaccompanied children per year are arriving in this country. It would have been particularly valuable to hear oral evidence from the Refugee Children’s Consortium because both sides of the Committee could have explored those genuinely conflicting principles—that is why that particular decision was so regrettable.
The amendment before us, as has been said, simply adds the designated immigration officers to those subject to the various conditions of the 2004 Act. That means that they would have to give primary consideration to the needs of children and families. When the Act was passing through Parliament, the Refugee Children’s Consortium sought to insert such a provision and only narrowly lost a Division in the House of Lords.
The then Chairman of the Joint Committee on Human Rights criticised opposition to such a provision on the basis that the omission of refugee children from the institutional arrangements designed to fulfil the state’s positive obligations to children under articles 2, 3 and 8 of the convention on human rights raises the question whether that gives rise to unjustifiable discrimination in the enjoyment of convention rights. At the time, the Minister argued that the duty to have regard to safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children could severely compromise our ability to maintain an effective asylum system and strong immigration control—and there lies this clash of moral principles.
The Minister and the Government have come down on the side of, as they see it, an effective asylum system and strong immigration control. I have some sympathy with that as, over the past few years, we have not had an effective asylum system or strong immigration control. I can therefore imagine why the Government felt unable to add this apparently simple clause to the 2004 Act as it would potentially have made what was already a terrible situation even worse.
In those debates, the Minister went on to argue—as I suspect it is possible he will today—that in undertaking its function, the IND will do things that will be judged as inconsistent with the duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of children. That is quite a strong statement and is what he was arguing in the House of Lords. To say that we will do things inconsistent with the welfare of children is quite eye-opening as a statement of Government policy. As he argued—again I have some sympathy with this—in practice, that could be used as a means of delaying or preventing people from being returned home. We cannot do that. Again, I imagine that this is the basis of his case: if we are going to run an effective asylum system and strong immigration control, we must have the power to return people home who have no entitlement to be in this country, even if they are children.
To be fair, the Refugee Children’s Consortium welcomed the assurance given in the Home Office’s consultation paper on unaccompanied children that the Government will take those things seriously, but it goes on to argue that it is alarming that the Government cannot offer refugee children the protection afforded by section 11 of the 2004 Act, in relation to the institutions and bodies responsible for their care and welfare. Their argument that section 11 is not an absolute duty is reasonable. It simply requires agencies to make arrangements to have regard to the need to safeguard children and promote their welfare in the discharge of their functions.
When the Act was passed, the Minister at the time argued that the Government had worded the clause very carefully. She said that they
“do not put a duty on agencies that would make them unable to fulfil their primary functions”.—[Official Report, House of Lords, 17 June 2004; Vol. 662, c. 995.]
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This is clearly not a debate across the Floor of the House. Ministers who have been responsible for both immigration and children’s welfare in this and the last Government have had to grapple with a genuine problem, and while acknowledging that it is difficult, they have come down against the view expressed in the amendment. I would like to hear the updated version of the ministerial briefing that I suspect has gone to Ministers from both those Governments about how the obligations that we all recognise as essential under the Children Act 2004 can be properly balanced with the need for an effective immigration system.
One argument put by the Refugee Children’s Consortium is that the police are included, for example. When we talk about giving immigration officers powers that move towards those of a police constable, it seems even more difficult than before to have set one set of duties for police officers that are not being required of immigration officers when in other respects their powers are being merged. The explanatory notes on the Bill that became the 2004 Act stated:
“This duty is intended to ensure that agencies are conscious of the need to safeguard children and promote their welfare in the course of executing their normal functions”.
The Refugee Children’s Consortium has taken legal advice telling it that the duty under section 11 of the 2004 Act does not give rise to a free-standing duty to safeguard or promote a child’s welfare, but qualifies the manner in which existing duties and powers can be exercised.
I suspect that the nub of the problem with which successive Ministers and Governments have grappled is whether the section 11 duties actually preclude removal. That must be the heart of the matter, because if they do not preclude removal, the arguments against the amendment will tend to fall away.
The Refugee Children’s Consortium points out that the omission of the immigration service from section 11 is brought into sharp focus by the proposals before the House, precisely because of the broadening of designated immigration officers’ powers. It argues—I do not go all the way with it on this—that it is impossible to reconcile the Government’s assertion that “every child matters” with the exclusion of key agencies responsible for the care of refugee children from section 11 of the 2004 Act. It also argues that extending the powers of immigration officers should not be approved unless safeguards including the specific application of section 11 to the immigration service are in place, and the hon. Member for Rochdale has argued the case for that.
As I say, I have sympathy with the Minister and his many predecessors who have had to argue this case. However, I hope that he can address the central issue before us: whether applying section 11 would, in any material way, make it impossible for immigration officers to do their job properly, and in particular, whether he sees it as precluding proper removal of children at a time when more and more are coming to this country.
The point was again made in oral evidence, this time by Keith Best, who said that there are
“about 3,000 children a year coming into this country ... They need particular care ... they need care that will give them direct and immediate access to legal advice, so that they can be assisted in their claim”.
On another aspect, which I hope that the Minister can address when he responds on this amendment, Keith Best went on to say that
“they also need to be treated sympathetically when they reach that magic age of 18 because it is a traumatic event to be told that, on your birthday, you will no longer be given any kind of protection and you will be removed. So there needs to be sensitivity.”——[Official Report, UK Borders Public Bill Committee, 27 February 2007; c. 59.]
Whatever our attitude to the amendment, we would all agree on the need for sensitivity and acknowledgement that the likelihood of removal at 18 will be traumatic for the individuals concerned, although that in itself is a symptom of the wider point that striking this balance is not easy.
Unusually, I have sympathy for the Minister over the dilemma that he faces in opposing the amendment, but the terms of the argument that he uses are important. Like many, I have grappled with the moral aspects of this issue. In a sense, I would hope to be convinced by him that if we are to proceed with not incorporating section 11, it is because its legal effect would be to render our immigration and asylum systems much less effective. If he cannot make that case, the moral case for including section 11 is extremely strong. I shall be interested to hear what he has to say.
Mr. Byrne: I am grateful for the thoughtful way in which the hon. Members for Rochdale and for Ashford spoke to the amendment. I am particularly grateful to the hon. Member for Ashford for his sympathy about some of the decisions that we have to make and for the reminder about the number of predecessors that I have enjoyed as an Immigration Minister. Indeed, the Home Secretary advises me that when I go along to meetings I am to introduce myself as the Immigration Minister for now. I am not quite sure what he means by that.
My remarks fall under three headings. My first heading comes by way of clarification. I will not roam too widely on the subject of refugee children, because I understand that the provisions of the clause do not apply to such children. I anticipate that they will apply to British children. The powers that we are asking for in clauses 1 to 4 relate to the detention not of foreign nationals—those powers are already on the books in the Immigration Act 1971—but of British children.
There is also a helpful distinction to draw between the immigration service and the police. The police have a far more wide-ranging set of responsibilities than the immigration service. Police officers may arrest children, and they may have to visit children in their home. They may be investigating crimes that involve the abuse of children. My final remark under this heading is that it is a highly unusual for immigration officers to detain British children. My expectation would be that the number would be extremely low.
Paul Rowen: I am interested in what the Minister is saying. While that may be the practicality in terms of what might happen at a port, we are making law that applies in general. In that sense we are talking about circumstances in which an immigration officer might detain someone. I accept that there may be a distinction between someone coming into the country and someone going out, but nevertheless one cannot say that asylum seeker children will not be detained in any circumstance.
May I refer the Minister to the report published by the chief inspector of prisons, and in particular her comments on short holding facilities and the fact that many detainees felt unsafe in those centres, and her remark about John Lennon airport in Liverpool? It holds children for short periods and she noted that there was evidence of the need for staff training in the protection of children. We are already getting reports that that is needed. Surely, all that we are seeking to do is ensure that when the Minister introduces his code of practice and regulations, he takes account of the Children Act 2004.
Mr. Byrne: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. He anticipates some of my remarks. The caveat that I would place on them is that the powers relate to people who are liable to arrest or who immigration officers think might be so liable. I would expect the exercise of those powers with regard to British children to be rare. The detention of asylum-seeking children is a matter for a different area of legislation.
Nevertheless, it is important to sketch out a response to some of the issues raised by the hon. Members for Ashford and for Rochdale. Let me echo some of the points that were made by Stuart Hyde, the director of enforcement, in last week’s evidence session. First, the IND does indeed have specially trained staff at ports of entry to deal with minors. That is important. Secondly, comprehensive guidance is in place; I shall be happy to ensure that copies of it are available in the Library. A good example of the kind of work that is done at ports is what happens at Heathrow, which accounts for nearly a third of passenger movements in and out of the UK and where a joint team of immigration staff and Metropolitan police child protection officers operates.
Our ambitions in that area are well illustrated by the fact that we work with airlines nationally and internationally to draw up best practice on the carriage of children. The immigration service was instrumental in bringing forward changes to immigration rules that required parents to demonstrate that adequate arrangements were in place for the travel, reception and care of children visiting the United Kingdom.
My third point cuts to the heart of the debate about section 11. It would be slightly unusual if we were to make one particular class of officer in the immigration service subject to the provisions of section 11. Despite what I said about the differences between the police—as the hon. Member for Ashford said, they are already subject to section 11—and the immigration service, there has to be a serious debate about whether the IND should be subject to the same provisions. The debate should not be on whether we ensure that a designated class of immigration officer is subject to section 11, but on whether IND as a whole should be subject to it. I hope that the Committee will draw some reassurance from the fact that the wider debate is taking place, and that discussions are ongoing between Jeremy Oppenheim, the IND children’s champion, and the Children’s Commissioner, Sir Al Aynsley-Green, on how IND can, as a corporate body, can be subject to the provisions of section 11. Hon. Members should be able to draw some reassurance, even if it is not complete, from those remarks.
Damian Green: I am fascinated by the Minister’s last remarks. I am grateful to him for sharing with the Committee the fact that those discussions are going on, but can he clarify whether it is possible that in the later stages of the Bill’s passage he will propose amendments that make the IND subject to section 11 of the Children Act 2004? If not, can he indicate over what sort of time scale the discussions are taking place? If another immigration Bill is introduced in the next session of Parliament, as has been widely suggested, might such an amendment be moved then? It would be particularly useful for the Committee to know how much of that he intends to introduce into the current Bill. Even if that is not the intention, some suggestion of the time scale for the future would be extremely helpful.
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Mr. Byrne: I fear that you are about to rule me out of order, Mr. Illsley, because this is so far removed from the contents of the clause that I may incur your wrath: I do not want to pre-empt the outcome of discussions currently under way, but if it is helpful, I will explore what information I can provide to the Committee at the earliest possible opportunity.
Paul Rowen: I welcome the remarks of the Minister, particularly those at the end. A move to make the whole of the IND subject to the Children Act 2004 would be widely welcomed. Obviously, we are dealing with a very specific clause and a very specific activity that certain designated immigration officers are being asked to undertake. That is the context in which I moved the amendment. I believe that most people will welcome the Minister’s remarks about extending the provisions to the whole of the IND, given the scope within which it operates. Perhaps the Minister will write and let us know about the consultation and when he expects to give us more information on when the IND will be subject to that particular revision. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
Damian Green: We have had a useful set of discussions on the clause in the context of the various amendments that the hon. Member for Rochdale and I have moved. The Minister now has the flavour of our concerns.
We have been dealing specifically with immigration officers and the new designation for 25 per cent. or so of them. A number of things are clear from the debates on the various amendments. First, there have been universal tributes to the skill and, in many cases, the bravery of immigration officers, whose job puts them always in a sensitive position and occasionally in a dangerous position. By and large, the officers do that job with great skill, purpose and dedication to duty, whatever the problems above them in the organisation, which has taken various buffetings over the past few years.
However, we are all particularly concerned—I know that that is true among Conservative Members—that the new powers given to certain designated immigration officers by the clause need to be set out clearly and properly. Those powers ought to be subject to proper parliamentary scrutiny and carefully consulted on with various bodies. Despite the Minister’s repeated arguments for greater flexibility, in the long run it is more important to get this right than to get it in operation as fast as possible. Also, the training should be appropriate and the inspection regime should be not only tough but transparent.
Those are all very big issues. If a number of those desiderata do not happen, then we will look back on the Bill and see it as a failure. If we find that immigration officers have been given powers for which they are not properly trained, that they do things that are unacceptable to the inspector or that the various stakeholders have not been adequately consulted or listened to over the particular powers, then the Bill will not work and will not do what the Minister hopes. He has given us some welcome assurances, especially on the amendments that he has said that he will table later this week, when we will no doubt return to those vital subjects.
I hope that the Minister has taken on board not only the breadth of our concerns but their depth, too. What unites the Committee is our desire that the immigration system should improve, that those on the front line should have the powers to do their job more effectively and that the public should have the ability to judge whether the powers are appropriate and whether they are being exercised appropriately. That is quite a mountain for the Minister to climb. He has assured us that he is aware of those problems and that he is taking steps to address them, and I hope that he is right.
Mr. Clappison: I rise briefly to support the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford and to reinforce them for the Minister. My hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Rochdale have made some important points, which the Minister, who has been very patient, has sought to address. It is important that he does so to ensure that the powers in the Bill are exercised successfully and that the intention that lies behind them is fulfilled. I am confident that it will be, as I have confidence in the immigration officers themselves.
The immigration service is a great asset. During my membership of the Home Affairs Committee, I have visited a number of immigration posts in this country in Dover, Heathrow and several other places and overseas in Nigeria and Ghana. I never fail to be struck by the professionalism of the immigration service and how its officers bring their experience and judgment to bear upon particular situations. That experience and judgment is used in the interests of us all, and those qualities will assist immigration officers in discharging the powers in clause 1.
We already place a great deal of reliance on immigration officers, and I hope that we will value and cherish their experience and judgment, particularly in reaching a decision about admissions to the United Kingdom and granting visas to the UK. It is implicit in the Government’s proposals for a points-based system, which many immigration officers fear will downgrade their role, that there will be a challenge to the immigration service’s independence of experience and judgment. I will not pursue that matter too far now, Mr. Illsley, as we will return to it later, but it will need careful debate. The experience and judgment of immigration officers in dealing with issues on the ground in posts here and overseas is invaluable, and we would be foolish not to take advantage of it.
Paul Rowen: I thank the Minister for contributing to a constructive series of debates on clause 1. Opposition Members tabled several amendments to strengthen the Bill, and he has listened to us and promised to table amendments incorporating what we seek to do, which is welcome. That shows the value of Committees in allowing hon. Members to raise issues that can be taken up by the Executive. One point of difference remains—the amount of scrutiny that the regulations will receive—but no doubt we will return to that matter at a later stage.
I welcome what is proposed in clause 1. I believe that it will go a long way towards strengthening and improving what goes on at our ports, improving co-operation between the various officers and the various branches and ensuring that our ports continue to operate to a high standard and that immigration officers themselves are given the comfort of additional regulation and training, which the new powers will place on them.
Mr. Byrne: I start by associating myself with the remarks made by the hon. Member for Hertsmere. I have not been in this role very long, and I made it my first priority to travel as far round the immigration service as I could in a short period of time. I was fortunate to visit our visa operations in Islamabad last year and also to travel about 3,500 miles around Britain over the course of the last three months of last year. I have met and talked to between 2,000 and 3,000 members of the IND and the immigration service.
As I have said, this Bill is part of a package of measures that was very much co-authored by the front line. I do not believe that decisions on the detail of this kind of legislation can be made uninformed or can be polished and finessed in an office in Whitehall, because they need the dynamic input of people who do the job day in and day out with pride and professionalism. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Hertsmere for his remarks.
I thought it might be worth sketching out why the Government think that this clause is so important. Over the past few years, we have tripled the number of warranted officers in the immigration service, 70 per cent of whom are at the border. However, putting feet on the ground is not enough if those officers do not have the power or the tools to do their job effectively in the 21st century. This Bill, and this clause in particular, is part of the strategy to ensure that we do not suffer from that.
There are already a number of provisions in the Immigration Act 1971 and the Customs and Excise Management Act 1979 which allow an alignment of powers between the immigration service and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. There is also the Terrorism Act 2000, schedule 7 to which allows the police and customs and immigration officers to act as officers for the purposes of the schedule. There is already some degree of alignment of powers, and this Bill will allow us to go a step further. Where there are particular police-like powers, this clause allows us to equip our front line with them.
This clause is a much more sensible way forward. In the future, such powers will be important, because the way in which we are introducing new technology means that we can detect far more British citizens who may be liable for arrest as they seek to move in and out of the country. I will talk about that point in future debates, but, for example, our e-border system, which tracks people in and out of the country, has already produced some 9,000 alerts and some 800 arrests. It is increasingly able to give our border security agencies the chance to detect people, and in the future it may be that an immigration officer is the first to encounter an individual who is of interest to the police and who should therefore be detained while a police constable is called.
This has been a helpful debate. The question is how to ensure sufficient flexibility to allow innovation to be introduced with as much speed as possible to the front line, balanced by the scrutiny that is important for any exercise of power. I think that we have got that balance right. The debate is not over, because we will revisit it when we introduce Government amendments on a single regulator.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 1 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
12.30 pm
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