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House of Commons
Session 2006 - 07
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General Committee Debates
UK Borders Bill

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

Thursday 8 March 2007


[Mr. Eric Illsley in the Chair]

UK Borders Bill

Clause 5

Registration regulations
9 am
John Hemming (Birmingham, Yardley) (LD): I beg to move amendment No. 72, in clause 5, page 3, line 21, at end insert ‘to authorised persons only’.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 78, in clause 5, page 4, line 21, at end insert—
‘(4A) Information provided under subsection (1)(c) shall be used by authorised persons only.’.
No. 82, in clause 8, page 5, line 37, at end insert—
‘(ba) must require the destruction of information provided in accordance with the regulations when an individual subsequently becomes a British citizen, and’.
Damian Green (Ashford) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Illsley. As you know, there have been discussions about a future evidence-taking session. Will you update us on where negotiations have got to on when that might take place? When might the Committee consider a motion to decide when we will hear evidence from the groups that were unavailable to give us evidence in our sessions last week?
The Chairman: The position is that the witness remains unavailable inasmuch as we have been unable to contact him with regard to an evidence session next week. As soon as we do make contact with him and get his agreement to appear before the Committee next Tuesday, we will find a suitable point at which to interrupt either this morning’s or this afternoon’s proceedings for the appropriate motion to be moved to facilitate an evidence session. The position is simply that the witness is still unavailable, and until we get confirmation we will be unable to proceed. As soon as that confirmation comes through, we will interrupt the Committee’s proceedings at a suitable point and make the necessary arrangements.
Damian Green: Further to that point of order, Mr. Illsley. You mention one witness. I understood that the hon. Member for Rochdale was proposing other potential witnesses. Assuming that there is a motion waiting to be moved at the appropriate time, may I clarify whether it will be for one group of witnesses or more?
The Chairman: That will be a matter for the Minister as and when he moves the motion to enable the Committee to take evidence. As to who will appear next Tuesday, my information so far is that the only witness will be from Migrationwatch. That is the assumption on which I am working, and any other witnesses will have to be agreed by the usual channels. I suggest that the usual channels get together quickly to get some agreement.
John Hemming: We are well aware that when biometric information is used—for instance in the DNA database, which is a form of biometric information but is not mentioned in the clause—there can be a tendency for it to be found in the possession of commercial companies when that is not appropriate. Companies then use that information for the production of research. The essence of permissive legislation is that we should not allow biometric information to float around and end up with commercial companies.
The Gershon report places substantial financial constraints on public sector organisations, so they need to find additional revenue. If they can say, “Well, the law allows us to sell this material to this company, and we can get some revenue in to cover our deficits,” we must draw a line and specify the purposes for which information can be used, by authorised persons only. That is the essence of the amendments.
Damian Green: I wish to amplify some of the arguments put so eloquently for the Liberal Democrats by the hon. Gentleman, as I have a degree of sympathy with them.
I suspect that the Minister will agree that two propositions are clear. First, few pieces of personal data are as sensitive, both for reasons of personal security and due to the possibility of their general use by people with malevolent intent, as those that would be put on the biometric documents. If people were able to obtain that information for nefarious purposes, that would be as bad as it got. The Minister relies on the argument that biometric information is much safer and more secure than other information. The corollary to that is that if it did fall into the wrong hands, it would be much more powerful as a criminal tool than any other piece of information. We have seen the credit card industry move to the chip and PIN system in an attempt to protect the data on our credit cards and reduce cloning. Biometric information is a double-edged sword from a security point of view; if one can get hold of it, one has an extremely powerful mechanism by which to commit criminal acts against the individual concerned.
Secondly, I am sure that the Minister does not want such information to become widely available. As the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley said, it would be extremely valuable commercial information.
Kitty Ussher (Burnley) (Lab): If I understand the hon. Gentleman correctly, he is saying that there is a danger that biometric information could be abused if it falls into the wrong hands. Correct me if I am wrong, but my understanding is that one cannot abuse such information, because it requires to be checked against a person’s individual characteristics, be they their iris or their fingerprints.
Damian Green: The hon. Lady has eloquently put the fundamental misconception that lies at the heart of the Government’s attitude to biometrics. They think that biometrics are a magic wand; that they are 100 per cent. accurate, with no failures and no problems, and that once everything is done on a biometric basis there will be no difficulties. I cannot remember whether she was at the evidence session that included Professor Anderson of Cambridge university.
Kitty Ussher indicated assent.
Damian Green: She was, so she would have heard the Professor make the point that, given the number of visitors that we have, the population of the country and his estimate of the small percentage of inaccuracies that occur in fingerprinting, there would be so many false positives or false negatives that the system would be “swamped”. I am quoting from memory, but I certainly remember him using that word. He was being fair, and he said that the Metropolitan police’s estimate of the accuracy of fingerprinting was rather higher than his own; there was clearly a measure of genuine scientific disagreement between them.
Even according the Metropolitan police’s estimate—I think that it was one inaccuracy in a billion—the sheer number of visitors to this country, which is 90 million a year, and the population of roughly 60 million, would mean that there would still be a significant number of false positives and false negatives. That biometric measure would therefore cause either complete disaster, if relied on completely, or at best, a significant number of problems. It might well lead to false prosecutions and all the horrors that arise from them, particularly if people felt that one could not argue with biometric information, which is the proposition put by the hon. Lady. If judges and juries were to believe that, we would have false prosecutions and the many horrors that flow from them.
Kitty Ussher: Do I take it that the hon. Gentleman supports the use of iris technology in biometrics?
Damian Green: I am dealing with this scientifically, as the Professor did. He said that iris technology, although not completely accurate, was more so than fingerprint technology. If that is the scientific argument, I think that we should accept it. Allow me to clarify my position: I do not object to the use of biometrics per se, but to the ability of the state to take such information and give itself the power to spread it around.
The hon. Lady ought to note that we did not vote against the Bill on Second Reading because it contains useful elements. However, clause 5 is one of the most sensitive parts of the Bill. We are debating the ability of the Government to take such vital information, which might not be 100 per cent. foolproof—the evidence suggests that it is not—and to spread it around for purposes that are fairly vague, at the moment. They are not outlined in the Bill or the Identity Cards Act 2006. Parliament, therefore, will have no control over it and, more importantly, individuals will have no control over what happens to that very sensitive personal information. They could find it being used by agents of Government, or by commercial companies for reasons over which they have no control. That is my fundamental objection to the course down which the Government are going.
The amendments are useful because they test the limits of how far information should be moved about. The amendment about the destruction of information once a person has become a British citizen is worth consideration by the Government. Presumably, once someone has been granted citizenship, we can be satisfied that he or she is of good character and has passed all the relevant tests to become a British citizen. Given that this information is being collected specifically for immigration purposes, and given that such a person will no longer have to go through the immigration system, being a British citizen, I am interested to know why the Minister thinks it would be relevant to keep that very personal and sensitive information.
My final point is regarding the spreading of this information to commercial companies. Those of us who have seen the new scale of charges, announced by the Minister yesterday, for all forms of visas, will have observed a very significant cost increase. He said in a previous sitting of the Committee that he was looking forward to a debate on how much of the money spent on this system could be recovered through charges. That is, I think, a legitimate debate to have in Committee. I am sure that he will be looking forward to receiving representations from various groups that bring people in, such as universities and businesses, about his proposed hike in the charges. It is also relevant that the Government will collect that information and could hand it on to commercial companies. It will be very valuable and presumably people will pay very large sums of money to obtain it.
I am interested to know the Minister’s attitude to that. For instance, will he operate a market, as it were? If the Government compulsorily collect our most sensitive information and have the power to sell it to commercial companies, I suppose that it would be a way of solving at least one small corner of the Home Office’s budgetary problems. However, I suspect that many people would find that a disturbing development. I hope that he will address those points in his response.
9.15 am
The Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality (Mr. Liam Byrne): I am very grateful for the chance to speak to the amendment because it gives the Committee the chance to frame in the right way some of the debate that we will have over the course of the day. I perfectly understand that the Opposition parties will want to table quite an extensive series of amendments to the clauses because they are ideologically opposed to the ID cards scheme. Indeed, the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis), with whom the hon. Member for Ashford has been closely associated for many years, has made very clear the Conservative pledge to cancel the ID cards scheme. I do not know whether the Conservatives have had the chance to meet with Intellect. It wrote to the hon. Gentleman on 6 February to say that it was extremely concerned about the Conservatives’ pledge, and very kindly and generously offered to meet them to talk through, in a little more detail, some of the implications of that dramatic statement. One of the causes of my concern with that ideological opposition—
Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con): Just to be clear, as far as I have followed the discussion in my party, the opposition is not ideological; it is based entirely on the merits of the argument. It is a practical opposition, based on practical consequences. As far as I have been able to discern, it is not ideological as the Minister suggests.
Mr. Byrne: I am grateful for that clarification. I shall go back and re-study the quotes from the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron), because I have clearly misread them. What gives me great cause for concern is that one of the very practical consequences of that opposition will be to render the country defenceless in tackling illegal immigration in future. Before Christmas, we explained how the reach of the national identity register and the national identity infrastructure—
The Chairman: Order. We are moving rather wide of the amendments and of the clause under consideration, which relates to biometrics. While it is difficult not to migrate into a debate on identity cards, that issue is not part of the Bill.
Mr. Byrne: I am grateful for your guidance, Mr. Illsley. However, that issue goes to the heart of the matter. The use of biometric information, as set out in the Bill, is the essence of why the scheme is being put in place. If we are to stop illegal immigration, we must stop two things: illegal journeys and illegal jobs.
Paul Rowen (Rochdale) (LD) rose—
John Hemming rose—
Mr. Byrne: I shall just finish this point. In the public evidence sessions last week, we heard from one ofthe leaders in the fight against illegal immigrationinto Britain, Gordon McLardy, director of risk management at National Car Parks. In principle he fully supports biometric immigration documents, because they will make it far easier for employers to do very simple checks.
The reason for introducing biometric immigration documents—which we propose to designate once the national identity register is up and running—is that foreign nationals can currently proffer any of 50 or 60 different documents as evidence of their entitlement to be in the country, to work or to receive benefits. That is too complicated. It is prone to fraud and abuse, and any right-thinking person would say that we should replace it. We should phase out those old, insecure documents and phase in a single secure one.
Paul Rowen: I do not think that any Opposition member of the Committee objects to the point that the Minister makes. We support the introduction of biometric visas; that is why we did not vote against the Bill on Second Reading. By using the word authorised in the amendment, we in no way seek to prevent authorised employers, for example, from using that information. However, the point made earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley is important: there have to be safeguards. We tabled the amendment because we feel that the wording of the Bill is too open-ended. We would like the Minister to come forward during later stages of the Bill’s passages with further regulations that show that there are built-in safeguards. While I have no problem believing that the immigration and nationality directorate will not pass on information, I am concerned that we are giving a blank cheque to employers who might use that information unscrupulously. Once the Minister brings forward regulations that show how that will operate, we will have no problem.
Mr. Byrne: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that point of clarification. The only point of clarification that I would offer in return is that if his party were to follow the Conservative party with a pledge to cancel the ID cards system, it would also switch off the very database that delivers biometric visas, as set out in the plans that the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, North (Joan Ryan), and I produced. We set out very clearly how the national identity infrastructure will support a triple layer of defence, including biometric visas, so that we can deliver tougher checks on people abroad. The Committee will be interested to know that in the tests that we have conducted in just seven posts abroad over a few short months, nearly 2,000 people, whom we have deported from the country, have come up as positive hits on the database trying to get back in. This technology will be very useful. It will work.
Damian Green rose—
John Hemming rose—
Mr. Byrne: I will give way in a moment. That system supports both biometric visas and compulsory ID cards for foreign nationals. I give way to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley and then the hon. Member for Ashford.
John Hemming: I am mystified as to how the Minister sees our argument, which is that one should not be able to sell the biometric data to commercial companies, as an argument against all biometric data.
Mr. Byrne: I am not sure whether I should interpret that as a switch in position and support for the national identity infrastructure. I will come to the hon. Gentleman’s point directly after I have given way to the hon. Member for Ashford.
Damian Green: Perhaps the Minister is rehearsing a soundbite that he is trying to use about leaving our borders defenceless. I wish to put that in context. Can he confirm that those proposing to come to this country for less than three months will not be required to provide this information, and that therefore any terrorist group or organised crime group would find it extremely easy to get into this country under this piece of radar? Even by the standards of Home Office soundbites, this one is particularly ridiculous.
Mr. Byrne: You are going to call me out of order very shortly, Mr. Illsley, but the hon. Gentleman is not following the debate closely enough. As I think he knows, three quarters of the world’s population require a visa to come to this country, even if it is for just one day. I agree that the imposition of a visa regime in different parts of the world needs further thinking.
The Chairman: For another day.
Mr. Byrne: We will have further thoughts on that for another day. Thank you, Mr. Illsley.
The reassurance that I can give the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley is threefold. First, the rationale for introducing biometric immigration documents and compulsory ID cards for foreign nationals is to help us to come down much harder on illegal working. It is too complicated to prove entitlement and entitlement to work today. We should phase those documents out and phase in a more secure system. Secondly, if we are to do that, we must equip employers with the ability effectively to take what would legally be defined as information, such as a fingerprint, and check that information against the card.
It is important to remember that “authorised person” has a very specific meaning in the Bill. It cannot include employers. So the effect of the amendment would be to stop employers taking fingerprints on a quickcheck reader and verifying them against the card. The amendment would unfortunately destroy employers’ ability to use these cards for any practical purpose. I accept that that may not be the intention of the amendment. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley talked about restrictions on our ability to sell this information on. There is no intention to sell this information on. The regulations that we will propose would make that quite clear. Unfortunately, the amendment would mean that employers would be denuded of the power to take biometric information and check it against the information stored on the chip on the card or, in due course, against the database, and it would therefore undermine the fundamental purpose of the scheme.
Paul Rowen: Given what we heard last week from Jack Dromey and the Transport and General Workers Union, what will the Minister do without the safeguard of the word authorised to ensure that unscrupulous employers do not use that as a tool or a weapon against defenceless illegal immigrants?
Mr. Byrne: The point is well made, and the answer to it is to dramatically increase the pressure on unscrupulous employers. That is precisely why we propose much tighter working between Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, the Department for Work and Pensions, the national minimum wage inspectors and the immigration service so that we can systematically hunt down the unscrupulous businesses who exploit illegal, but often vulnerable, labour.
I can reassure the hon. Members for Birmingham, Yardley and for Rochdale that the power we seek in the Bill is simply the power for employers to check information that is already held on the card. It does not allow the sale of information.
The hon. Member for Ashford asked why we would possibly seek the power to retain information under certain circumstances. The answer is twofold: first, because people who come in as immigrants may, over a period of years and because of their contribution to this country, succeed in securing naturalisation. They may want to roll over the biometric information they have already provided into an identity card. We have been clear about our ambition to designate the cards as ID cards in the future. The reassurance I can give on that front is that there are already obligations on the Secretary of State to destroy biometric information if there is no purpose in retaining it. They are set out in clause 8(3)(c) of this Bill, and in section 143(2) of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, which says that if someone proves that they are a British citizen
“fingerprints must be destroyed as soon as reasonably practicable.”
Furthermore they are entitled to request a certificate from the Secretary of State that confirms that instruction.
Secondly, extensive safeguards in respect of biographical information are already in place under the Data Protection Act 1998. They say two things that are germane to the debate: first, that we have to process that information fairly, and secondly—and more importantly for the ambitions of the hon. Memberfor Birmingham, Yardley—we cannot keep that information for longer than necessary.
Damian Green: The section that the Minister read out refers to fingerprint information, not iris recognition. Is he telling the Committee that in these circumstances the Government have a duty to destroy that information, too? That would be more reassuring, especially in the context of the ongoing debate about the retention of DNA information from entirely innocent people in police inquiries. It is a genuine and practical ongoing debate.
Mr. Byrne: I am grateful for the opportunity to clarify that the obligation applies to all biometric information.
With those reassurances and the fact that we have teased out the practical implications of the amendment, I hope that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley will ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
9.30 am
John Hemming: I had intended to intervene on the Minister because my reading of amendment No. 78 does not accord with his in any way. However, if we have the general view that we will not permit the commercial sale of this information, which should be constrained by some mechanism, we are working in the same direction. I will take advice from my colleague.
Paul Rowen indicated assent.
John Hemming: I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Paul Rowen: I beg to move amendment No. 74, in clause 5, page 3, line 29, leave out from ‘documents’ to end of line 30 and insert—
‘which may include the following non-biometric information—
(i) name,
(ii) date of birth,
(iii) place of birth,
(iv) address,
(v) immigration status, and
(vi) National Insurance number, if appropriate;’.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: amendment No. 46, in clause 5, page 3, line 46, at end insert—
‘(2A) Non-biometric information under subsection (2)(d) shall be limited to—
(a) name,
(b) date of birth,
(c) place of birth,
(d) address,
(e) immigration status, and
(f) National Insurance Number.’.
Amendment No. 73, in clause 5, page 4, line 27, at end add—
‘(7) A biometric immigration document may only be used in connection with an immigration and nationality matter.’.
Amendment No. 24, in clause 15, page 8, line 43, at end insert—
‘(h) “non biometric information” does not include any sensitive personal data (within the meaning of the Data Protection Act 1998 (c. 29)) or anything the disclosure of which would tend to reveal such data.’.
New clause 1—No requirement to carry a biometric information document—
‘Nothing in this Act authorises the making of regulations the effect of which would be to require an individual to carry a biometric immigration document at all times.’.
Paul Rowen: I am grateful for the debate earlier and hope that the Minister can deal with the amendments fairly quickly. We are seeking clarity and reassurance from the Government on the use of other non-biometric information, which is referred to in clause 5. That is quite a sensitive matter, so we are attempting to specify what data may be included, as the hon. Member for Ashford has done with his amendments. It should be easy to specify the information listed in amendment No. 74, and if any more information is to be specified, the Minister should put it in the Bill. We want to ensure that immigrants are afforded the same protection as British citizens.
Amendment No. 73 alludes to the use of such data for immigration and nationality purposes only, although I accept that in this case that includes employment. If someone has a work permit and is seeking employment, it is quite legitimate to use those data, with the safeguards provided by the Minister. We all share the aspiration to make our borders secure, but we must ensure adequate safeguards for the use of those data.
Once again, our concern is that many of the provisions are very open-ended. The details are not specified. Some of them might appear later in regulations, but others might not. We are dealing with quite sensitive data, which is why we are seeking to specify what data are necessary for the job and that they are used only for the purposes set out in the Bill. If such information is passed on to other people for other purposes, we should be concerned. We have argued already about the use of DNA data. We want to ensure that there are proper safeguards, that the data collected are only those needed for the job and that there are strict controls on who can use them. That would be a reasonable amendment to the Bill.
Damian Green: I wish to speak specifically to amendments Nos. 46 and 24, which are in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate. I shall speak also to new clause 1. However, I have great sympathy with the remarks of the hon. Member for Rochdale; indeed, our amendments are very similar. We are seeking to limit the non-biometric data on the biometric documents to those listed in amendmentNo. 46. Amendment No. 24 would ensure that non-biometric data held on the card do not included “sensitive personal data” as defined in the Data Protection Act 1998.
The purpose of amendment No. 46 is quite simple. It attempts to address a recurrent problem with the Bill, which is that the information that it allows the Government to collect is extremely wide in scope. The Bill will allow any Government to score virtually any information that they want. Amendment No. 46 would limit that to information relevant to immigration or work matters, because as we have heard, the purpose of the Bill is to try to reduce the illegal employment of people in this country and the ability of people to come and work here illegally. That purpose is entirely sensible. We support sensible measures that attempt to achieve that end, but we do not think that the Government should take wider powers.
We are not unduly cynical in thinking that many people would rightly be worried about a Government who passed a law to give themselves almost unlimited power to collect and store personal information about individuals. That goes to the heart of the wider debate that we are seeking not to have about the balance between personal security and personal privacy, and the safety of the state. The sensible way to proceed—that is what the amendment seeks to provide—is to say that a specific problem can be addressed by the use of the storage and collection of specific pieces of information about specific people, which is entirely fair, but that it is unreasonable for Governments to have the power to collect any information that they like about any groups of people. That is a genuine difference across the Floor of the Committee about how far Government powers should go. The amendment would directly limit the powers to something that is useful.
We believe that the list of non-biometric information in amendment No. 46 is sensible, comprehensive and would do the job. Will the Minister tell the Committee what additional information he believes is missing from amendment No. 46 that would enable the documents to do what is required of them? We have thought about that and believe that enough information is included. If he thinks that other information is needed, I am sure that he could table amendments at later during the Bill’s passage to provide a more comprehensive list. None the less, I hope that he will address the principle that a list of information that the Government can collect is infinitely preferable to an open-ended power to collect details about people living and working in this country. Those are the issues relating to amendment No. 46.
I can see no reason why the Government should not accept new clause 1, as it would ensure that there is no requirement in the Bill for an individual to carry a biometric immigration document at all times. The Minister has assured us previously in our discussions on the Bill that that is not the Government’s intention. I am glad that it is not the Government’s intention; that is a very sensible decision that they have taken. I am sure that he would wish that sensible thinking to be carried on by future Ministers, possibly from other parties. Binding future Ministers to that decision by introducing the new clause would be helpful in his own terms, not just in terms of the arguments that we are making.
The point that runs through the group of amendments is that this is an immigration Bill—a Bill about borders. It is not a Bill that should seek to widen the powers of police officers or immigration officers into other areas of the law. If the Minister is intent on issuing the biometric documents, we accept that obviously there are circumstances in which they might reasonably be carried, such as when attending an immigration office or a place of employment. However, citizens in this country are not required to produce documents when they are going about their normal daily business. Equally, those who come to this country legally and are welcome as visitors—I will not bore the Minister or the Committee by quoting all the things that he, the Home Secretary, the Prime Minister and all the other Ministers say about the benefits of immigration—we should not get into the habit of treating such people differently in their daily lives. That will be the danger, however, if such people feel that they must carry papers around with them.
I have some sympathy with the view expressed by Liberty about that issue. One of the features of biometric immigration documents is that they have the potential to be used as a form of internal immigration control. The Identity Cards Act 2006 stated that regulations requiring people to carry identity cards cannot be passed; that was a clear statement. The fact that there is no such restriction on the regulations in the Bill clearly sends a signal that the use of these documents for internal immigration control is more likely.
The Minister will be aware that immigration officials frequently apprehend people on public transport. There were reports in September 2004 that, in the previous 15 months, 235 operations had been conducted, involving the arrest of 717 failed asylum seekers. However, thousands more people had been stopped and questioned by immigration staff using powers that the police are banned from using.
One of the Minister’s various predecessors said that officials could
“legitimately question people to determine their immigration status where there is reasonable suspicion that a person is an immigration offender.”—[Official Report, 13 September 2004; Vol. 424, c. 1406W.]
It is easy to see how, once the biometric documents are introduced, people who do not look like citizens of the European economic area—such citizens will not need these documents—will be regularly asked to establish their status.
Chris Mole (Ipswich) (Lab): Will the hon. Gentleman give some examples of what a citizen who does not look like a normal member of the European economic area might look like? I am struggling to imagine what such a person might look like.
Damian Green: So am I. The hon. Gentleman has seized on one of the weaknesses of the legislation. He is going to vote for powers that would require—indeed, they would encourage—immigration officers to try to make that distinction. I suspect that he and I share the view that that is potentially dangerous. Clearly, people from the very large group of countries that form the European economic area have some things in common, but not other things. In the past, we have seen the police act in certain ways that successive Governments have stopped, because they did not want the police to conduct racial profiling or ethnic profiling in the pursuit of their activities. What I am trying to do is stop immigration officers going down the same route, which is what he objects to. I suspect that he and I want to achieve the same thing, so I invite him to support the new clause.
9.45 am
Chris Mole: I am struggling to understand how, in a Europe containing citizens of all racial profiles, the measure could lead to a racial profiling requirement on immigration officers.
Damian Green: In the Liberty document, Liberty expresses the reasonable concern that it will be predominantly ethnic minorities who are required to satisfy immigration officers of their status. That seems very likely. It is what happened in the past when the police were perhaps less sensitive than they should be. That has been changed, which is a good thing.
Kitty Ussher: What does the hon. Gentleman say to British Muslims in my constituency who would like ID cards to prove that they are here in a valid way and are British?
Damian Green: Of course they should be regarded as valid British citizens. It is up to any of us to carry identity documents voluntarily, but I suspect that it is the compulsory element that divides the hon. Lady and me. I have not heard a huge clamour from ethnic minority communities in any part of the country for compulsory identity cards.
David T.C. Davies (Monmouth) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that we should be able to tell British Muslims that of course they are British, and they should not need ID cards to prove it? If they feel that they need to carry one, they can already carry a driving licence.
To return to a previous point, does my hon. Friend agree that it would be totally unacceptable for black and Asian people to be pulled over randomly and asked difficult questions by over-zealous immigration officers simply because of the colour of their skin? That is a worry that we share.
Damian Green: My hon. Friend is exactly right. That is precisely my point, and it is noteworthy that Labour Members are so sensitive about it. I suspect that it reveals the underlying unease on the Government Benches about the powers that the Government are taking. They are right to be uneasy, because the measures could lead to a situation that none of us want, in which the dangers he mentions become quite common.
Mr. Byrne: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I rise to be helpful. Like me, he will know that under race relations legislation, it is not lawful for either a police officer or an immigration officer to examine somebody on the basis of their colour. We have heard a great deal during our debates about the Committee’s high regard for the professionalism of the immigration service. Will he make it clear, unless he can produce evidence to the contrary, that he does not support the view that immigration officers are targeting people of a different colour for immigration operations?
Damian Green: There is clearly no evidence of it, but I cited a report involving what must have been quite a successful operation, if it apprehended 717 failed asylum seekers, whom I assume the Minister would want to identify and do something with. That involved interviewing thousands of people. If the Bill will introduce a period in which compulsory biometric documents are forced upon a group of people in our country who come from other countries—whether they are Muslims in Burnley, Afro-Caribbeans in London or members of the large Nepalese community in my constituency—but are not carried by people who were born in this country, that will be the difference. The defining characteristic of those who will be forced by the Government to carry such documents is that they are foreign or were born abroad. If he does not think that that is relevant, he is wrong.
Mr. Byrne: The hon. Gentleman slipped slightly with his language. He said that we were proposing to force people to carry the documents. There is no such intention or proposal in the Bill.
Damian Green: Exactly. That is what new clause 1 would make clear. The Minister has just repeated that what is in the new clause is indeed his intention, which is why I invite him to accept it.
Kitty Ussher: Is not the logical extension of thehon. Gentleman’s argument—we do not want to differentiate people born abroad from people born here—that everybody should be forced to have ID cards?
Damian Green: That is the modern, 21st century version of the classic “equality of misery” argument that we have heard from the Labour Benches through the decades—that if we are to do something unpleasant to some people we should do it to everyone because then it is fair. I have always thought that that is a rotten argument and a rotten basis for a political philosophy. It would be equally bad if it was used to foist compulsory documents on people.
Mr. Jackson: I reassure my hon. Friend that, contrary to the impression that he might have got from the hon. Member for Burnley, my 8,000 Muslim constituents are not clamouring to have an ID card or a biometric immigration registration card. I believe that my hon. Friend will agree that that has the potential to exacerbate a breakdown in community cohesion. In cosmopolitan areas with a large mix of ethnic and religious groups, there is inevitably a mix of British citizens and people from outside the European economic area. Incrementally, an imperative will come about and the document will be demanded of certain racial groups. As a result we will have de facto racial profiling, causing community tensions and problems. That may not be the Government’s intention, but it will unfortunately be the result.
Damian Green: My hon. Friend makes a powerful point, not least because I am sure that that is not the intention of the Government or anyone on the Government Back Benches. The most coherent expression of the problem came from the Secretary of State for Defence when he was Minister with responsibility for immigration. He said that officials could
“legitimately question people to determine their immigration status where there is reasonable suspicion that a person is an immigration offender.”—[Official Report, 13 September 2004; Vol. 424, c. 1406W.]
So the task that we are giving immigration officers is to decide whether they have a reasonable suspicion that someone is an immigration offender. When they know that people can prove that they are not immigration offenders by using the document in question, it is clearly at least possible that they will be inclined to ask people for the document and that there will therefore be a de facto quasi-compulsion on people to carry it.
Paul Rowen: I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman recalls the evidence given by Professor Ross Anderson, who talked about the Baader-Meinhof gang and the German experience of requiring the use of ID cards. He said that it had had no success whatever in tackling that gang.
Damian Green: There are two separate good points there. The first is that Professor Anderson, as a foreigner in Germany in the 1970s, got used to carrying his documents because it was easy. There was therefore what I believe he described as “feature creep”, which is one of the problems of the proposal. The second good point was that it does not work. The foundations on which the Minister is building the edifice of a safer society, through the compulsory biometric document that the hon. Member for Burnley wants us all to carry, do not make us safer.
John Hemming: Perhaps the hon. Member for Burnley has let the cat out of the bag. Feature creep is going on, as it is clear that the Bill will empower an immigration officer, for instance, to stand with an iris scanner on the Alum Rock road in the Minister’s constituency and require people to go through iris scanning to confirm their immigration status.
Damian Green: That is my fear, and I am sure that the Minister does not want that to happen.
Kitty Ussher rose—
Damian Green: I suspect that the hon. Lady does not want it to happen either, but perhaps she will make that clear.
Kitty Ussher: I was hoping not to intervene again, but I feel compelled to. I was simply pointing out the illogicality of the Conservative position in being in favour of biometric documentation for immigration purposes—as the hon. Gentleman has said, he did not vote against the Bill on Second Reading—but saying that subsequent differentiation of people according to whether they were born here or abroad would be a problem. I simply wanted to ask whether it does not logically follow from that that everyone should have ID cards. I was not saying that that is in the Bill, or even expressing my own view. I was simply trying to expose the illogicality of his position.
Damian Green: Since, as the Minister has said, we are pragmatically and in principle against compulsory ID cards, because we think that they will be both expensive and useless, I fail to see the illogicality. We are not against biometric visas, but that is precisely why we have tabled the amendments. That is where the hon. Lady’s argument falls down. The purpose of new clause 1, first of all, is to make it clear in the Bill that no one should be expected to carry the documents. That will send a powerful signal to the forces of law and order, whether those are police or immigration officers, that they should not expect people to carry particular documents to prove their identity, and in particular that they should not ask particular groups in society to carry them.
The other amendments, tabled by me and by the hon. Member for Rochdale, would clarify and restrict the other information that could be included, so that the system does not become a catch-all for the collection, keeping and dissemination of huge amounts of personal data. We are trying to restrict the documents so that they can do something useful. It will be extremely damaging if they become so widespread that they do more harm than good. The amendments and new clause are attempts to improve the Bill so that it does what we all want it to do, which is to make our borders more secure. As it stands it allows Governments to collect information and take to themselves powers that are illegitimate in principle and will make things worse in general. In particular they might make life more difficult for minority communities. I cannot believe that Labour Members want that to happen.
John Hemming: There are two key aspects of the group of amendments. The point about new clause 1 has been dealt with at length and it is clear that the provisions should be in the Bill in some form. Otherwise, the Government’s clear intention is some form of feature creep—starting with a reasonable attempt to secure borders and ensure that we can control processes and identify people’s immigration status on the basis of reliable information, and then having it move in a very dangerous direction so that people all over the country must randomly show papers.
The second aspect is constraints on the non-biometric information that is included. That could be achieved by regulations. Secondary legislation that specified the non-biometric information that could be collected under clause 5(5) would satisfy the requirements of parliamentary accountability and control. We should then be comfortable about withdrawing our amendment. The point about new clause 1 is an important matter of principle. We do not want feature creep.
Mr. Byrne: This has been a helpful debate and I shall try to throw a little light on it. I was particularly interested in the remarks of the hon. Member for Ashford. I think that they will be of interest to the right hon. Members for Witney and for Haltemprice and Howden. A couple of things that may be of particular interest are, first, the fact that the hon. Gentleman is in favour of biometric visas when his right hon. Friend the Member for Witney has decided to shut the system down, and, secondly, the fact that he said, I think, that he is opposed to ID cards in principle, whereas his right hon. Friend said that it was simply a matter of practicality.
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I want to deal with two issues at the heart of the amendments, and I should say at the outset that I think I am in sympathy with many of the ambitions suggested in the amendments. The first issue is that the information in the amendment is too prescriptive. I understand that it is, to a degree, a probing amendment and that part of the purpose in tabling it is to get more information from the Government about the kind of information that we would seek to register.
The point to tease out is that when we are talking about a biometric document that is an immigration document, there is a great deal of information, which is not set out in this amendment, that it is important to capture. Some of that information would fall under the definition of sensitive personal information set out in the Data Protection Act.
For example, if somebody is applying for any kind of immigration document, the details that they would need to provide would include not only the holder’s name but nationality, gender, date and place of birth, certain biometric information and a reference number. Crucially, they would also include conditions of their leave and some information germane to why that type of leave has been granted.
I can reassure the Committee that there is no ambition to capture information that is not currently captured during the immigration process. Part of the reason for seeking the flexibility to set out many of these categories of information in regulations rather than in primary legislation is that the immigration system may change. There might be information that it is important to capture in the future that is different from that which is currently captured.
The other point is that there are proposals across the European Union to introduce biometric resident permits. Our ambition is that the biometric immigration document satisfies the conditions of that forthcoming regulation. Those regulations are not yet set. When they are, we would not want to subject the House to another Bill to get the documentation straight. That is part of the reason why we think it may be more appropriate—subject to appropriate parliamentary scrutiny, which has to be part of the process—to allow some flexibility. That is why we propose the regulation-making power.
Damian Green: The Minister leaves me very uneasy. He has given one example of one area that is covered by section 2 of the Data Protection Act, which is the sexuality of an individual, and has confirmed that the Government will continue to collect, store and potentially disseminate such information. However, they could easily exclude some of the other areas of section 2. Are they proposing to collect details of racial and ethnic origin, political opinions, religious beliefs, whether a person is a member of a trade union and their physical or mental health condition? Would the Minister care to exclude any of those, or is he giving himself the power to collect all that information at some stage?
Mr. Byrne: I would give the Committee the reassurance that there is no ambition to extend the scope of the information that we currently collect as part of the immigration system. I am sure that many of my comrades in the wider labour movement would be interested in our finding out whether people were members of trade unions, for example, to help them in their recruitment work, but no, I am afraid that weare not seeking that power. We think that the parliamentary process is important and that is why we are proposing the affirmative resolution procedure for the regulations that we are proposing under the Bill.
Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere) (Con): Having served on these Committees for quite some time, I have often heard expressions such as “having no ambition” or “having no plans”. I wonder whether the Minister would take things a little bit further and say that the Government “do not wish to” or, better still, “will not”.
Mr. Byrne: I could say that, but as the hon. Member for Hertsmere knows, being as au fait as I am with the constitution, rapidly changing as it is, I could not bind my successors, either in this Government or another.
It is important for the Committee to recognise that different categories of information are required for different kinds of immigration status. For example, sometimes people apply for leave on the grounds of private medical treatment, and they sometimes do so on the grounds that they are a minister of religion. I give the reassurance that, apart from the biometric information, there is no ambition to extend the scope of the information that we currently collect as part of operating a robust and effective immigration system.
John Hemming: I think that the Minister isbeing slightly disingenuous—if that is not an unparliamentary word—in saying that he is unable to bind subsequent Governments. The Bill can bind subsequent Governments, and he can agree that things go into the Bill to bind subsequent Governments. Essentially, what we are looking for is a constraint through statutory instrument or primary legislation on what additional—other than biometric—information can be held. Similarly, we are looking for a constraint on the face of the Bill on the way in which the system can be used, along the lines of new clause 1. I accept that the Minister personally cannot bind other Governments, but by agreeing that things go in theBill, he can have the effect of binding subsequent Governments.
Mr. Byrne: I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s acknowledgment of the limits on my power. However, the Government believe that this is best dealt with in regulations—which go through the affirmative resolution procedure, including in the other place and the Floor of the House—because the kind of immigration information that we collect might have to change, as with my example of a minister of religion. In future, if we were to introduce different kinds of immigration categories, whether for a minister of religion or for leave granted on the basis of private medical treatment, it might be important to capture different kinds of information, relevant to the kind of leave being granted. If a different category of leave was introduced, it would be nonsense to have to take another piece of primary legislation all the way through the House. I do not think that anyone would thank us for that.
John Hemming: To clarify, it would be feasible to specify in the Bill that the regulations should specify which non-biometric information was held. That would make us feel comfortable; we would be willing to withdraw our amendments on that basis. It is also possible to make changes through the regulatory reform procedure.
Mr. Byrne: The hon. Gentleman is being utterly reasonable. The regulations and immigration rules will set out the information that is required.
John Hemming: If the Bill requires the regulations to specify what the non-biometric details are, then future Governments are constrained by statute; otherwise, the regulations could say that non-biometric information will be held as the Minister sees fit, which is not a constraint.
Mr. Byrne: My understanding of the legislation proposed is that it does say that the information that we are requesting must be set out in the regulations—clarification will arrive from left field in a moment, to help the hon. Gentleman and me.
I believe that there is a strong argument for not setting out on the face of the Bill precisely which categories of information must be collected. There is a strong argument for doing that in regulations. I think it is important that those regulations go through the affirmative resolution procedure. Of course, the Government are subject to legislation that is already in place. For example, the Data Protection Act 1998 imposes restrictions on the way in which information is processed. The hon. Member for Ashford said in an aside that he was concerned that we might collect information and share it freely. That is impossible under the Data Protection Act, and the Bill also provides for restrictions on the kind of information that we collect and the uses to which we can put it.
John Hemming: I was hoping that the piece of paper that the Minister has just received might provide some indication as to how the Bill requires the regulations to specify those items of non-biometric information that can be held. If the Bill does not require the regulations to specify the items, then the regulations may specify them, but they may not. The point about primary legislation is to bind subsequent Governments, so again I ask the Minister to consider that point.
Mr. Byrne: Again, the hon. Gentleman is being utterly reasonable. The wording of the Bill is that items “may” be set out in the regulations. The intention is that they should be, so if we have opportunities to tighten that wording further in order to put my intention beyond doubt, we will consider them.
I want to move on to new clause 1, because it concerns an important matter for debate. I remind the Committee that race relations legislation, training and the professionalism of immigration officers all point in one direction: people cannot stop and search on the basis of the colour of somebody’s skin; they have to have a reasonable basis for questioning, and remedies are available if there is an abuse of that power. I was very clear on Second Reading, in response to a point that was well made by my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard), that there is absolutely no intention to give police or immigration officers additional powers to stop a person whom they suspect of being a foreign national and require him to submit to a biometric verification check. It should not be possible for an immigration officer to draw an inference that somebody is a foreign national if he does not produce a card. That would not be a reasonable thing to do.
The hon. Member for Monmouth will know better than I that the powers of the police to stop and search a person are based on a reasonable suspicion that the person is carrying stolen or prohibited articles or relate to intelligence-led policing—for instance, if violence is anticipated in a particular area. The exercise of stop-and-search powers must be based on accurate and current intelligence or the behaviour of the person, or the person must answer a specific description relating to an offence.
David T.C. Davies: I hesitate to beg to differ with the Minister, but surely he is referring to stop-and-search powers under section 1 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. Stop-and-search powers under section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000, and those under the public order legislation that is used during football matches, are much wider. In particular, the terrorism legislation allows the police to randomly stop and search anybody. The public order legislation is usually operated on a 24-hour basis and it, too, allows the police to stop, question and search people without having any reasonable grounds for doing so.
Will the powers that the Minister envisages giving to immigration officers be along the lines of those in section 1 of PACE or more like those in the terrorism and public order legislation that I have mentioned?
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Mr. Byrne: The hon. Gentleman will have to forgive me, but I do not know the contents of each sectionof PACE. However, I shall be happy to provide clarification. I was referring not to any particular section of PACE, but to the generality of the guidance that it contains. That is why I mentioned the power of stop and search when violence is anticipated in a particular area.
The intention and the ambition of the Government in this Bill are clear. There are already appropriate protections in place against stop-and-search which, we believe, stop immigration officers from drawing adverse inferences if somebody is unable to produce a card. We should consider still further putting that beyond all reasonable doubt, and I will reflect on this morning’s debate.
Kerry McCarthy (Bristol, East) (Lab): Will the Minister confirm my belief that the Home Office has a duty to carry out a race equality impact assessment? It is required to publish that in the course of the Bill’s passage. When is that likely to be, and will it will take into account some points made just now in the debate?
Mr. Byrne: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention, and will seek to clarify precisely when that document will be available. The thrust of her remarks is absolutely right; there are serious, important and necessary responsibilities on the Home Office and its agencies to operate in accordance with the Race Relations Act 1976, which extend to the activities of officers employed by the immigration service.
I will reflect on our debate today to think about whether the Government should be bringing forward ideas, or rather amendments and clarifications, that put this question beyond all reasonable doubt. I will give way before I conclude.
Damian Green: I am grateful that the Minister has said that he will take this subject away to think about it, but I am now slightly puzzled. He makes the point that various Acts—notably the Race Relations Act—stop racial profiling by police, immigration officers, or whoever. Yet I am sure that the Minister will be aware of the case that I was quoting, which was quite a common operation on public transport with thousands of people interviewed and hundreds apparently caught breaking the law. How, in practice, do immigration officers operate such action? Are they simply doing everyone on a particular bus or train, or in a particular area—near a particular place of work, perhaps?
Mr. Byrne: If it is helpful to the hon. Member, I will happily furnish the extensive guidance on this Bill. However, the key points for this debate are twofold.
First, the Race Relations Act stops immigration officers targeting people for interview, or indeed anything else, on an irrational basis such as the colour of their skin. Secondly, if a person is not required to carry a card, as they are not by this Bill or by any other legislation currently on the books, it is therefore not reasonable to say that they are an immigration offender because they are not carrying one. I will happily reflect, based on our debate on new clause 1, on whether we need to put the question beyond all shadow of a doubt.
In summary, the reassurances with which I want to provide the Committee are these. It is an error to stipulate in the legislation the specifications of the data that we collect; it is important that we have that flexibility in regulations—subject to parliamentary affirmative procedure—to collect information that is relevant and germane to the kind of leave that we are granting people under the immigration laws. A secondary reassurance is that the Data Protection Act imposes restrictions on how that information is processed and shared; that must be lawful and fair, and it must be stored securely. Finally, I will reflect on our debate on new clause 1, as I said, to see if we should provide further reassurances on the question of stop-and-search and put it beyond all reasonable doubt.
Paul Rowen: We have had a good debate this morning, and received quite helpful clarification from the Minister. By agreeing to tighten up the Bill to ensure that there is an affirmative resolution on the information that will be required, he has been very helpful.
Our purpose all along has been to ensure that the Bill achieves its purpose, and that there is no feature creep. The evidence given by Professor Ross Anderson illustrates some of the concerns that UK universities have, in his case, about the effect of some of this legislation in discouraging people from coming to this country. We have only to look at what is happening in America. I think that Disney has been reported to have had urgent considerations owing to the drop in the number of visitors to Disneyland in Florida resulting from the operation of America’s border controls. We do not want to discourage people from coming here for legitimate reasons. [Laughter.] Well, hon. Members might not think that Disney is important, but it has economic concerns. We must consider what could happen here.
The Conservative party and Liberal Democrats are firmly of the view that ID cards will not stop terrorism and do not think that requiring a biometric visa to be carried is legitimate or fair. I am sure that the hon. Member for Ashford will confirm this: we would like to press this to a vote. If it is lost, hopefully the Minister will return to us at a later stage with clarification to put that beyond all reasonable doubt.
Damian Green: I should like to amplify one point that the hon. Member for Rochdale just made. ID cards will not make us safer from terrorism. Of course, he is right: our parties agree. To be fair, after the July bombings, the previous Home Secretary pointed out that they would not have been prevented by ID cards. That was a fair point at a very difficult time. He was right to make it. I think, therefore, that combating terrorism must be paramount in the minds of Home Office Ministers. It is important to take that away from our debates on unemployment and border controls.
Mr. Byrne: I hope that the hon. Gentleman will acknowledge as well that the current Home Secretary has been very clear about the fact that he sees the role of identity technology and systems as helping disrupt organised crime and terrorism. Like me, the hon. Gentleman will have heard in debates and in the media reports of, for example, the al-Qaeda training manual, which encouraged its commanders to multiply as many identities as possible in order to allow them to defraud the banking system. Those multiple identities can often help perpetrate the kind of fraud that finances some terrorist operations. The point is about disruption, not ending terrorism.
Damian Green: I am grateful to the Minister. Indeed, I was following him. Of course, one suspects regrettably that al-Qaeda and other terrorist organisations would find new methods and clearly disrupting them in that is important. However, I suspect that we are entering a fascinating debate that does not have much to do with the amendments and new clause before us.
The Minister was reasonably generous in his response and I hope that he recognises the importance of the underlying issues of our amendments.
It being twenty-five minutes past Ten o’clock, The Chairman adjourned the Committee without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.
Adjourned till this day at half-past Two o’clock.

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