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Public Bill Committee Debates

Draft Immigration (Registration Card) Order 2008

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman: Mr. Mike Weir
Armstrong, Hilary (North-West Durham) (Lab)
Battle, John (Leeds, West) (Lab)
Betts, Mr. Clive (Sheffield, Attercliffe) (Lab)
Blunkett, Mr. David (Sheffield, Brightside) (Lab)
Blunt, Mr. Crispin (Reigate) (Con)
Brake, Tom (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD)
Byrne, Mr. Liam (Minister for Borders and Immigration)
Caborn, Mr. Richard (Sheffield, Central) (Lab)
Campbell, Mr. Alan (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury)
Cash, Mr. William (Stone) (Con)
Clarke, Mr. Kenneth (Rushcliffe) (Con)
Curry, Mr. David (Skipton and Ripon) (Con)
Green, Damian (Ashford) (Con)
Ladyman, Dr. Stephen (South Thanet) (Lab)
Lucas, Ian (Wrexham) (Lab)
Spellar, Mr. John (Warley) (Lab)
Willott, Jenny (Cardiff, Central) (LD)
Eliot Wilson, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee

Second Delegated Legislation Committee

Tuesday 1 April 2008

[Mr. Mike Weir in the Chair]

Draft Immigration (Registration Card) Order 2008

4.30 pm
The Minister for Borders and Immigration (Mr. Liam Byrne): I beg to move,
That the Committee has considered the draft Immigration (Registration Card) Order 2008.
I do not wish to detain the Committee for long. The order is a simple instrument. It is technical, and it is merely a bridging matter. It amends section 26A of the Immigration Act 1971, which the Committee will know from the explanatory memorandum redefines the registration card to extend its definition to cover identity documents that are used by claimants of support under section 4 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999.
As the Committee will be aware, section 4 is available to failed asylum seekers for whom there is a temporary barrier to removal to stop them lapsing into destitution. Many claimants will have an identity document called an asylum registration card—an ARC. Indeed, about 11,000 people and their dependants on section 4 support will probably have such a card and about 700 will not. I intend to tighten the system during the next few months so that everyone who is claiming section 4 support has such an identity document. They are more secure items and thus a better safeguard against fraud. As we tighten the system, it is important that existing and new card holders face criminal penalties if they abuse the process. In time, the cards will be replaced by identity cards for foreign nationals which will be provided under the United Kingdom Borders Act 2007 but, in the meantime, it is important that anyone who abuses the cards faces criminal offence penalties. I commend the instrument to the Committee.
4.32 pm
Damian Green (Ashford) (Con): The Minister said that he does not wish to detain us for long. Observing the heavy artillery behind him, it almost tempts me to say the same.
I agree that the matter is mainly technical. The Minister will accept that surrounding registration cards is the sensitive issue of destitution, because those whose asylum claim has failed may be threatened with it. I am sure he would agree that, despite the Government being criticised for using destitution as a tool of public policy, that is not his intention, and nor do I accuse him of that. Clearly, the technicalities of the system are important. If they go wrong, people may well find themselves facing destitution and could therefore be tempted to go into criminal activities and so on simply to survive. However, I have no objection in principle to people being properly registered. They should be able to demonstrate who they say they are and therefore be entitled to appropriate benefits.
I hope that the Minister can answer a few questions on the instrument. He said that he thought there were about 700 eligible people. Is that the number of extra cards he expects to hand out? How many of those people need the cards because their claims predate their introduction? That information will be illuminating, because it will illustrate the long delays that still obtain in the asylum system, despite all the claims about it being changed and improved over the past couple of years.
Will the registration card change in any way? Is there going to be a new way of establishing identity? Will there be biometrics on it, or anything like that? How many prosecutions have there been in connection with falsifying or amending the registration cards? It would help to know the scale of the potential criminality when assessing the success or otherwise of the registration card system. I hope that the Minister will be able to answer those few—I hope pertinent—questions. In principle, we have no objection to the change.
4.35 pm
Jenny Willott (Cardiff, Central) (LD): We also have no objections to the order, as it seems to be a technical amendment and it is sensible to bring all ARCs in line with the same regulations. However, I have a number of questions for the Minister. My first question leads on from the point made by the hon. Member for Ashford about the level of prosecutions. Can the Minister let us know how many prosecutions for fraud have taken place under the existing regulations and how many cases the Department estimates there will be under the new regulations? Although we are talking about only 700 new cards, presumably the regulation will relate to everyone who has an ARC that has been issued for section 95 support or section 4 support, and presumably some people already have cards that have been issued while they are on section 4 support, so the number of people potentially affected will be greater than 700. Despite the complex grammar of that sentence, I hope that it made sense to the Minister. I would be grateful if he could tell us the number of cases that the Department estimates there are at the moment, for existing ARCs and for those likely to be produced in the next few months, because the number of prosecutions and the number of cases that the Department estimates are probably quite different figures.
Finally, paragraph 4.4 of the explanatory notes refers to proposals to demand that failed asylum seekers who are receiving section 4 support produce their ARC on request at any time. The hon. Member for Ashford said that the people to whom we are referring are often destitute, poor, among the most marginalised in society, and living on vouchers and that they often—whether rightly or wrongly—feel persecuted. In the light of that, will the Minister say in what circumstances he expects them to have to produce the cards on request? If this gets too heavy-handed, it could be seen as another form of discrimination against an already vulnerable group. With those questions, we will support the order.
4.37 pm
My only ambition in laying this instrument before the Committee this afternoon is to provide a more secure means of checking failed asylum seekers’ identity when they are claiming support. Section 4 support is important. It prevents destitution for those who are encountering a temporary barrier to their going home. It is therefore important that, if people abuse that system, there is a sanction for doing so.
Question put and agreed to.
Committee rose at twenty minutes to Five o’clock.

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