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Lord Avebury moved Amendment No. 64A:

The noble Lord said: Clause 40 deals with contracting-out searches and detention for up to three hours at a port of entry, and the use of reasonable force for those purposes. These powers are to be applied to passengers arriving in the United Kingdom, again under Schedule 2 of the 1971 Act—I comment in passing that we hope that this will be an opportunity to make that schedule an exercise in consolidation so that we do not have to look in half a dozen different places—or at the ports of entry on the coasts of Europe where there are juxtaposed controls, as was explained by Andy Burnham in Standing Committee E, where it may be cheaper to use contractors, although he did not quite put it like that.

We have concerns about handing these powers of detention to private contractors in any circumstances but particularly where they are going to be operating abroad, where it will be difficult for Parliament, the media and the public to monitor their conduct. Clause 41 provides for the appointment of someone called the monitor to look at the exercise of powers by private contractors, but that removes the direct responsibility from the Secretary of State, as with the private contractors who are already engaged in running prisons, immigration detention centres and detainee escorting. As we all know, it is far more difficult for Parliament to examine misconduct or maladministration in regard to these contracted-out functions than it was when they were operated directly by the Home Office or its own subsidiaries, as it were. We believe that contracting out of these functions is a matter that should receive careful consideration by this Committee.

At the moment detainee custody officers authorised under Section 154 of the 1999 Act have no power to detain but merely to look after a person who has been detained by an immigration officer. They have to be individually authorised by the Secretary of State, who issues a certificate that they are competent and fit and proper persons and that they have received training which the Secretary of State considers appropriate, whereas under these proposals it would be possible to authorise all the employees of a particular company
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without regard to their individual suitability or the level of their training. How can the Secretary of State think that all the members of such a group are fit and proper persons if there is no requirement to certify them individually? Immigration officers have to conform to the PACE code of practice under Section 145 of the 1999 Act when arresting, questioning, searching or taking fingerprints from a person and when collecting physical data about the person. They must observe such provisions of the PACE code as may be specified.

Paradoxically, it appears that there is no code at all applying to detentions under Clause 40(7)(c), as Mr McNulty said in reply to my honourable friend the Member for Oxford West and Abingdon in Standing Committee, but they still seem to be bound by PACE under Clause 40(7)(a) when they search the person, or when they question him to establish whether an item that they wish to retain following the search is subject to legal privilege under Clause 40(8). If these powers are now to be exercised by private contractors, it is even more important for us to establish under what code of practice they are supposed to operate. If it is not PACE, perhaps the noble Baroness can tell us what alternative code of practice is to be specified, because I do not see any mention of it in the Bill.

As the Minister knows—I am sure that other Members of the Committee will comment on this point—the Refugee Children's Consortium is particularly anxious about the possible risks to children inherent in these proposals. Contractors' staff, who are not trained to the same standards as immigration officers and who may have no experience of working with children, are likely to be given power to detain and search children, working to who knows what code of conduct, outside our jurisdiction and under the intermittent supervision of a monitor whose terms of reference will be set out in secondary legislation that we have yet to see. We emphatically challenge the notion that private contractors should be allowed to detain anyone for three hours, but especially a child. Our Amendments Nos. 64A and 64B would provide that only police officers or officers of the Revenue and Customs have these powers. Amendment No. 64C would do the same for detention.

Our Amendment No. 65 to Clause 41 would remove the power of the Secretary of State to give blanket authorisation to whole classes of persons to detain and search without ascertaining the individual suitability or competence of its members—a good way of ensuring that some future Secretary of State will have to answer for bad apples, as Ms Kelly is now having to do in another context.

The Government want to save money by delivering a low-waged, inadequately trained, poorly supervised service, and not for the first time I wish that the Committee had some tangible means of stopping them going down that route. The creeping privatisation of
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services involving the deprivation of people's liberty is taking a step too far, and this is the point at which it ought to be stopped. I beg to move.

Baroness Turner of Camden: I have been approached to speak on this group of amendments by the Public and Commercial Services Union, which represents immigration officers. The union tells me that the introduction of the Bill, in particular Clauses 40 and 41, would enable private contractors to carry out searches of any vehicles, including ships and aircraft, currently searched by UKIS and Customs staff. Contractors currently operate alongside the union's members at the berth-side in Calais but I am told that they do not have the power to examine the inside of a vehicle or to search on their own.

Most vehicle searching for illegal people takes place in the freight lanes and is conducted solely by UKIS staff. PCS has asked management to give assurances that there will be no extension of contractors into the freight lanes once the Bill has been passed. However, management will not give any assurances and this concerns the union as it believes that the UK Immigration Service is planning to extend the use of contractors. If contractors are extended into the freight lanes, this could impact on the security of members' jobs.

The union points to the success and professionalism of the staff and says that it has grave concerns that this sensitive area of public service could not operate effectively without properly trained professional civil servants. It says that contractors currently operating are paid less than its UKIS members—a point already made by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. They also have no access to a pension scheme or benefits and no career progression. It does not seem a good idea for an important public service of this kind to be operated by people who do not have the commitment to the profession that existing staff have. The legislation would put private contractors on a par with properly trained and accountable police, immigration and customs officers. The union tells me that its members are also security checked prior to starting work and are unsure what level of vetting current contractors have been put through for them to operate alongside immigration officers. At a time of heightened security, that should give everyone some concern.

I hope that my noble friend will be prepared to consider those views, which are in line with those already voiced by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. The people who operate the service at present have grave concerns about what is proposed in the Bill and those concerns should be seriously considered.

The Earl of Listowel: I rise to oppose the questions that Clauses 40 and 41 stand part of the Bill. Clause 40, as the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, has said, gives significant powers to authorised persons to examine premises and vehicles, and to detain and perform limited body searches. Clause 41, among other things, introduces a criminal offence when an individual seeks to abscond. I should make clear that that does not
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apply to children in such cases. I share the concerns of the Refugee Children's Consortium and I am pleased that the Minister is answering this debate, due to her experience of the Children Act and the DfES.

We are especially concerned about the vulnerability of children found in lorries while trying to immigrate to this country. In Standing Committee in the other place, Gwyn Prosser said:

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Fookes): I must suspend the Committee in light of a Division in the Chamber. It is customary to give 10 minutes. I am prepared to be a little flexible if people have difficulty in voting and getting back.

[The Sitting was suspended for a Division in the House from 5.42 to 6 pm.]

The Earl of Listowel: I shall speak to my question whether Clauses 40 and 41 should stand part of the Bill. I share the concerns of the Refugee Children's Consortium on this matter.

The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, has described the effect of Clause 40 and the significant powers of these authorities. Clause 41, among other things, includes a new criminal offence punishable by about six months in custody for seeking to escape from detention when being examined by the authorised officer.

I am concerned about the vulnerability of children in certain circumstances; for instance, when they arrive in a lorry at Calais or Dover. In the debate in Standing Committee in the other place, Gwyn Prosser said:

It is crucial that officers discovering such children and families act sensitively. My concern therefore is that whatever we do we ensure that officers are appropriately trained and equipped.

The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, and others have expressed concern about private contractors. My proposal extends concerns to include customs officers and police officers as well as immigration officers—so moving beyond immigration officers. This is because it takes such a lot of effort to ensure that immigration officers have adequate training—for instance, an adequate understanding of child protection—to work sensitively in these environments. I am concerned, first, that we need to establish this fundamental capacity, for instance, in child protection, and adequate Criminal Records Bureau checks before one starts introducing different professions into this role.

In considering safeguards for children and the history of this area, one looks at staff in children's homes. In 1998, 70 per cent to 80 per cent of staff in children's homes had no relevant qualification to work with children. Most children in custody are in young offender institutions; that is to say, they are cared for and managed by prison officers. Yet it was only last
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year that for the first time there was specialist training for prison officers—the Juvenile Awareness Staff Programme, developed with the Trust for the Study of Adolescence—to equip prison officers to work sensitively with these vulnerable children.

We have a real problem in this country in properly equipping professionals to work sensitively with vulnerable children. I think again of The second joint Chief Inspectors' Report on Arrangements to Safeguard Children, published in the summer of last year. It was particularly concerned about Yarl's Wood removal centre and the very inadequate safeguards for children in that setting. I visited Yarl's Wood in October of last year and it appeared to me that significant steps had been taken in the right direction in managing those vulnerable children. I recall seeing a new family with young children arrive and passing the barred doorway to enter the Yarl's Wood centre. A mother said to me that her child had said to her, "What have I done wrong? Why am I being put in prison? What is my offence?". One has to work so sensitively in these areas. We have a poor record in ensuring that people working directly with vulnerable children and families are properly equipped.

There must be concerns, particularly when one talks about recruiting private contractors, who, for instance, may be working on the Continent, that they are up to the right standards. I ask for reassurance from the Minister on that particular matter—that at least we know that they are properly trained in child protection and that there are proper Criminal Records Bureau checks on officers working in this area. I look forward to the Minister's response.

I just add that in the Children's Act 2004 the Government resisted the inclusion of immigration authorities in the Section 11 arrangements to safeguard children. So there is all the more reason why we should seek at this stage to get absolute assurance that we can be confident that officers working directly with these vulnerable children and families are properly trained to do so.

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