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The Earl of Sandwich: We can always count on my noble friend Lord Listowel to bring us back to the reality when we are discussing these clauses. There is a widespread concern that the Part 8 powers of the 1999 Act are being extended. If you ask a member of the public they would be surprised to find plain clothes individuals in this role; why not recruit enough police or customs officers? Why is it necessary to give a private contractor the right not just to check a person but to detain a person for as long as three hours? That is my serious point.

I have a less serious point on behalf of the Constitution Committee about the language of the Bill. The noble Baroness will remember the letter written by the noble Lord, Lord Holme of Cheltenham, on behalf of the Constitution Committee on 13 December, where he says:

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The Minister replied in her letter later in December:

I rest my case with the Minister's answer. I cannot understand how legal officers could give the advice that the phrase "is satisfied that" is the same as "thinks that".

I have broken my rule not to mention the Constitution Committee again this week because the meeting of the committee is tomorrow. I leave it at that.

Lord Dholakia: I lend my support to the noble Earl, Lord Listowel. Those of us who listen carefully to him during proceedings in the House of Lords are aware of his great concern on issues affecting children. The noble Baroness piloted the Children Act, and I know of her concern about matters relating to children. I am deeply touched by the brief that has been provided by the Refugee Children's Consortium.

My noble friend Lord Avebury mentioned the present situation of the Education Minister and the publicity that has been generated in relation to the wrongful employment of staff. Despite the report and the investigation after the Soham murders, we still find that, despite all the action we take, such people are filtering through. What worries me is that here we delegate powers to other contractors. Traumatised people, who enter this country, many of them at a young age and who may be victims of rape—you do not know—are subjected to those sorts of searches. To an extent we have control over immigration officers, but do we genuinely have control over private contractors, particular when they perform such tasks not only in the United Kingdom but also at posts abroad? I think that we need to exercise great care to ensure that such people do not filter through within the system.

So, what are the safeguards? My advice to the Minister on this matter is that it would be wise at this stage to seek the opinion of the Children's Commissioner—to say to him that this is the problem and then to seek his advice. But we need the tightest possible safeguards regarding children and to ensure
 
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that we do not find ourselves in the same situation as the Education Department. So I intend to support the noble Earl.

Lord Hylton: I support the last three speakers. Can the Minister assure us that criminal record checks will be insisted on for employees of those "search" contractors with particular reference to sex offences? That is the key point.

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: I apologise to Hansard writers. This is the first time I have switched on this microphone during my appearances in Committee. When they last asked me for my notes and I had not any, I felt particularly embarrassed; hence I have now switched it on.

I wish to speak briefly to Amendment No. 64C. I am conscious that the noble Baroness is not a Home Office Minister, and I am not sure that she has ever had responsibility for Home Office affairs on past occasions. I recall the police Bill which we took through in 2002. It created a new kind of constable who did not have the full powers of a constable within the police but who was available to fill a whole series of duties which were regarded as being less than wholly appropriate to a constable. My strong recollection was that under that legislation the new kind of constable—and I apologise for not being able to give the Committee the person's correct title—was allowed to invite a person to be detained for half an hour, pending the arrival of a constable who was properly qualified to take them into, I will use the word "care", but in that sense I am using a euphemism.

What interests me in terms of the legislation in front of us today, is that what I recall from the police Bill as being half an hour has suddenly been extended to three hours. I would be interested to know the Minister's justification, on behalf of the Home Office, for why that change has occurred.

6.15 pm

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: I am grateful to noble Lords for setting out very clearly the issues behind these amendments. I begin from a position of agreeing with a huge amount of what has been said about what we are seeking to achieve. I say to my noble friend Lady Turner that we agree that we want to use our professionals properly and that we recognise the expertise in the Immigration Service; I agree that we should use resources effectively; and I agree that we should use contractors effectively and properly, make the necessary checks, ensure that they are properly trained and see them as individuals and not organisations. I completely agree with all of that. And I could not agree more with the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, about the issues on children. I hope to address those particular concerns, as I think the noble Earl would expect me to, in my remarks.

The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, raised the point about "thinks" and "is satisfied that". I do not mind at all his raising the issue once again, but I am afraid that, being a non-lawyer, I stand by the idea of using plain English. One issue as a Minister is looking at
 
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legislation and sometimes finding it difficult to interpret. When I say, "I think that" something is right, I am satisfied that it is right. So, for me, the two terms are interchangeable. I rely on parliamentary counsel to steer me in that. I do not think it is any discredit to try and find better language as time goes on. Sometimes the language we use in the Chamber to describe each other gets in the way of our debates when perhaps it is rather more flowery than it needs to be. However, that is for another occasion.

The Earl of Sandwich: Does that mean that we will no longer see the words "is satisfied that" in legislation under this Government?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: I hesitate to suggest that one would never see those words because there may be circumstances where they are appropriate. Equally, parliamentary counsel approach Bills in slightly different ways. That is their prerogative. They each have individual styles. I sometimes wonder whether we could guess who drafted which Bill from the style inherent in it. So I would hesitate to say that.

If we are able to use simple language in legislation, for my own part I think that that is a good thing and not a bad thing. The underlying question for the Constitution Committee is whether in so doing we lose something in terms of clarity of definition. That is not for me to say; it is for the Constitution Committee and for the lawyers to debate. I hope that the committee might have a conversation with parliamentary counsel about this. An appropriate debate to have might be why particular words are chosen. But I think that everybody, including all the members of the Constitutional Committee, would agree with the general principle of choosing a simple expression to explain what we are trying to do. I look forward to perhaps hearing more from the committee about how far it gets with that debate.

In a lot of the work we do across public services, it is important to consider the best use of the people we have got. Having been an education Minister, having dealt with children's issues, having worked in the health service and so on, I am very mindful of using professionals appropriately. But where tasks can appropriately be undertaken by others, we should enable that to happen. It is a better use of resources. It enables the highly-trained professionals to concentrate on what they do best.

To respond to my noble friend Lady Turner, I do not think that this provision suggests in any way that there is not a big and possibly increasing role for the professions. It is not meant in any way, shape or form to undermine the professionalism of the Immigration Service or those professionals working in it. It is meant to enhance their ability to do their work by bringing in those who can help in what are often, frankly, simple and mundane operations. So that is the basis upon which we start.

My noble friend asked me specifically whether there would be an extension of contractors into freight lines. I understand that the answer to that is "yes"; it is the basic contention of this clause. Since August 2005, the
 
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Immigration Service has been working with private contractors in the freight lanes at berth side in Calais with huge success. There are no immediate plans to use private contractors at the main control on the freight lanes where the work involves not only basic physical searches but also screening, debriefing and the application of civil penalty. Those particular skills would require warranted immigration officers. I immediately make the differentiation between the clear, mundane, straightforward things that can take place and situations where skills such as those of immigration officers are important and need to be utilised properly. As I say, that is an effective use of resources.

The second factor, apart from using resources effectively, is to make sure that we have the flexibility to be able to outsource where that is appropriate. I want to talk about the way in which we will do that. Contractors will be individually authorised by the Secretary of State. That authorisation will take place only where they are properly trained and are suitable for the purpose that we wish them to undertake. We will take this very seriously. Security checks will be undertaken, and training will include cultural awareness, race relations, the legal framework, interpersonal skills and care for vulnerable detainees. In addition, the powers granted by the Bill to private contractors are limited to the minimum that they require to carry out their task. I shall discuss children specifically and separately, in case the noble Earl thinks that I have forgotten them. But, of course, in talking about vulnerable people, I am including children in that generic term.

Authorisation can be revoked if standards are not met. Private contractors will work under the Immigration Service, which will be present at the ports where they operate. As the Committee has recognised, there is an independent monitor. While the work in France is carried out in France, the independent monitor will report back directly to the Secretary of State on those questions. He will monitor the exercise of the powers, inspect the exercise of the powers, investigate and report to the Secretary of State any allegation made in respect of an authorised private contractor. Private contractors will be supervised by the Immigration Service and authorised individually. Checks will be made and training must be given. As I have indicated, the training will include a range of issues that I think the Committee will consider important. All that will enable the Immigration Service to do the job that its professionals do best and to use people appropriately. The Committee will agree that there are lots of examples of where individuals who happen to work for private contractors—after all, they are ordinary people trying to do a good job—do so with great effect.

Members of the Committee were concerned about the three hour issue. I have never been a Home Office Minister, and am never likely to be one either, as the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, more than hinted. I cannot answer the point about the difference between the half hour and the three hour periods, but I will find the answer for the noble Lord. However, it is anticipated
 
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that there will rarely need to be anything like that period of time. It is anticipated that people will be detained for minutes only, but we need to give people the power to implement the provision. I presume that we have permitted a longer time scale to ensure that there is enough time to do that properly and effectively. That is important. However, I do not know why there are different time scales; I suspect that it may concern the simple movement of people.


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