With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments:
No. 39, in
clause 8, page 8, line 16, at end insert—
'(ia) section 8 (robbery),
(ib) section 9 (burglary),'.
No. 38, in
clause 8, page 8, line 19, after 'accounting),', insert—
'(iva) section 20 (suppression of documents),'.
Thank you, Mrs. Roe. I welcome you to the Committee this afternoon. In this debate we are considering the extension of immigration officers' powers of arrest. We have already had one canter round this course and the Committee will recall that on that occasion I made a general case about the precautions that should be in place if immigration officers are to have an enhanced power of arrest. The three areas that concerned me were: first, the application of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984; secondly, the training of immigration officers to perform their tasks; and thirdly, the lack of an independent complaints procedure. In her reply in the previous debate, the Minister satisfied me, at least partly, on some of those points. To take them in reverse order, she told me that an independent complaints procedure was under consideration, and that she would write to me with details. Obviously, she has not had the opportunity to do so yet, but I welcome that, and I look forward to hearing her proposals in due course.
On the training of officers, the Minister explained that only those who had received arrest training from the police, and had qualified as arrest-trained officers, could effect arrests. Although there is no statutory backing for that, that is apparently the procedure within the immigration and nationality directorate. I also welcome that, although I still have views about how immigration officers should be given a wider role, with concomitant training. I think that they should be sworn officers of the law, but that is a debate for another time in another place.
The Minister drew my attention to the immigration codes of practice directions, which were already in place, and which she said underpinned the behaviour of immigration officers when making arrests. I should like briefly to deal with that point. First, having considered the two directions that were issued in 2000, I note that they were predicated on specific powers of arrest under specific legislation. It is clear to me that new directions should be issued in order to cope with this legislation when it is enacted. Can she confirm that the Government intend to introduce new directions in order to cover the widened powers of arrest that she proposes?
Secondly, I should like to follow up the point raised very pertinently by the hon. Member for Perth (Annabelle Ewing) in the previous debate. I hope that this is not too narrow a point, but it concerns the relationship of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act to Scotland where, of course, the Act does not have jurisdiction. We had reassurance from the Minister during the Committee's third sitting on Tuesday morning when, in response to an intervention by the hon. Member for Perth, talking about the practice of asylum and immigration matters, she said:
''that does not mean that how we require immigration officers to behave when they are executing important powers is not safeguarded in relation to how they operate in Scotland. It clearly
is, and the codes of practice that I outlined to the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome make that perfectly clear.''—[Official Report, Standing Committee B, 13 January 2003; c. 109.]
I have looked at the codes of practice that were outlined to me to see how they made that ''perfectly clear''. In the first one, the Immigration (PACE Codes of Practice) Direction 2000, article 3 makes it ''perfectly clear''. It says:
''This Direction does not apply in Scotland.''
In the second one, the Immigration (PACE Codes of Practice No. 2 and Amendment) Direction 2000, article 4 says:
''This Direction does not apply in Scotland.''
I accept that immigration officers are undoubtedly working to the same protocols in their work when they apply these terms in Scotland. However, unless there is a separate statutory instrument, of which I am not aware or have been unable to find—if there is, I should be extremely grateful if the Minister could draw my attention to it—there does not seem to be an additional statutory basis of protection for those who are arrested in Scotland by immigration officers working under reserved legislation—the various asylum and immigration Acts of the UK Parliament. There may be a lacuna. It may simply be that I am unable to find the relevant Scottish legislation, in which case she can help me and show me what is involved. It is clear that new secondary legislation is needed for England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland to widen the scope of PACE to incorporate these new powers.
The amendment would remove those subsections that deal with theft, obtaining property by deception and the related offences under the Theft Act 1968. I understand the reasoning. I do not wholly oppose the view that immigration officers should have a widened power of arrest for matters that relate to immigration, including some that do not relate simply to providing false documentation at a point of entry. However, I am a little more at a loss as to why those other offences have been included as arrestable offences on the part of immigration officers rather than police officers.
There are two places where an immigration officer is likely to make an arrest, and one is at the port of entry when he first encounters the individual. Although it could happen, it is relatively unlikely that a person will have committed a crime of theft, obtaining property by deception, false accounting or handling goods between leaving a plane or ship and arriving at immigration control. If it were to happen, it is likely that it would be either directly associated with another offence against immigration law, in which case the power of arrest on the part of the immigration officer holds, or an ordinary crime such as knocking someone over the head and stealing their money. In the latter case, a constable would normally make the arrest and it would not be a matter for an immigration officer. I am not absolutely clear why the power is needed for these crimes at that point.
More worrying is the situation when the immigration officer will be called on to make the arrest in country. There is the prospect of considerable confusion between immigration officers, whose principal duties are not to apprehend people for such crimes, and police officers, whose principal duties are.
I do not want there to be that operational confusion. The hon. Member for Woking has yet to speak to his amendments, but they appear to make matters worse—the concept of robbery and burglary being investigated by immigration officers is slightly bizarre—but he will explain why he feels that that is appropriate.
It is not for me to do the Government's job, and I will probably do it wrong anyway. It is not difficult to think of people presenting themselves at the first point of entry to this county who might have committed theft or obtained property by deception. There are plenty of passport scams and plenty of people travelling on stolen passports who might have stolen an official stamp and who could be caught by this part of the clause. I appreciate that there will not be a great number, as the hon. Gentleman admitted, but nevertheless to remove all these provisions would open up quite a large hole in our bulwark against illegal immigrants. Subsection (1) says:
''Where an immigration officer . . . forms a reasonable suspicion that a person has committed or attempted to commit an offence''.
That is not restricted to asylum seekers.
I understand entirely, but I am slightly mystified by the reasoning. There are other offences that would be relevant in the circumstances he described, not least in the same clause of the Bill; offences under the Forgery and Counterfeiting Act 1981 and so on.
For these circumstances to obtain for a person entering the country, either they must have committed the crime previously when they visited the country, or they took the narrow window of opportunity of stealing something between getting off the plane and arriving at the immigration desk. If they committed such an offence, it would be appropriate for an immigration officer to call a police officer, but I do not believe that that is a common occurrence. With an in-country issue, it becomes even more confusing. If immigration officers are to be given a power of arrest for all crimes, fair enough, but why for these specific crimes, so that their powers seem to overlay the responsibilities of the police?
The Minister may have a particular instance in mind that she will explain to the Committee and thus satisfy me entirely that this is a sensible provision. I will still have concerns about the environment in which arrests are made by immigration officers, but she is on her way to satisfying my concerns in that respect. Expanding the powers of arrest of immigration officers incrementally in this way without adequate explanation is not something that the Committee should encourage. We should question carefully why an immigration officer should have that specific power.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman's last sentence, but does he agree that the window may not be as small as he believes? If the vessel or aeroplane has British flags, an arrestable offence may be committed aboard that craft.
The hon. Gentleman is right. I am not an expert in any sort of law, and certainly not in maritime law. I believe that there are already powers open to the master of a vessel to arrest a person or at least hold them on the basis of suspicion of such a crime. That matter is already dealt with and does not need the involvement of an immigration officer. It would be normal for the master or crew of a vessel to communicate ahead to the port of entry to request the support of the police authorities to deal with a person suspected of committing such a crime at the port of entry.
I think that that is the answer to the hon. Gentleman. If he was right, we should give the power of arrest for murder and manslaughter to immigration officers. It happens on ships on occasions—it normally requires a story by Agatha Christie to bring it to its denouement, but it is possible for it to happen.
An immigration officer does not need a statutory power of arrest for murder any more than the hon. Gentleman and I do; it is an arrestable offence. He and I can arrest a person whom we reasonably suspect of murder, be it on a British aeroplane or on Westminster bridge. We do not need an additional statutory power.
The hon. and learned Gentleman is absolutely right. Arguing ad absurdum, any citizen has the capacity to apprehend a person who they have grounds for believing is committing a crime, provided they can establish to the court that they had due reason for having done so.
We are here giving specific powers of arrest without warrant to immigration officers for criminal offences that are not directly related to immigration. That is the be-all and end-all of it. There has to be a reason for doing that, because they are not police officers—perhaps they should be, but they are not. We have police officers, not immigration officers, in this country to arrest people who commit crimes.
While that may be appropriate at a port of entry, about which I would need persuasion, it would not be appropriate somewhere in the country where that person happened to be and where the immigration officer happened to form a suspicion that someone may have committed an offence at some other place. Other than when a person is committing the crime at the point at which the interview is taking place, it would not be appropriate for an immigration officer, any more than an AA man, to have the statutory power to make an arrest.
If we want immigration officers to have the capacity to arrest of an omnicompetent constable, we should say so and not proceed in bits and pieces, adding criminal offences to the powers of arrest, without very clear arguments about why that should be the case. I will listen with interest to the hon. Member for Woking explaining why immigration officers should chase burglars and robbers.
These are essentially probing amendments. In answer to the hon. Gentleman, I suspect that the Minister gave immigration officers the powers in the clause in respect of these offences because she and her Department believe, probably rightly, that such offences are most closely or commonly associated with the duties of an immigration officer. That is probably the answer that the Minister would give the hon. Gentleman in relation to the matter of murder, for example, which would be a rarity.
I understand broadly why the Minister is moving in that direction, and I advance the usual caveats: first, that the most vigorous training is absolutely essential for anyone who is given the power of arrest under statute, because giving someone a power over another citizen or person is an extremely serious matter.
The purpose of the amendments is to enable me to ask the Minister to explain why there is a limit in relation to offences under paragraph (g). If she is right, and she feels that a power is necessary for immigration officers in respect of the offences that they most commonly come across in connection with their duties, there is an argument that robbery and burglary should be included. Immigration officers do not necessarily operate only at a port; for example, their normal duties of work may involve conducting interviews at a property elsewhere. The similarity between robbery, burglary and theft is striking, in that all three involve dishonest acquisition of property. The only difference is that robbery is merely theft accompanied by force or the threat of force, and burglary, in real language, is theft from someone else's premises.
The mention of premises makes me wonder whether, during the course of their investigations, it would be likely that immigration officers might form a view that an offence of, say, burglary—stealing something from a property—has been committed. I am probing the Minister gently; I am sure she will have some form of answer for me.
I want to make a wider point: the Minister will have to realise that if immigration officers use these powers extensively, they will have to be trained properly in how and when to arrest, and in associated matters. They will also have to be trained in court procedures, because in cases of crime, judges will find that the arresting officer, perhaps the case officer, is an immigration officer. The immigration service will need to get on top of the fact that there is a court element.
Having done some research, I shall suggest an offence that immigration officers are likely to come across, which is a little-known offence under section 20 of the Theft Act 1968. It is so little known that I had never heard of it, and it is a miracle that I never had to try such a case. Section 20 of the Theft Act, ''Suppression, etc., of documents'', outlines the scenario of a person
''who dishonestly, with a view to gain for himself . . . destroys, defaces or conceals any valuable security . . . or any original document of or belonging to, or filed or deposited in, any court of justice or any government department''.
Have Government officials considered whether that charge should be brought in?
I shall pass briefly over the subject of bigamy. I advise the Government to proceed with caution before advising people on how to make an arrest for bigamy. I speak as the only member of the House of Commons who has tried a case of bigamy in the past 50 years. It is not easy to do, especially when trying someone whose idea of the correct number of wives is different from one's own, not least because they come from a culture where the issue is viewed differently.
I am sorry, I was thinking of the occupant of the Chair, Mrs. Roe, at the same time as the hon. Gentleman.
The hon. Gentleman spoke about bigamy, but at least that has the advantage of being a crime that is bound up with identity. Therefore, a bigamous marriage could be a way of evading immigration procedures. It is right that an immigration officer should investigate that rather than the wider field of theft, robbery or burglary.
The hon. Gentleman may be right, but I urge the Government to proceed with caution, because such matters are very difficult indeed. During the passage of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, the Home Secretary offered a bottle of champagne to anyone who could draft a suitable amendment on a particular issue and nobody won it. In a similar spirit, I offer a bottle of wine to anybody on the Committee who can tell me why bigamy was regarded as extremely serious 150 years ago but is not today.
I share the concerns raised by the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome as to the expansion of immigration officers' powers of arrest without a warrant. That trend must be examined closely. I naively thought that, as a general rule, we bestowed the power of arrest on police officers. That is a good general rule to maintain, and I think that the trend of expansion is worrying.
The hon. Gentleman alluded to the position in Scotland. As he rightly said, I raised the issue, during Tuesday's morning sitting, of the scope and application of PACE in Scotland, and suggested that it was not applicable and that the Minister should elucidate the position of immigration officers in Scotland. She could not say what the position in Scotland was, and I understand that she has many duties that keep her busy, but that raises the question whether the UK Government, when drafting Bills in so-called reserved areas, which none the less affect devolved areas, take any regard of what the differing legal position may be in Scotland. If full regard had been taken, the Minister would have been briefed differently, and she would have been able to respond in Tuesday's morning sitting to this important issue. This is symptomatic of the UK's Government's lack of understanding of the powers of the Scottish
Parliament. They have shown disinterest, disregard and a failure to understand what has been unleashed by the so-called devolution settlement.
I, too, say ''Hear, hear,'' because I look forward to the day when we return to our status as a normal independent country. We could manage our immigration and asylum policy in the way that other small independent countries, such as the Republic of Ireland, seem to do very well indeed.
Finally, I should like to turn to the letter that the Minister was courteous enough to send to the Committee, addressed to you, Mrs. Roe, and your co-Chairman, dated 14 January 2004. She responded to various issues that had been raised about the burden of proof and, importantly, about immigration officers. Can she tell the Committee how many immigration officers are currently authorised to exercise powers of arrest? If she has figures for Scotland, that would be most helpful. It would be useful to know what the scale of this development is likely to be under the new powers in the clause. It would be helpful to have an idea of how many immigration officers are currently authorised to exercise a power of arrest.
Perhaps before dealing with the amendments, I can deal with some of the points that have been made about training and the safeguards with which the existing and new powers will be executed by immigration officers.
I am glad that the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome was at least partially reassured on the quality of training delivered by the police. On the specific points that he raised, in addition to those internal requirements on training and on the need for someone to be appointed by a senior officer before they can implement those powers, there are, of course, statutory obligations. May I clarify the points made by him and the hon. Member for Perth?
There is provision under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act for persons other than police officers to have regard to the relevant parts of the PACE codes. Immigration officers are required to have regard to any relevant provisions of PACE codes of practice when they are investigating an offence. In addition, section 145 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 required the Home Secretary to issue a direction specifying the provisions of the PACE codes of practice to which immigration officers must have regard when exercising certain specified powers. Those powers are laid out in the Immigration (PACE Codes of Practice) Directions 2000, which we discussed earlier. The directions cover powers of entry, search and seizure that were introduced in that Act, as well as powers of arrest that have existed considerably longer. To answer the hon. Gentleman's first question, those codes of practice are under review, and the additional powers under this legislation will come under the remit of that review. We review the directions regularly, as a result of the changes to which he alluded. Further changes will have to be accommodated.
No, there does not need to be a permissive power. The codes of practice are currently under review, as part of the arrangements for keeping them up to date.
Although the direction does not apply in Scotland, because PACE does not apply there, I hope that hon. Members who expressed concerns will be reassured to know that, in conjunction with the Crown Office, the immigration service has drawn up immigration arrest codes of practice for Scotland. That is why the codes of practice that were mentioned say specifically that they do not apply in Scotland. Scotland has its own codes of practice. If hon. Members read carefully the points that I made in the earlier discussion, they will see that that is what I said.
Immigration officers must operate to the same general standard, but in relation to the laws in Scotland. The codes specify that immigration officers exercising their powers of arrest in Scotland shall work within the boundaries of those powers and restrictions as described in the relevant parts of the Scottish legislation, which I am told is the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995. Furthermore, the codes specify that, when exercising powers of search under the 1971 legislation, immigration officers must have regard to the PACE codes of practice.
I say to the hon. Member for Perth that I made those points clear at a previous sitting. So often, she seems to see and hear everything through the prism of her own detestation of the fact that there are reserved matters. Sometimes, that distorts her hearing. I presume that she knows the law in Scotland and is well aware that on these matters it is as rigorous as the law under PACE in England. The law in Scotland, as I made clear on Tuesday, applies equally—under different codes of practice, because it is different legislation—to immigration officers exercising those powers.
It is correct to say that, eventually, the Minister was able to elucidate the position at least to an extent, in that there may be equivalent codes, after I perhaps helpfully suggested that that may be the case. Initially, however, in response to my intervention,
''We have had references to PACE, but what is the position of immigration officers in Scotland?'', she said, inter alia, that
''the hon. Lady claims that PACE does not apply in Scotland''.—[Official Report, Standing Committee B, 13 January 2004; c. 108.]
On any reading, that suggests that the Minister did not believe my claims in the first place.
Not at all. I was simply making the point that there is the equivalent requirement of immigration officers, albeit under legislation that is obviously restricted to Scotland.
It is time that this part of the debate came to a close, but the Minister has now said that there is a code of conduct for immigration officers making arrests in Scotland, and it is helpful to know that. She says that it refers to the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995. That is also helpful but, just so that I am entirely satisfied on the point, will she say whether there is statutory backing for that? Given that the codes of conduct for England and Wales are specifically predicated on the powers of arrest in a Bill that postdates the 1995 Act, and I know of no specific reference to Scotland in the 1997 legislation, is she satisfied that, although the codes are no doubt working well and giving good advice to immigration officers procedurally, they have statutory backing as well as a framework within Scottish law?
I accept the hon. Gentleman's point about the chronology of the relevant legislation in Scotland and the directions, codes of practice and so on that we have since developed. I will check that point and see whether I can reassure him in writing.
The hon. Member for Perth asked about the numbers of arrest-trained staff. There are arrest teams throughout the United Kingdom. I do not have the number of people approved in England and Wales, but I understand that one team operates in Scotland, consisting of about 10 people. Again, I am happy to confirm the figures to her in writing.
The hon. Member for Woking asked a question about the need for immigration officers to be able to be called to court by judges and to give evidence in court, if they make arrests for other offences. The specialist crime teams that we are discussing, which will be able to use those powers, already undergo a three-week training course in which they receive training in court procedures. That is in addition to their ordinary arrest training. We will examine whether they need anything further relating to those non-immigration offences.
With regard to amendment No. 126, we have tried to be cautious in selecting offences for the clause that are strictly immigration-related. I believe that the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome said that the offences are not immigration-related. We have carefully restricted the power to those offences that are immigration-related. He is right that they are not immigration offences, but they are immigration-related, in the sense that they are offences that frequently arise, or of which immigration officers frequently suspect people, when they are pursuing immigration offences.
I assume that, because the hon. Gentleman has not sought to remove other offences in clause 8, he accepts in principle that there is a need for, or a benefit from, immigration officers being empowered to deal with such matters. However, he apparently remains unpersuaded of the merits of including offences under the Theft Acts 1968 and 1978. It may therefore be helpful to him if I can briefly describe some of the thinking behind our inclusion of those offences.
Immigration officers in the immigration service crime teams routinely encounter people in possession of stolen passports or other valuable documents. Those documents may have been stolen by the people
themselves, who are therefore committing—in England and Wales—an offence under section 1 of the Theft Act 1968. They may be handling stolen goods and fall foul of section 22. Similarly, those who take passports from their rightful holder and do not return them—in cases such as those of abused domestic servants or forced prostitutes—are also committing the offence of theft.
We are all aware that stolen identity documents are of tremendous value to those who possess them. British passports, for instance, grant access to a variety of goods and services that are not available to others, and that is why we have sought to include offences under sections 15 and 16 of the 1968 Act as well as sections 1 and 2 of the Theft Act 1978.
Section 17 of the 1968 Act was selected because it covers a number of offences that immigration officers also encounter. For example, an asylum seeker supported by the National Asylum Support Service who opens a bank account in a second identity, perhaps to conceal money that they have at their disposal and that they would rather the Government did not know about for the purposes of that support, would be committing an offence of false accounting, as potentially would an employer who altered his records to avoid prosecution for employing illegal workers.
However, the two main points are that the powers will be available only when an immigration officer ''forms a reasonable suspicion'' that an offence has been committed when he or she is
''exercising a function under the Immigration Acts.''
It is not proposed that immigration officers will initiate investigations into theft, or into any of the other offences specified in clause 8. An immigration officer will be able to arrest for such an offence only when it comes to their notice in the pursuit of their ordinary duties under immigration law. An example given to me by one of our officials is that an immigration officer who, while mowing her lawn, sees her neighbour acting suspiciously cannot bound over the hedge and arrest that person. She has to call a police officer in the same way as any of us.
It is a sensible measure, which can be exercised only when the officer is pursuing an immigration matter. In the event of reasonable suspicion, a threshold that has to be satisfied, it will enable the immigration officer to arrest for those further offences without the need to call a police officer. I hope that, with those reassurances, the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome will be satisfied that this is a proportionate measure that will be of benefit in terms of the use of police immigration resources. It can be used only in constrained circumstances.
I turn to amendments Nos. 38 and 39. As I have made clear, the offences in the clause have carefully restricted to those that routinely come up, or that immigration officers suspect come up in the course of their duties. The offence in section 20 is not being provided for because, first, it is unlikely that an immigration officer would come up against a circumstance in which that offence could apply and, secondly, it is unlikely that it would ever be used in an immigration context.
Section 20 is an offence generally committed in relation to financial matters, for example, mortgage fraud. While section 20 theoretically covers—the hon. Gentleman is right in his interpretation of that little known piece of legislation—the destroying and defacing of official documents, which could include Home Office documents, in an immigration context, someone would be doing that in pursuit of another goal, such as illegal entry. It would be much more appropriate and relevant to try to prosecute someone under section 25 of the Immigration Act 1971, not under the Theft Act 1968. I hope that he will accept that that would be much less relevant, and for that reason it probably would not be appropriate to provide in these measures the immigration officer with powers to arrest.
In relation to robbery and burglary, there is a requirement that the immigration officer has a reasonable suspicion that an offence has been committed in order to be able to arrest for it in an immigration context. While it is true that, to take the example of the stolen passport and document, someone might have procured that document in a robbery, at the point of discovering that document, the immigration officer could not really have a reasonable suspicion that it had been procured in that way. All he or she might know is that the person had a stolen document. It therefore seems right to us, in circumscribing this power and requiring the threshold of reasonable suspicion, that we do not include robbery and burglary, because that is a step beyond what the immigration officer could reasonably know or suspect. I hope that with those assurances hon. Members will agree not to press their amendments.
Bigamy has been mentioned, which is an important example to include. I am given to understand that the General Register Office for England and Wales estimates that over 90 per cent. of bigamous marriages involve foreign nationals. For the Committee's information, the three most prolific polygamists who have been encountered, who have married 27, 15 and 13 times respectively, contracted all their marriages to persons from overseas, obviously as part of a wide-scale immigration abuse. As such, bigamy can be considered, as the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome identified, as a crime with a strong immigration context. It seems appropriate that an immigration officer should be able to arrest for it if called on to do so and if they have a reasonable suspicion. I hope that hon. Members are reassured.
I am grateful to the Minister for her careful explanation of what is proposed. I am ready to be persuaded that the codes of conduct are properly applied in Scotland. I just wanted to check that they are and that there is a statutory backing as well as simply a procedural backing to what is proposed. We need simply to check with the relevant legislation to make sure that that is the case. The Minister has gone
a long way to reassure me both about training and looking at the appropriate independent complaints procedures.
In terms of the offences to which she is extending the power of arrest, she was right to stress the connection between the list of offences under subsection (2) and the circumstances of arrest in subsection (1). That is an important qualification that needs to be emphasised: it is in the course of exercising a function under the Immigration Acts. I am still a little concerned that this confers a power of arrest on an immigration officer on one of those counts when no immigration offence, as such, has been detected or where there is no suspicion that one has been committed. In those circumstances it seems more proper that the arrest should be effected by a police constable or a Customs and Excise officer rather than an immigration officer.
I accept that there are connections of the sort that the Minister explained. The purpose of the amendment was to probe and to elicit those explanations. I do not intend to recap the discussion on bigamy. We never talk about polyandry in these circumstances. Bigamy is understood to encompass polyandrous marriages. The two must be equally a problem when it comes to immigration matters. I will digest carefully what the Minister has said and if we need to return to the issues, we will do so. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments:
No. 119, in
clause 8, page 8, line 37, at end insert
(n) an offence under the Immigration Acts.'.
No. 122, in
clause 8, page 8, line 37, at end insert—
'(n) an offence under this section'.
New clause 6—Obstruction of immigration officer—
'It shall be an offence to obstruct an immigration officer in the course of his duties.'.
I will be brief. This is a probing amendment and I want to know why the Minister has not included an offence under the Immigration Acts and why it appears not to be an offence to obstruct an immigration officer. It may be that the law provides elsewhere that those are offences and it may be that she does not believe that those offences are necessary.
I take a slightly different view from the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome on the question of who should and should not have powers of arrest. I accept that not everyone can have powers of arrest for everything, but it would be a pity so to limit the powers of immigration officers that they have to telephone a policeman when they want someone to be arrested. Customs and Excise officers and RSPCA officers have powers of arrest for certain offences.
I have never quite understood why it is felt necessary so to restrict the powers of arrest that only policemen can exercise them. We all have a responsibility for upholding the law. We all have the power of arrest under common law for common law offences and so we should look at who can reasonably exercise a power of arrest rather than why such a power should not be exercised other then by a policeman, which seems to be the hon. Gentleman's approach.
I commend the hon. Gentleman on his attempts to ensure that there are no gaps in our consideration of the Bill and on his brevity. I hope that I can deal with the amendment equally briefly. The short answer to the question that the hon. Gentleman's amendments are designed to prompt is that the gaps are plugged by existing legislation.
Amendments Nos. 118 and 119 would allow immigration officers to arrest without a warrant a person suspected of an offence in the immigration Acts. However, immigration officers currently have the power to arrest without a warrant persons suspected of offences contained in the Immigration Act 1971. The Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 inserted section 28A into the 1971 Act to allow immigration officers to arrest without warrant those suspected of offences contained in several sections of the 1971 Act, including sections 24, 24A, 25, 25B and 25C. Those sections cover offences of illegal entry, overstaying, breaching conditions of stay, obtaining or seeking to obtain leave by deception, facilitating the breach of immigration law and assisting an asylum seeker to arrive for gain.
Immigration officers do not have the power of arrest without a warrant for some offences in the immigration Acts. For example, an immigration officer may not arrest someone for failing to submit to a medical examination, which is an offence under section 24(1)(d) of the 1971 Act, without first obtaining a warrant. In such cases, we believe that it is appropriate for a power of arrest under the immigration Acts to apply only with a warrant. As I have said, teams of immigration officers have received specific arrest training to allow them to operate without police assistance. Those officers have been using their powers to arrest suspected immigration offenders since 2000.
I am sure amendment No. 122 was tabled with the intention, in conjunction with another amendment, of creating a new offence in the subsection. On its own, however, amendment No. 122 would have no material effect, so I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me for saying no more on it.
''if, without reasonable excuse, he obstructs an immigration officer or other person lawfully acting in execution of this Act''.
The new clause would replicate an offence already in existence. A person convicted of an offence contained in section 26 of the 1971 Act is liable on summary conviction to a fine of not more than level 5 on the summary scale, a maximum sentence of six months' imprisonment or both.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for searching out what he thought might be loopholes that needed to be closed, but I hope that I have assured him that existing legislation covers the intention of his amendments.
The Minister's closing remarks provoke me to make a brief intervention. I sympathise with the difficulty in which my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner) found himself. Many people whose daily lives are not spent working their way through criminal or other statutes find our work more like trying to solve a crossword puzzle than making good law. I do not expect the Government to codify the entire criminal law but, prompted by my hon. Friend, they could codify immigration and asylum law. If they did nothing else, they could do that.
The Minister's answer was commendably brief, but she had to refer back to at least one other statute to make sense of her riposte to my hon. Friend's case. A perfectly reasonable argument could be made for codifying this discrete part of the law to prevent the problems met by my hon. Friend and others who have to administer and consider immigration and asylum law. People will continue to meet those problems until we have one volume of immigration and asylum law. It would be so large that it would have to be in separate books, but I hope that one day we will be able to codify the entire criminal law to make the lives of the legislator and practitioner a lot easier and the life of the criminal a lot harder.
I thank my hon. and learned Friend for that suggestion, with which I concur entirely.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 8 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clause 9 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Further consideration adjourned.—[Mr. Heppell.]
Adjourned accordingly at three minutes to Four o'clock till Tuesday 20 January at ten minutes past Nine o'clock.