Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.Donate to our crowdfunder
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 121, in clause 35, page 19, line 12, leave out from ‘(1)’ to end of line 15.
No. 122, in clause 36, page 20, line 19, leave out subsection (3).
No. 125, in clause 36, page 20, line 27, leave out subsection (4).
The clause is serious in that it gives new powers to workers who are contracted out to other security forces. I have two questions for the Minister. First, do the Government intend to create an unregulated security force, as elements of the clause suggest? Secondly, why are we not limiting the powers to existing customs officers and police officers?
There are serious questions to be answered about the training of such unregulated security officers who might be given the job of security. What level of training will be given to people to whom the service has been contracted out? Will they, for instance, be given training in racial and cultural sensitivities when conducting searches? Under section 155 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, detainee custody officers are authorised individually. Clause 35 suggests that a whole class of people, rather than the individual, will now be authorised.
Will the Minister also clarify whether the training of people to whom the service is contracted out will include understanding the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 codes of practice and the limitations on powers of search?
The hon. Gentleman makes a point about the powers of search, which are critical. I also serve on the Committee considering the Violent Crime Reduction Bill, which contains very similar powers of search in relation to school children. The Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Bill refers to a
“coat, a jacket or a glove”,
which can be taken off, whereas the Violent Crime Reduction Bill refers to a
“coat, a jacket, gloves and a hat”.
Does the hon. Gentleman believe that to be an omission from this Bill?
I am not quite sure how important the omission is, but perhaps the Minister will comment on that, too.
There is also the question of the definition of a coat. A lady might wear a jacket but not have anything on underneath, whereas I might wear a coat on top of my jacket.
I understand that, Sir Nicholas. I simply refer the hon. Gentleman to subsection (7)(a)(i), (ii) and (iii), which state that part of the search is to prevent the individual from carrying something that might cause himself or another physical harm, or that might assist him to escape. That is why a hat is so important.
I served on the Committee that considered the Criminal Justice Bill back in 1993, and the one amendment that Conservative Ministers allowed us Back Benchers to make was to add the word “hat” in relation to searches. More importantly, however, restricting the list in subsection (8)(a) means that it might not be possible to discover the things that an individual carries that could cause them physical harm or assist them out of detention. I would have thought that the hon. Gentleman might want to take that into consideration, because it appears to be a lacuna.
Clearly, from the information that the hon. Lady has given, I am sure that the Minister will want to take on board the issues raised about a hat.
My last comment relates to the ability to detain others for up to three hours. It strikes me that three hours is an awfully long time for an unregulated person, who does not have the experience of a police officer or a customs official, to be able to detain somebody in that capacity.
I find myself in the odd position of agreeing with many of the points raised by the hon. Gentleman. I have some general concerns about the hiving out of duties carried out by public servants to private agencies, although I am sure that you, Sir Nicholas, will not allow me to go too far along that track.
However, the problem is not just the generality of hiving out public duties, but the particular nature of the duties. Anyone who has witnessed the searching in, for example, my home port of Dover, and who has seen some of the tragic scenes of the back of a lorry opening and families of asylum seekers with young children coming down the ladder, will know that they are traumatic incidents, which must be dealt with sensitively. The idea is to hire private agency staff, although the Bill says that they must be properly trained and provide a proper service. What does the description “fit and proper” for the purpose and “suitably trained” mean? It describes a fully trained immigration officer or a fully trained customs officer. It is not by accident that they have to go through rigorous tests.
We do not have to look into a crystal ball to see what might happen, because we already have the situation in Calais, where private agency workers, who happen to be French nationals working for a French agency on very low pay that is close to the minimum wage, are required to help at berthside inspections, supporting the immigration officers. They have only a limited power, not the extended powers in the Bill and cannot carry out searches of people. The Bill mentioned inspecting the inside of a person’s mouth. That involves detaining someone, possibly against their will, and could give rise to all sorts of concerns. We only have to think about the debate that took place on whether community support officers should be given powers to detain and arrest to know that. We have gone through the process of providing fully trained customs officers and immigration officers, and that should be the end of that.
Last week I had a meeting with immigration officers who were members of the Public and Commercial Services Union. There are hundreds of such people in Dover, and I am a member of the PCS parliamentary group. They explained that one of the dangers of hiring agency staff is not just the sensitivity of health and safety matters, which we have discussed, but the greater propensity—I am not being xenophobic—for a foreign national, who is hired on a short-term contract, or even for the day, and given the new powers, to be open to corruption and bribery. Those were the words of the immigration officers.
Even if we do not go as far as that, agency staff certainly will not have the culture that is built into our customs officers and immigration officers—officers of the Crown—who look on their job as a point of duty. They are not just there to earn a crust of bread. That is very important, of course, but they are paid a professional wage to do a professional job and this aspect of the Bill dilutes that and could have serious ramifications.
I shall not do anything dramatic today, but I hope that the Minister will take those points on board in the serious way in which they have been delivered. If he cannot give me real assurances that my concerns will not become reality, I and other colleagues will have to consider which way to approach the measure on Report.
I want to expand slightly on my intervention on the hon. Member for Manchester, Withington, because I am concerned about some of the provisions, and particularly those left standing in subsection (7).
There is a problem in our establishments with the number of self-harming incidents and suicides. I want to establish what protections will be put in place. I want to save the rest of my arguments for the clause stand part debate, but as I mentioned that point in an intervention and you ruled it in order, Sir Nicholas, I just wanted to reinforce the fact that I seek a statement on the issue from the Minister, so that I may, with your permission and that of the rest of the Committee, return to the issue on clause stand part.
The amendments have prompted a useful debate and I hope to respond to most, if not all, of the points raised. There is common ground between us, in that we accept that the searching of inbound vehicles and vessels is a crucial component of our border controls. The Committee is probably united on that issue. The problem is that under current legislation the power is restricted to immigration officers; the provision is restrictive. That places enormous strain on immigration service resources in an area that we feel could equally be served by using suitably qualified persons. There is no reason why, with adequate training and scrutiny, a private contractor could not perform successfully the operation that we are discussing and allow hard-pressed immigration staff to devote their skills and expertise to areas where they can be more useful.
Perhaps the Minister could give us an indication of how much money the Government expect to save as a result of contracting the work out, rather than taking on extra members of staff in the existing service.
I do not have the exact figures to hand, but I stress that this is not a question of saving money. We are in the process of expanding quite significantly the immigration service front line at ports—not only at seaports, such as the one that my hon. Friend the Member for Dover assiduously represents, but across the piece. This measure is purely about flexibility. It is not about someone doing the job more cheaply so that we can save money. The point is that we want trained, qualified, skilled immigration service staff to do the jobs in which they can add most value and use their skills most effectively.
Surely the Minister would agree that the issue is not money. The best way to guarantee that we have people doing the best job possible is to have members of the immigration service or customs officers doing the job. If money is not the issue, why not take on extra members of staff who will be guaranteed to have gone through the rigorous training that the existing members of staff have been through?
There are several reasons why we would want to have the flexibility to enable full-time, trained immigration service staff to be devoted to other responsibilities. My hon. Friend the Minister referred to the juxtaposed controls that we operate in France. It might not always be practical or the best use of resources to devote our available personnel to front-end responsibilities. It is right to take the view that if staff can be more effectively deployed elsewhere they should be, and this clause enables us to do that.
In introducing amendment No. 120, the hon. Member for Manchester, Withington made a point of asking the Government why it was our intention to create an unregulated security force. I strongly object to that, and entirely refute the suggestion. If he looks at the Bill, particularly clause 36, he will see that it lays out a pretty stringent regime whereby the Secretary of State can revoke the powers. There are also monitoring requirements to be put in place by the clause. Therefore we would reject the suggestion. The effect of the amendment would be to require the functions to be carried out by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs staff or by police constables. That would not be a sensible use of resources at the border. Those functions could more legitimately be carried out by others.
There was some debate on cultural issues, and whether they would be covered in training. I can give an assurance that the Home Office will ensure that cultural issues are fully addressed as part of the training. The Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 is not applicable to this function, as subjects are not regarded as criminal—in the way that anybody arriving at an immigration port of entry and then subject to a search is not regarded as a criminal—and are not under arrest. Individuals being detained are detained under administrative procedures.
We then got on to the entertaining topic of personal dress, and what would happen if an immigration officer apprehended a young woman who was wearing a coat but nothing underneath. My first reaction was that he would not be able to believe his luck. Seriously, however, I take the point that hats are potentially an issue that should be considered, although at this stage we are not talking about a search that has to be comprehensive in every respect. Immigration officers have powers to conduct further searches if necessary. The purpose of searches is described here, and it is related to the other points about training. They are brief and non-intrusive searches to establish basic facts about what the person is carrying and if there is anything that needs to be drawn to the attention of an immigration officer. He asked whether detention up to three hours was appropriate. Contractors will be regulated by close scrutiny from the immigration service itself, which will demand high standards. In addition a monitor will be appointed, as we will discuss under clause 36, to review the operation of the contractor and to investigate any failings. Three hours is the maximum and the clause refers to
“a period which is as short as is reasonably necessary”.
People would not need to be detained for that long.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dover raised some important points. I know how assiduously he represents his constituents who work at the port of Dover. I pay tribute to the job his constituents do in operating the country’s busiest and most famous seaport. In no way does the clause undermine or detract from their important role. He is right to say that they have a sense of duty about their work. We would envisage that the clause will simply enable them to use their considerable skill, but in an area where it can be most effective.
My hon. Friend has been most generous to me and the customs and immigration officers in Dover. But those same customs and immigration officers whose professionalism, efficiency and judgment have been lauded are the very people who were saying that this is a step too far and this is not the most effective way to guard our borders. To echo the point made by the hon. Member for Manchester, Withington, the answer is to increase the number of customs and immigration officers rather than bring in this cheap, second-tier option.
We are doing just that. We are increasing the force on the ground at ports throughout the country. I could provide my hon. Friend with the exact figures. A recruitment campaign is under way to increase the size of the trained immigration service work force at ports throughout the country. I take his point that these are the people who are saying that the clause is a concern. More generally, the immigration service staff, of whom he probably has more in his constituency than any other hon. Member, are some of the most undervalued of all public servants. Their work is at times not glamorous, and it is certainly difficult and challenging to deal with complex personal situations. Much of their work goes unrewarded and unrecognised. Nevertheless, they should have nothing to fear from this proposal.
My hon. Friend mentioned that people could be brought in on the day and that they could be substandard. The Bill, as drafted, makes it clear that they would have to be suitably trained and that steps would be taken to ensure that any operator used would offer the highest possible standards. The development will not lead to redundancies. As I said to the hon. Member for Manchester, Withington, it is not a question of giving this flexibility in order to withdraw or reduce the head count of trained immigration service staff. That is not the purpose of the clause. We are increasing immigration control and if an operation meant any staff being displaced from the front-line work of directly searching vehicles coming in, those staff would be redeployed to other parts of immigration control along the Kent coast. This is not a question of redundancies.
The Minister said that I suggested the clause would put immigration officers out of a job; I did not mean that, and I understand the point about taking on extra members of staff. The point that I wanted to make was that, if we are to take on extra staff to provide the service in question, we should take the very best and best-trained people. The best way to do that is to ensure that they are people working in the existing services, whether those are the police, the immigration service or customs officers.
I assure the hon. Gentleman that there is no question of standards being compromised. However, he needs to consider in its entirety the process that is undertaken at ports of entry. Some functions require less skill and experience than others. The whole premise of the clause is flexibility. It is about deploying the skills to which the hon. Gentleman referred at the points of the immigration process where they will be most useful. The clause enables people to be redeployed to where they are most useful.
The hon. Gentleman’s amendments would require that the search equipment was used by police officers, customs officials or immigration service staff. It can be quite high tech, but it might not be the best use of their time and abilities. The question whether giving them that work is sensible must be considered in the round. The hon. Gentleman should also bear in mind the operation of the juxtaposed controls and whether it is sensible that the agencies carrying out the work on the other side of the channel should always be those that his amendment stipulates.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dover will know better than anyone that the immigration service currently employs private contractors in other contexts and that those serve helpful supporting functions that enable immigration service staff to carry out their primary role. The immigration service must make the best use of the skills available among its staff. Searching lorries is one relevant area, but there are others in which staff can perhaps use their skills more effectively. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising those points and I hope that I have given him some of the assurances that he wanted.
The hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Scott) asked how many extra officers would be needed and whether they would be in all ports or only in some. The exercise of the functions, if it happens at all, will be dictated by the frequency of arrivals at the port concerned. Among the Conservative party’s misinterpretations—particularly during the election campaign—was the creation of an assumption that a full-time border staff would be put in post at every port of entry in the country. If that is still the party’s policy, it would have to find vast resources to pay for it. The immigration service operates by targeting resources according to the risk associated with the routes operating through any port.
The Minister is playing fast and loose. The manifesto that we stood on in the last election said that we would secure our borders. I helpfully gave my copy of the impact assessment to Hansard because I referred to it this morning, so I do not have the text before me, but the Minister is being disingenuous because it discussed the redeployment of staff that are otiose to requirements to other parts of the Department. That is not a cutting down of the civil service and officials. The Minister should make it clear that he is absorbing people and increasing manpower.
We certainly are. The facts speak for themselves. The size of the immigration service work force is increasing, and we are taking steps to recruit further immigration officials. I was speaking about the commitment to 24-hour security at all ports—I think that that was the commitment given in the Opposition manifesto—and I would be very interested to see the costings for that proposal. [Interruption.]
The contractors will be used to fill gaps at small ports and other places where intelligence has highlighted a problem. That is our intention; we do not propose covering all ports.
I give the example of Liverpool airport, which has seen enormous growth in its passenger traffic in the past few years. The immigration service complement at that airport has increased significantly. I understand that it now has 10 full-time immigration officers, who are supplemented by one or two chief immigration officers. Only a few years ago, the operation did not justify such a number. The service has to judge the volume of traffic coming via a particular port of entry, and the risk that that traffic poses to immigration and border control and more broadly to security issues.
Why has this approach been used instead of pursuing a co-operative approach with local police forces, which already have excellent intelligence and also have the power to search and detain?
It is not being done in the teeth of opposition. Every port of entry now has a multi-agency security team that monitors activities across the port. That team includes the various border agencies, and it is our full intention that there should be even closer working between them.
I was saying that immigration service staff will be supported by contracted organisations if necessary and if the volume and the risk justify that deployment and investment. The difference between our position and that of the Opposition is the commitment to blanket 24-hour coverage of paid staff at all ports of entry. It was that differentiation that I sought to tease out.
The hon. Lady also asked for clarification on the welfare of people in detention, particularly those liable to inflict self-harm. As I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Dover, the detention and search powers are limited. The Bill will allow the searchers physically to search those detected at the earliest opportunity and to remove objects that they might use to harm themselves, but we are not talking about extensive powers of search and detention. The concerns are legitimate, but they are not valid in this case.
The amendments have allowed us a useful debate. For the avoidance of doubt, it is about our ability to deploy the immigration service work force in a flexible manner, and to target them where they are most needed and where they can best uphold the integrity of our borders. I take the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Dover, who is a renowned expert on those matters within the House. I want, via him, to reassure his constituents that the provisions in no way weaken their role. Indeed, it will probably enhance it, in that the people that we are discussing will be able to spend their time doing more meaningful things.
I believe that the amendment would be restrictive, because it would ensure that trained people were performing functions for which they were over-qualified. I do not believe that the hon. Member for Manchester, Withington would want that, so I urge him to withdraw his amendment.
Before I call the next amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Manchester, Withington, may I say that although I am a servant of the Committee, I have one real power, which is to decide when we break for dinner? I have been advised by the usual channels that they hope to get to clause 46 tonight. If that is the case, the debate must speed up considerably. I intend to suspend and adjourn the Committee at 7 pm for one and a half hours, so hon. Members would then return at half-past eight. Having had no lunch myself because of commitments in the House, I feel that I need a break at that time.
I will be very brief. I have touched on the issue of detention and powers to detain by the people to whom the services are contracted out. Previously, contractors only had powers to detain people who had already been arrested or detained by the police or customs officials. Clause 35(7)(c) seeks to give power to detain, but there is no provision for a disciplinary system to ensure the proper use of that power or to ensure public accountability. The amendment, tabled in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon, would deny private contractors the power to detain.
I, too, will be brief. This ground was covered in our exchanges a moment ago. The amendment seeks to remove the power of detention by an unauthorised person. Vehicle searches are currently undertaken by immigration officers who have the power to detain any person seeking to enter the country in a clandestine fashion. The purpose of the legislation is to provide additional resources at optimal cost to allow for the redeployment of those immigration personnel. There is nothing sinister about it; it is simply about using resources where they are most effective. It is therefore essential that those undertaking the task be empowered to detain any persons they discover until such time as they are able to hand them over to the appropriate authority.
That is a debating point. We want to use the resources that are allocated to the immigration service to the best effect. Neither the hon. Gentleman nor his party will ever get near the levers of government, but if they did they, too, would be under a duty to the taxpayers of this country to use resources efficiently and effectively. This is about using our resources well. If authorised search officers did not have the power, they would be unable to do their jobs properly, and that would enable people who were discovered to ignore any instruction or to fail to comply with any direction given by the search officer. The staff need to have their position backed up by a modest amount of legislative force, without which their role would be extremely difficult. That is why the clause is drafted as it is. The amendment would weaken the Bill unacceptably, and I ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw it.
First, I should like to ask the Minister whether the powers would be exercisable only in a port or also, for example, in a lay-by where a lorry had arrived several hours before, and was waiting. Secondly, I want the Minister, again, to reflect on the three hours and the search capabilities, and extending the search capabilities. We have firm evidence that the first few hours in detention of any sort are particularly critical to vulnerable and alarmed people. We have only to look at our Prison Service to see the prime attention that is given to prisoners serving their first night in custody. I urge the Minister to consider the issue and come back to it on Report, or at least to review it to ensure that he has satisfied himself that the powers are extensive enough.
I also query why these people—as authorised persons with powers to use reasonable force to search and to detain—should not be appointed individually, as is done in the case of detaining custody officers. At the moment, there is a blanket provision for anybody from Group 4 or Securicor, or whoever it is, to have the powers. Lastly, I use as a support the evidence that the National Audit Office has produced about our privatised prison establishments. It cannot be ignored. The NAO has raised concerns about the lack of experienced staff in private prisons, and therefore I want to know what assurances we will have that staff who have little or no prior experience will not be used in those situations. What sort of proviso will the Government put on those operations?
The National Audit Office has highlighted the fact that there is an extremely high turnover of staff. If the Minister does not want to give me a direct answer to those questions today, perhaps he will write to me and show that he has reflected on them, as they are of extreme concern and importance to members on both sides of the Committee.
The hon. Lady raises some legitimate concerns on which I will reflect further; I will also reflect on the points raised earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Dover. I am satisfied that what is proposed is a legitimate power but I will consider it further.
The hon. Lady asked where the power would be used; we intend that it would be only within the confines of a port. It is envisaged that the powers would be useful in the operation of the juxtaposed controls—the controls over the channel where it may not be sensible or practical to deploy fully-fledged immigration service staff or other border controls at all times of the day. If hon. Members think that through, they will realise that it is sensible to have that flexibility.
On issues such as three hours, search capabilities and staff experience, we should put more information before the Committee in terms of how we envisage that working and what further information and assurances we can give. I will seek to do so after I have reflected on the issues raised by the hon. Lady, which are fair points. I urge the Committee to accept the clause.