Written evidence to be reported to the House

UK Borders Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:45 am on 27th February 2007.

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UKB 01 Asylum Group of Warwickshire—Religious Society of Friends (Quakers)

UKB 02 Daon

UKB 03 Immigration Advisory Service

UKB 04 Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants

UKB 05 Refugee Children’s Consortium

UKB 06 Elizabeth Coleman

UKB 07 National Car Parks

UKB 08 Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association

Photo of Eric Illsley Eric Illsley Labour, Barnsley Central

Could I now ask that the Room be cleared of members of the public please, in order that the Committee can deliberate in private?

The Committee deliberated in private.

On resuming—

Photo of Eric Illsley Eric Illsley Labour, Barnsley Central

We will now hear oral evidence from the representatives of the Home Office. I welcome the witnesses. Would the Minister, Liam Byrne, like to introduce the team himself or ask them to introduce themselves?

Mr. Byrne: Thank you, Mr. Illsley. On my far left is James Hall, the chief executive of the Identity and Passport Service. On my immediate left is the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Joan Ryan. On my immediate right is Tony Smith, director of UK border control at the immigration and nationality directorate. On Tony’s right is Stuart Hyde, director of enforcement at the IND. On my far right is Bob Lauder, a deputy director of the Serious Organised Crime Agency.

Photo of Eric Illsley Eric Illsley Labour, Barnsley Central

Before I call the first Member to ask a question, I remind the Committee that questions must be limited to the provisions of the Bill. I understand that Mr. Byrne would like to make a very short introductory statement, but once again, I caution that it must relate to the contents of the Bill.

Mr. Byrne: Absolutely. I want to explain the context of the Bill. At 10 o’clock this morning, we announced that we had hit the Prime Minister’s tipping point on asylum and that we had removed more failed asylum seekers than came in during the year. The point about this Bill is that the Government’s ambition is to go further than simply tackling asylum abuse, which is one of the subjects of the Bill, towards tackling illegal immigration in the round. That is why we have set out five key steps this year of which this Bill is part. They deal with the extra powers for our immigration front line to tackle illegal immigration.

There are three key themes that run throughout this Bill. First, stronger powers to strengthen our border controls. Secondly, a range of extra powers to tackle illegal immigration and the causes of illegal immigration. Thirdly, new powers to secure much more effective identity management in the future, because we know that one of the great enablers of illegal immigration is the power to impersonate somebody else or to destroy one’s own identity.

I hope that is helpful by way of introduction to the context of the UK Borders Bill.

Q 1

Photo of Damian Green Damian Green Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I want to start with the first section of the Bill, “Detention at ports”, and the extra powers that the Minister regards as necessary for immigration officers. Even before we start the scrutiny of this Bill, the Scottish Executive have rejected this section of it and said they will not enforce it in Scotland. Apart from being a personal humiliation for the Minister, does this not mean that if these powers are necessary to protect our borders, our borders are not protected if the Scottish ports and airports do not have the same system as English and Welsh ones.

Mr. Byrne: As I said on Second Reading, because the powers that we seek for front-line immigration officers touch on devolved matters—such as,  specifically, policing—this is a devolved issue and it is therefore something that the Scottish Executive would need to move on.

With the Scottish elections coming, obviously there is a great deal of pressure on the legislative timetable in Scotland, but I am sure that this issue will surface during the Scottish election campaign and that there are political parties in Scotland that will bring forward proposals that touch on this area. I am pretty confident about where my own party will sit on this issue.

Operationally, the Committee will be interested to know, there are many fewer international ports in Scotland. There are many more in England and therefore, as the Minister, I have had to satisfy myself that there is an operational solution in place while these powers are not in place in Scotland. The discussions that the Scottish Executive have had with ACPO Scotland have given me reassurance on that point.

Q 2

Photo of Damian Green Damian Green Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I am sure that people in Scotland and in the rest of Britain will find that answer amazingly complacent. If these powers are necessary to protect ports in England and Wales, they are necessary to protect them in Scotland. Unless the Minister is proposing to rebuild Hadrian’s wall, if the Scottish ports and airports are unsafe—as presumably he must regard them as being, if his legislation is not being passed in Scotland—the whole country is unsafe. I remind him that his party is the leading party in the Scottish Executive. What have they told him as to why it is unnecessary there? If, as I understand from newspaper reports, they are saying that there are more police at Scottish ports than at English ports and airports, what is he doing to remedy the situation in England and Wales?

Mr. Byrne: These proposals are about how progressively we strengthen the part that immigration officers can play in securing our borders over the years to come and how we can strengthen the ability of immigration officers to play their part not just in the fight against illegal immigration, but in the battle against trafficking and human smuggling, as well as in national security. Examples have been given to me, for instance, of where UK citizens have facilitated the arrival of people illegally in British ports where there are problems in detaining somebody who is a British citizen.

These are not powers that will be implemented overnight. They will be implemented over the months to come. Because they touch on matters that are subject to devolution, it is absolutely right that the Scottish Executive move on them. In the run-up to the elections, I can quite understand that pressure on the legislative timetable is tough, but it is for political parties in Scotland—I hope that the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats will include this in their manifestos—to make proposals to strengthen border controls with measures such as this. I am sure that voters in Scotland will look quite closely at this matter.

It would be quite wrong to cast aspersions on the police in Scotland. They have a strong history of work in this area and they do their job well. If ACPO Scotland and the Scottish Executive can provide me with assurances that the Scottish police will continue to play that role, it is right for me to accept them.

Q 3

Photo of Chris Mole Chris Mole Labour, Ipswich

My constituents are less bothered about what happens in Scotland than what happens in the ports of Ipswich and Felixstowe. Those who work there are regularly frustrated to see people legging it off the back of a ship and making their way out of the port or, even worse, being directed by staff to head to Croydon, where the immigration and nationality directorate head office is. What will the Bill do to change that perception of insecurity on our borders?

Mr. Byrne: As I said in my introductory remarks, the Bill does not stand in isolation from the other reforms that the Home Secretary is driving through in IND. This morning’s announcement that we now remove more failed asylum seekers than we get in or make claims each year is an important step for IND along the road of reform that the Home Secretary set out last year.

The Bill is part of a package that includes additional resources to strengthen front-line enforcement and removal—measures that we will announce shortly—and much more effective use of technology, not just to count people in and out of the country, but to help us to secure people’s identity. We will also make stronger international alliances, because we know that we cannot tackle illegal immigration on our own in a globalising world. We need to be able to share information with foreign frontier forces, so that we can build a combined picture of people who seek to break immigration rules.

In addition to that is this package of extra powers, which includes not only stronger powers for immigration officers to protect our borders, but a range of powers that strengthen our ability to tackle illegal immigration in-country and the cause of illegal immigration, which we know is illegal working.

Q 4

Photo of Paul Rowen Paul Rowen Shadow Minister, Transport

What discussions has the Minister had with airport and ports authorities about how the Bill will operate Bill?

Mr. Byrne: I suggest that Tony Smith, the director of UK border control, answer that question in a moment. By way of introduction, I should say that, for some time now, there has been a programme called the border management programme, which brings together police, customs and immigration officers to talk about how, collectively, we can work more effectively to share intelligence and create a single intervention at the border.

There is no legal barrier to stop a customs officer and an immigration officer playing each other’s roles. Under, I think, section 8 of the Customs and Excise Management Act 1979, there is a power for Treasury Ministers to designate an immigration officer to have customs powers. Equally, the Immigration Act 1971 contains a power for the Home Secretary to designate a customs officer to have immigration powers.

Let us look at the powers that the police already have to stop and search. They have a number of powers that ACPO argues are more than effective. Under schedule 7 to the Terrorism Act 2000, officers of all those agencies have the power to act as the examining officer for the purposes of the schedule. There are no legal barriers to  officers on the front line taking each other’s roles, but the border management programme provides a practical drive to secure that inter-agency joint working.

So, if you went to Blackpool, you would see police performing some immigration roles; if you went to Coquelles, you would see customs officers performing some of the roles that immigration officers perform, and if you went to Gatwick, you would see immigration officers performing customs roles. There are no legal barriers to that, which is why the idea of a single border agency is difficult, because it involves an enormous amount of disruption for not much gain. Perhaps I could ask you, Tony, to talk a little about the type of consultation that agencies have carried out in order to produce a Bill like this.

Tony Smith: We work closely with the travel industry at national and local level on a range of issues relating to border crossings at airports, sea ports, and of course by rail. Regarding the specific powers in the Bill to detain people for three hours on behalf of the police, we do not think that there will be a massive impact on the industry. We are seeking to establish our authority as the primary line holder, which is how we term it in the business. That is to say that the UK has immigration officers acting on its primary line; they are the people that you see when you show your passport when you enter this country. Those immigration officers are working under the Immigration Act 1971, as amended, which gives us a range of powers and authorities over foreign nationals. However, regarding non-foreign nationals who we find—as we collect more information on travellers—may be coming to the UK to cause harm, if one of my officers encounters such an individual in the course of their duties operating the passport controls wherever they may be, we would like to have a system under which we can at least hold that person when there is not a police officer immediately present, so that that person can be properly handed over to the parent organisation—the police—to enable them to take forward the individual case, howsoever they may wish to do that, for example establishing whether there is a warrant for that person’s arrest, or whether there has been some other criminal act or some other reason why the police would want to detain them. That is the missing piece; for the first time, the Bill would enable immigration officers to detain, for a limited period, non-foreign nationals on the basis that they would be of interest to another agency.

Mr. Byrne: Some of my colleagues might like us to add a word about the success of a program called e-Borders. What e-Borders allows us to do essentially is to screen people’s names against a range of Government databases, in order to identify people who may be of concern to the authorities. That is why identity technology is so important. For example, regarding our ability in the future to issue biometric visas, which will cover about three quarters of the world’s population by the end of 2008, plus anyone from the 169 non-EEA countries who would like to come to this country to work, study or stay for longer than six months, as we ask those individuals to apply for a biometric visa we are acquiring much greater assurance about their true identity. That means that,  once they check in, the e-Borders name-based screening technology, which is already widely used by the Americans, becomes far more effective. However, it may produce a number of cases where we are identifying British citizens who are of concern to the authorities, and it could be the case at international ports in the UK—there are about 44 such ports in England—that it will be down to immigration officers, in the first instance, to detain such individuals. Tony, would you like to add something about the impact that e-Borders has had already?

Tony Smith: Absolutely. E-Borders is a programme similar to the techniques being used by many modern border control authorities around the world. It aims to capture as much information as possible about travellers before they arrive at the physical frontier. That happens through a process of engagement with the carrying companies on data called advanced passenger information, which is captured routinely by them as part of the travel continuum. It also aims to give us the capacity to run that information against our watch lists. In a way, we are exporting the border. We are giving our officers advance notice that something is coming at them, which gives us the opportunity to analyse that information and establish an interventions process when that person arrives.

Ultimately we would like e-Borders to introduce something called the authority-to-carry scheme. That would mean that if someone was coming to this country to cause a serious harm and we had the powers to exclude them, we would not authorise the airline to carry them in the first place because there was an alert. We would instead invite them to present themselves to the nearest mission or embassy overseas to clarify their process of admissibility before we granted clearance. It is really about gathering more information and establishing the identity and the entitlement of someone to travel prior to their arrival here and exporting the border. That is what we would like to progress as our border control strategy for the future.

Q 5

Photo of Paul Rowen Paul Rowen Shadow Minister, Transport

I was interested in what the Minister said about the fact that a range of officers operating at ports already have authority to co-operate and interchange. Has consideration been given to widening that and making best use of available resources? I visited Manchester airport last week and it would be very supportive of the idea. It has problems at certain peak times because the officers are not inter-operational. It would see that as a positive benefit and a first step towards a unified border force.

Mr. Byrne: I am not surprised to hear the comments from Manchester airport. It reflects comments that are made to me when I visit border posts up and down the country. I come back to something that I said earlier. To date there is no significant legal barrier to producing the alignment of powers. Nor is there a legal barrier to creating an interoperable front line where officers from one service can take on roles that are performed by others. That kind of approach has some benefits over and above a big bang reorganisation and the creation of a single border agency which, I fear, might be a recipe for disorder at our border. Making sure that the right individual with the right specialism  is playing the right role and also able to take on a wider range of powers is a much better solution.

No one argues for the merger of the Army, the Navy and the Air Force. People recognise that different organisations have different latent strengths. When you visit countries that have gone down the path of a single border agency over the last few years, it is not too long before you come across front-line officers who basically say, “Well, it was very expensive, it was very disruptive, it is five years on and we have not moved much further forward.” Although you might encounter officers with the same cap badge on the primary line, when you are taken to a secondary line you notice that all the different units that made up that agency are still operating as different units and performing their specialisms.

We believe that the objectives of the single border agency—we respect the arguments that are made for a single border agency and I remain open-minded about this—can be achieved by ensuring that there is an equalisation of powers behind our current front line. Part of the answer is the UK Borders Bill, which will ensure that our immigration officers have the range of powers that they argue are needed. But there is still the legal machinery set out in the Customs and Excise Management Act 1979, the Immigration Act 1971 and the Terrorism Act 2000, which enables us to equalise powers where we think that is sensible. The border management programme gives us an opportunity not simply to test this stuff in theory, but to test it in practice on a case-by-case basis. Tony, you might just want to say a little bit more about some of the case studies where we are deploying the border management programme and where the travelling public can see some of the differences.

Tony Smith: We have a programme under way called the border management programme. That regularly brings together the border control agencies to discuss joint ways of working and, under that programme, we have undertaken some trials in the last year or so.

The first one to refer to is probably at Gatwick airport, where immigration officers are now acting as the primary interventions agency on behalf of other agents. Therefore, customs officers and police officers are providing us with specific information about people that would interest them, while our immigration officers are using the customs authorities to identify people that may be of interest to customs, and to pass such persons over to them. I have had reports back from customs at Gatwick airport that this programme has been successful for them, because immigration control at the airport is universal. Everybody gets stopped at immigration control to show their passport, and where we have that primary line facility it makes good sense for us to use intelligence provided to us by other agencies—and to help them capture people that might not be of direct interest to immigration control, but might well be to customs.

The other example I would give is in the freight search areas, where customs and myself both have freight search teams. Existing legislation empowers us to enable customs officers to act as immigration officers in certain specified circumstances, and we have exercised that option so that in certain parts of the country such as Harwich, or down on the south coast in Poole and Bournemouth—or even over in France at Coquelles—customs officers can deal with people who  they find hidden in vehicles even though their search was, in the first instance, for contraband.

So, there is already a platform available for us to do this and we intend to continue to make best use of it.

Mr. Byrne: This programme of equalisation of powers at the border is part of a new philosophy of border control, which starts with much tougher checks on people abroad and the introduction of the authority-to-carry system. That will allow us to deny those individuals that we think have no right to come to Britain from being offloaded from a plane or, perhaps, to stop them at a juxtaposed control. It should be remembered that last year, at our juxtaposed controls in Calais alone, we stopped 17,000 potentially illegal immigrants in that one year. So, it is offshore controls first; then, stronger and equalised powers at the border—the primary and secondary line being here in the UK—and, thirdly, much stronger in-country activity to shut down the causes of illegal immigration, which we know to be illegal working and, often, the organised crime that is involved in people trafficking and smuggling.

Q 6

Photo of Paul Rowen Paul Rowen Shadow Minister, Transport

Given what the Minister has briefly said there, why has he not taken the opportunity to regularise some of those things in the Bill, and to move them forward?

Mr. Byrne: The question of amnesties was put to me by a Committee just across the corridor not long after I became Immigration Minister. At the time, I said that I was new to the job and genuinely kept an open mind on that question. The logic of the argument put to me was that providing the ability for people to come to this country illegally—and then to head straight to the front of the queue for work permits—would act as a draw for illegal immigration and make it harder, not easier, for us to control it.

We have to conduct this debate in tones of respect. Illegal migrants are not coming to this country because they are necessarily evil people, but because they are in search of a better life. They are often ruthlessly and systematically exploited by organised crime, and in-country by businesses that systematically break the rules. The Committee will be interested to know that in the pilot work that we have done in the west midlands, where we have found businesses breaking the rules and employing people illegally they also happen to be breaking every other labour protection rule in the book. They are not paying national minimum wage, or operating in conditions that are healthy or safe. Frequently, they are not paying their taxes either. We are talking about serial offenders, who prey on and exploit illegal migrants. None the less, I do not think that regularisation will help; it will make the situation more difficult to police.

Photo of Eric Illsley Eric Illsley Labour, Barnsley Central

I remind Members and witnesses to keep questions and answers succinct and to the point.

Q 7

Photo of David Davies David Davies Conservative, Monmouth

We are talking about giving immigration officers significant extra powers. That is not necessarily a bad thing. However, there are implications, one of which is that there will be a rise in compensation claims against the IND. Can you give us  a rough ballpark figure as to how much the IND paid out in compensation claims, in and out of court, in the last year for which you have figures, plus a estimate of what you expect the increase to be as a result of the increased powers of immigration officers?

Mr. Byrne: It is an important point. I have not brought those figures with me, but I shall be happy to provide them for the Committee. Mr. Davies touches on a wider point, which is whether we have made provision for the right kind of protections and oversight for the powers that we are providing. Tony, can I ask you and Stuart whether you want to add anything? We plan to make an oversight regime available, so that the legitimate travelling public can have the confidence that there will not be abuses of power if the House chooses to put these new powers on the statute book.

Tony Smith: Let me put that in the context of the border and ports of entry. The immigration service already has holding facilities at all major points of entry, in which it can hold foreign nationals under immigration laws. Those are in use now. Standards that have already been developed are being renewed in relation to the circumstances under which people will be held in those places. Our plan is to use the existing processes for the short period during which we will hold people under the new powers, and if minor adjustments are needed to those processes we will make them. We already have the infrastructure in place.

Stuart Hyde: Just to finish that point, IND staff, particularly immigration officers, will be subject to Independent Police Complaints Commission oversight. We have agreed on that and are funding it.

Q 8

Photo of David Davies David Davies Conservative, Monmouth

Briefly, Minister, thank you so much for your offer. I have been trying to get that information for the past year, and you say that you can write to the Committee, presumably in the next two weeks, with the figures for the amount of compensation paid out by the IND in the last year for which you have figures.

Mr. Byrne: I will seek to research that, and will provide the Committee with it when I can.

Q 9

Photo of David Davies David Davies Conservative, Monmouth

I am grateful. Just one final, separate, point. Do you agree that immigration officers who could be dealing with potentially difficult clients should have the ability to use pepper spray and some sort of baton like that used by the police, and to undergo training for that?

Mr. Byrne: I shall ask Tony to make a comment about the general philosophy of staff protection. However, by way of introduction, I would make the point that we are not asking in this Bill for the power to arrest. If we were to introduce such police powers, we would have to consider the much wider implications of how the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 would be applied.

By and large, ports are operated by the private sector. If we wanted to arrest and detain people in the  way in which the police are able to arrest and detain people at port, I would have had to present the House with a regulatory impact assessment which would have said that I am going to ask for PACE-style police stations, custody suites and custody officers at all ports in England and Wales. I do not think that the House would have looked very kindly on that proposal. The powers that we are asking for are different. We are asking for the power to detain and to conduct searches. Tony, you might like to add a little about the philosophy of protection, because that is an important point that is well made.

Tony Smith: Absolutely. We detain people now. We detain significant numbers of foreign nationals at the border, and I am pleased to say that the majority are compliant. That is not to say that we do not need to build capacity to deal with people who are not compliant. We will develop that capacity in any case. I cannot tell you in detail what a use of force policy might look like at the border; that would require further consideration in terms of some of the tools that you mention. Most of the people who come to us at the border have already been through significant security checks to get on board the aircraft before they reach us, so the context is slightly different.

Stuart may have something more for you on the equipment available to immigration officers, if that is helpful.

Stuart Hyde: Immigration officers have a range of protective equipment, all of which is subject to the same standards of training and risk assessment as police officers’. Yesterday I was out on a raid on a hotel and the officers were equipped with stab vests to protect themselves.

There is a training regime. There is an assessment regime and IND staff have been trained in arrest techniques. That same training will be applicable in the ports as it is in dealing with outside organisations.

Photo of Eric Illsley Eric Illsley Labour, Barnsley Central

We have spent about 35 minutes on this one section; if there is time towards the end of the sitting, we may return to it. Let us move on to clauses 5 to 15 on biometric registration.

Q 10

Photo of Damian Green Damian Green Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

Rather than attempt to discuss the principle, which we have done on many occasions and will no doubt do again, I want to take an individual point from the evidence that has been submitted by Daon, which is a company that provides biometric systems for the American and Australian Governments. Its people are presumably enthusiasts, as the Minister is for this. Their evidence is fascinating. They say that

“biometrics are not fool proof. Two biometrics from the same person may fail to match (a ‘false negative’). Conversely, two biometrics from different individuals may appear to match (a ‘false positive’). When dealing with large enrolled populations and high volumes of transactions, these error rates become a critical operational consideration.”

When the people who produce the biometric kit say that if it is used in the way that the Minister intends to use it, large numbers of errors will result, does he not worry? Has he made any estimate of what sort of percentage of errors there will be?

Mr. Byrne: I shall ask James Hall to talk about the detail of this. I note we are talking about two biometrics rather than 10 or 11, if you include facial biometrics. I hope that we will have the chance to talk about the issue in principle in the future because I think the hon. Gentleman would agree that when we have a situation where foreign nationals are able to offer up to 50 or 60 different 20th-century, insecure paper-based documents there is a good case for phasing them all out and introducing a single, more secure biometric document and compulsory ID cards for foreign nationals so that it is much easier to verify whether somebody is who they say they are and whether they have the right to public benefits or the right to work. This will obviously be impossible to deliver if we cancel the contract for ID systems because, as we explained at Christmas, the systems for issuing biometric visas, which is important to help our e-Borders system run effectively, and compulsory ID cards for foreign nationals, will all sit on the national identity register. James, perhaps you could say something about the efficacy of biometrics and biometric matching?

James Hall: Daon obviously identified that no new technology, or indeed any technology, is 100 per cent foolproof. That is, of course, correct. We already have large-scale experience of the use of biometrics, particularly in IND, which already collects biometric information, both with visas and for asylum seekers.

One of the things that Daon recognised is that you do get a percentage of false matches, and it has a capability specifically dedicated to resolving those issues. In our planning for the broader national identity scheme we have recognised and costed into our thinking the fact that we likewise will need some sort of specialist capability for dealing with those false matches.

I do not have to hand our estimates of the percentage of those false matches but we have done some assumptions and we have scaled the sort of capability we think will be needed in proportion to what we have estimated.

Mr. Byrne: The point to underline is that there will never be any substitute for an immigration officer. We consistently provide our immigration officers with the resources, the training and the powers to undertake the roles that they play with the professionalism that they bring to their job, but where there are tools that will help them to conduct that work more effectively, particularly to help to establish people’s identity, we should use them.

Photo of Eric Illsley Eric Illsley Labour, Barnsley Central

Before the next question, may I ask Members and witnesses to come back within the scope of the Bill?

Q 11

Photo of Damian Green Damian Green Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I want to pick up something that Mr. Hall said. He said that you have made estimates of the likely false matches. It would obviously be extremely helpful if those estimates could be made available to the Committee.

Mr. Byrne: As I said to Mr. Davies earlier, I will look at what IND and the Identity and Passport Service are able to provide that I think will be useful. I will seek to provide that to the Committee in good time.

Q 12

Photo of Paul Rowen Paul Rowen Shadow Minister, Transport

I want to ask about biometric identity documents for children and the issue of unstable biometrics. Why does clause 6(3) require children to have biometric ID?

Mr. Byrne: We already ask children from the age of five to apply for biometric passports. Foreign nationals in this country who are under the age of 18 or 16 will currently have some kind of immigration-related documentation that establishes, seeks to establish or purports to establish, not only their identity but their entitlement to be in this country and the conditions of the leave they are being granted. My chief concern is that, just as for adults, those documents will be insecure, 20th century documents. The technology now exists and runs at a scale to provide a more secure alternative. Where there is an alternative that is more secure we should use it. Establishing people’s identity and their entitlement to be here is fundamental to providing secure immigration control.

Q 13

Photo of Paul Rowen Paul Rowen Shadow Minister, Transport

Would the Minister make available the Department’s estimates of the unreliability of these data for children? That is the crux of the issue.

Mr. Byrne: I shall be happy to look at what the Department can provide in good time for the Committee’s debates.

Q 14

Photo of Paul Rowen Paul Rowen Shadow Minister, Transport

Secondly, given that you will require people abroad to get biometric data when they apply to come into this country, what estimate have you made of the effects on foreign posts and whether the officers will be able to process this information? At a busy post like Islamabad, people wait four or five months to get a visa issued once it has been granted. What additional resources will you make available and what is the estimate of the additional cost to operate that at busy posts?

Mr. Byrne: That is an important point. Like the hon. Gentleman, I have a large number of constituents who frequently visit places like Pakistan. Over the next two or three years there will be a revolution in the way that UK Visas runs its operations. We will be introducing biometric visas throughout the world. There are also questions about whether our current visa regime extends widely enough around the world. It is so fundamental that we introduce tougher checks abroad before we give people permission to come to this country that I think that is a question we must ask ourselves over the next few weeks and months.

Over the next week or two UK Visas will be signing a series of contracts with partners around the world to make it much easier for people to apply. Obviously we are introducing the points-based system, which will also have changes, not for people who are coming to visit, but for those who are coming to work or study. Because of the introduction of biometric visas and of the points-based system, we will need partners to help us. They will provide additional offices, process, knowledge, infrastructure and technology so that the issue is as easy as possible.

Sometimes, it is absolutely right for an entry clearance officer to conduct in-depth background  checks. That is what they are paid to do. We have set out public service agreement targets that govern the way in which UK Visas operates. They are among the most ambitious targets in the world for providing visas. When I talk to my constituents, they say that UK Visas has done a fantastic job. Since the reopening of the office in Islamabad, after it had to close for security reasons a few years ago, volume growth through that post has been absolutely enormous. The staff of UK Visas have done an excellent job in making sure that there is the right balance between checks on people abroad, and the provision of a good quality and, where necessary, rapid service.

Q 15

Photo of Stewart Jackson Stewart Jackson Conservative, Peterborough

I shall ask more general questions, then a specific one. First, a general question to the Minister. Why is so much of the detail about biometric registration left to secondary legislation, when will the regulations be published and what level of consultation does he envisage occurring?

Photo of Liam Byrne Liam Byrne Minister of State (Home Office) (Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality)

That is an extremely fair question. There are a couple of reasons why there will need to be regulations, which will be reasonably detailed. Let me try to sketch out a couple of reasons. First, there are something like 3.4 million foreign nationals already in Britain. As we change the systems that we operate over the next few years, we will be asking everybody seeking to come to this country from a visa country or to work, study or stay for longer than six months to go through the process of applying for a biometric visa. So they will have a biometric identity before they come anywhere near our islands. However, that leaves the question of how we roll out biometric identity documents for the estimated 3.4 million foreign nationals who are already here.

Those foreign nationals will fall into a number of different categories. There are those who are working in particular high-risk sectors, and others whom we just happen to see during the course of our ordinary business each year. A good example of those would be students who are already here and who are seeking to extend their leave. Another example would be those foreign nationals who have old passports and who want to transfer conditions to a new document. There are potentially 300,000, 400,000 or 500,000 people who IND would see in Britain during the course of a normal business year. What we have to construct is the right roll-out plan for biometric immigration documents. We are starting with none of those 3.4 million people with biometric immigration documents; we want to get to a situation where they all have them.

The question for us is: what path do we take to 100 per cent.? My argument is that the path that we should be seeking to take should be guided by two principles: efficiency and risk. First, that means that we should be seeking to introduce biometric immigration documents to those people whom we happen to see in any given year. Secondly, there are particular parts of the economy that are especially vulnerable to illegal working, and I have provided to the House in a number of parliamentary answers a breakdown of where those  sectors are, and of where we end up detaining more people and what sectors they work in.

There are particular sectors where we should be seeking to introduce biometric immigration documents first. However, I do not think that we should impose that solution on industry or business by diktat. We are going to have to work closely with good employers in the private sector, who want to drive out illegal immigration, in order to get that roll-out plan right. That plan is the subject of some detail, so I think that it would be inappropriate to specify that on the face of the Bill.

There is a minor technical question, which is that it is important to ensure that the specification of the technology that we use is common across the EU. The EU is obviously bringing in a directive for biometric residence permits in the not too distant future, and it is important that we take account of the specifications that that entails. That is another area where there are elements of detail that mean that it would be inappropriate to put specifications on the face of the Bill but there is quite a lot of detail still to set out.

It is important that we ensure a good deal of parliamentary scrutiny of such regulations. That is why any regulations proposed under the powers that we are seeking under the Bill will be subject to affirmative resolution in both Houses. I cannot be too specific on the question of the timetable, but my commitment is that we will start to roll out biometric immigration documents for foreign nationals in 2008, which means that we need the regulations in place, debated, scrutinised and made ready in good time for us to set up the systems that will allow us to roll them out in the first place.

Q 16

Photo of Stewart Jackson Stewart Jackson Conservative, Peterborough

You have omitted the issue of consultation.

Photo of Liam Byrne Liam Byrne Minister of State (Home Office) (Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality)

I am happy to incorporate consultation, because it is essential if we are to get the sectors right. As I said, we cannot impose biometric immigration documents on sectors of the economy without collaboration. When we talk to organisations such as National Car Parks, from which I am glad to see that we will be taking evidence over the weeks to come, we see that a huge number of excellent employers have high standards of risk management and believe, rightly, that there is damage to be done to corporate reputations if people are caught employing illegal immigrants. I want to move quite quickly to a situation where we name and shame employers who employ people illegally, and as we increase the risk to businesses of employing people illegally we will see far greater co-operation, and a much greater appetite for that co-operation, in making it more transparent and easier to establish that someone is who they say they are and whether they have the right to work. The consultation has to be part of getting the roll-out strategy right. I hope that that is clearer.

Q 17

Photo of Stewart Jackson Stewart Jackson Conservative, Peterborough

Thank you. I shall try to be brief with my second question. Your colleague, the Under-Secretary, told my colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Grant Shapps), recently that the number of passports lost by the relevant   Department had gone from 691 to more than 1,000 in respect of secure delivery in just two years. It is estimated that some 1,000 will be lost this year. The nub of the issue is about the security of biometric data. How secure do you think they will be? Who will have access to them? How will the data be collected in the first place?

Mr. Byrne: That is an excellent question. Let me ask James Hall to come in with some of the detail. The point that I would make by way of introduction is that as we introduce biometric immigration documents it is important that we strengthen the verification process, which we use to check whether someone is who they say they are. That is why we want to introduce authentication by interview. It is important that those provisions are in place so that the standard of checking is higher. James, do you want to add a little bit, and something about technical security as well, if you want?

James Hall: Let me quickly address the issue of lost passports. That was an issue about four years ago when we used first class Royal Mail to deliver passports. As you identified, we implemented a secure delivery system that has significantly cut the numbers from about 3,500 to 650 in the first year, about 1,000 in the second year, and our estimate is that the number will be about 700 this year. To put that in context, that figure comes from the more than 6 million passports that we issue every year, and contrasts with the nearly 800 passports that are reported as lost or stolen to us every day by members of the public. All those passports, whether lost in delivery or lost by a member of the public, are immediately cancelled and put on the watch lists that were referred to earlier.

In terms of the security of biometric information, if you had the opportunity to read the strategic action plan you will have read that one of the things that we have done in our design of the national identity scheme is to split physically the national identity register into three components: one relating to biographic information, one relating to biometric information and one relating to some technical security issues. One of the benefits of doing that is that we are, first of all, able cost-effectively to store that biometric information to very high security standards accredited by our security agencies. We are also able to allow slightly broader access for accredited staff to the biographic information, without the great majority of them ever needing to review and see the biometric information. In fact, the numbers of people to have complete access to both biographic and biometric information on an individual can be very small.

We believe that the change in the design of the national identity scheme that we developed last summer and published in our report in December heightens our security arrangements. That design will be used for information both on UK nationals and on foreign nationals, which will be collected as part of issuing those biometric immigration documents.

Photo of Eric Illsley Eric Illsley Labour, Barnsley Central

Now we move on to the next section of the Bill, “Treatment of claimants”, clauses 16 to 19. I again ask for brief responses from the witnesses.

Photo of David Davies David Davies Conservative, Monmouth

My questions have been covered. I appreciate that the Minister is going to write to me. In fairness, he said that he was going to write to me in September, but I have not received the letter yet.

Photo of Eric Illsley Eric Illsley Labour, Barnsley Central

That is fine. Does anyone wish to ask questions on clauses 16 to 19?

Q 18

Photo of Paul Rowen Paul Rowen Shadow Minister, Transport

May I ask the Minister what has prompted the Government to bring forward the proposals? How will the proposals operate in practice? How many people does he envisage being subject to them? What arrangements will be put in place for those people who have the reporting restriction added to their conditions?

Mr. Byrne: May I ask my colleague, Joan Ryan, to address that? However, the broad ambition is to strengthen the immigration system.

Joan Ryan: The main purpose of clause 16 is to improve contact management with particular categories that are granted limited leave. As we made clear, in the first instance we would seek to apply that to unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. The second category we identified was foreign-national prisoners, who we have legal barriers to returning, mainly because of European convention on human rights legislation.

Why are we doing this now? In the IND review, the Home Secretary and my hon. Friend the Minister gave a public commitment to ensure and enforce compliance with our immigration laws. Maintaining contact management enables us to do just that. There are other reasons, such as the welfare and protection of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. Maintaining contact with them could be very important to protecting them against abuse, misuse and trafficking uses in-country. At the moment, if we want to maintain that kind of contact, we can only do so on a voluntary basis.

We currently have the ability to place conditions on people with limited leave. The clause simply adds two more conditions: restricting residency, and reporting restrictions. We add those to the restrictions currently available: employment, maintenance of accommodation, and registration with the police. We think that the provision will contribute by allowing us to attach the conditions and therefore make it easier for IND to maintain contact and to enforce removal from the UK should leave be curtailed. We are clear about the purpose. It is about enforcing compliance, but it also can have other purposes, such as those that I outlined in relation to unaccompanied asylum-seeking children.

Q 19

Photo of Paul Rowen Paul Rowen Shadow Minister, Transport

On that last point, the Minister did not answer the question about the numbers. I should be interested if some estimate could be given to us, as to how many are expected and what categories will be applied. On the subject of children, does she not accept that there are other, more appropriate agencies, which perhaps have better skills for dealing with children and already have contact with unaccompanied children, than immigration officers? If immigration officers are going to be used, what additional training will they be given and will they be compliant with child protection legislation and, for example, the police check?

Joan Ryan: Of course we intend to work with other agencies, particularly social workers and others that are involved, in agreeing how these measures would go forward. However, we already have an end-to-end  process and therefore it is appropriate, given that immigration officers have the primary responsibility regarding the presence of an unaccompanied asylum-seeking child in this country, for them to have a key role in dealing with such children. We expect that they will work with other agencies that are involved with the care and welfare of an unaccompanied asylum-seeking child.

You asked me about numbers. I can discuss the two categories that we have identified. First, regarding foreign national ex-prisoners whom we cannot return at a particular point in time because of legal barriers, we expect their numbers to be small, not necessarily even running into the hundreds. Secondly, regarding asylum-seeking children who are granted leave, the numbers are likely to be a little more significant. We had 1,960 grants of discretionary leave at initial decision to this category in 2005. However, since then we have had a sharp drop, of about 26 per cent., in applications from asylum-seeking children, and certainly we anticipate that that decline will continue.

You asked me about the training of immigration officers for the treatment of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children; we have specially trained immigration officers who deal with such children.

Mr. Byrne: I shall ask Stuart to comment on that shortly. It was a Conservative Minister, Charles Wardle, who said in 1993 that unaccompanied asylum-seeking children would not be deported until they came of age and that is a convention that we have respected. At the moment, we are not working closely enough with unaccompanied asylum-seeking children to begin planning the process of return much earlier in their lives, and often that means that individuals are confronted with that state of affairs when they come of age. It is important that we begin that process of planning removal and deportation much earlier and that is why reporting restrictions and contact management are absolutely fundamental.

Stuart, you might want to add something about child protection, because it is an important issue, one that IND takes seriously. Some of these points will be in a consultation document that we will issue on unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in the next few days. Again, we have tried to ensure that the document will be issued and released before the stand part debate takes place. Stuart, would you like to add something else?

Stuart Hyde: Just to provide some reassurance, I personally sit on the national safeguarding board representing IND. I have extensive experience in managing child protection staff within the police service. We are developing our own child safeguarding strategy; that will be implemented among our staff. We are also in the process of creating fairly innovative training—not just highly specific training for some officers but more general training for all our staff on how to manage children under our safeguarding strategy, so that they will have a clear understanding of the responsibilities that we have to protect the rights of children and to ensure that their safety is of uppermost importance. We are also developing working relationships with the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre and the United Kingdom Human Trafficking Centre to ensure that we have a joined-up approach across law enforcement.

Q 20

Photo of Chris Mole Chris Mole Labour, Ipswich

May I ask the Minister, or perhaps the Under-Secretary, about what processes exist to determine whether an applicant is a minor? There are documented examples of youthful claimants who purport to be minors, but later turn out not to have been. That has created problems of minors with whom they come into contact being put at risk.

Mr. Byrne: That issue is absolutely crucial. It is so important because we cannot have adults in the children’s system in this country. Equally, we cannot have children in the adults’ system. Establishing and verifying somebody’s correct age is essential, to the extent that we can and that science allows us.

Very often, of course, people seek to mislead the immigration service about an individual’s age. There has been a lot of debate about how it might be best to identify an individual’s age. There have been arguments in august journals such as The Guardian about whether, for example, dental X-rays are appropriate as a means of establishing a child’s age.

The issue that we have to confront is that if you undertake X-rays of wrists or collar bones, you are able to verify somebody’s age only plus or minus five years. That is quite a big range. As I understand it and as it has been explained to me, the truth is that if you use different methods, such as dental X-rays, that range is reduced from plus or minus five years to plus or minus two years. That is a significant difference in respect of the welfare of children. One of the key issues on which we shall seek to consult as part of our reform proposals on unaccompanied asylum seeking children is what is the best, most effective way of establishing a child’s age.

As I said, a fundamental principle is at stake: we cannot have children in the adult’s system and we cannot and must not have adults in the children’s system.

Q 21

Photo of Damian Green Damian Green Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I am puzzled that the context of this discussion is unaccompanied asylum seeking children. The regulatory impact assessment says that clause 16 is about those who have committed serious crimes, and the Bill involves tough, punitive measures imposing conditions on people. Will the Minister clear that up? Are those measures meant to improve our control over serious criminals or are they meant to increase the protection of unaccompanied children? It seems slightly strange to try to do both with the same set of measures.

Mr. Byrne: One of the virtues of the measures is that they happen to achieve both objectives.

Joan Ryan: Clause 16 amends an existing statutory provision—section 3 of the Immigration Act 1971. The clause is broad, in that it can apply to any group given limited leave. Obviously, it will achieve different things for different groups. We have identified two groups to whom we seek to apply the measures in the first instance; the clause and the restrictions that we seek to add will achieve different things in respect of unaccompanied asylum seeking children and monitoring foreign national prisoners.

However, they can also achieve the same thing: the protection and welfare of unaccompanied asylum seeking  children. It is also clear that we shall seek to use the restrictions to ensure compliance in respect of being able to remove when an unaccompanied asylum seeking child reaches age 18. Equally, when it is possible to remove a foreign national ex-prisoner—when the legal barriers are overcome—we would seek to remove them also. Reporting and residency restrictions are to help us maintain contact management, which will send a clear message, make removal easier and provide protection and welfare. We can apply existing sanctions if there is non-compliance. The measures can achieve different outcomes or the same outcomes for different groups.

Photo of Eric Illsley Eric Illsley Labour, Barnsley Central

I shall move on now to other enforcement issues in clauses 20 to 27.

Q 22

Photo of Paul Rowen Paul Rowen Shadow Minister, Transport

Why were not some of these provisions introduced in the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act 2006?

Photo of Liam Byrne Liam Byrne Minister of State (Home Office) (Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality)

It is difficult for me to speak for my predecessors. All I can say is that when the gaps were drawn to my attention, I thought that it was impossible to fill them.

Q 23

Photo of Paul Rowen Paul Rowen Shadow Minister, Transport

Will you tell us how the measures will operate in relation to trafficking?

Photo of Liam Byrne Liam Byrne Minister of State (Home Office) (Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality)

I shall ask Joan Ryan to say a little bit about trafficking and I shall ask Tony and Bob to add what I hope will be some useful scenarios.

Photo of Liam Byrne Liam Byrne Minister of State (Home Office) (Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality)

Yes, on trafficking facilitation. Could you just sketch out the broad purpose? It is one of those areas in which scenarios are terrifically useful, both to understand the provisions of extra-territoriality and to clarify the law about when somebody is considered to be in Britain for the purposes of the offence.

Photo of Joan Ryan Joan Ryan Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

Briefly, I shall try to provide some clarity. Clause 25 refers to facilitation. The issue is when one enters and arrives. We are seeking to extend the scope of evidence admissible in court to acts of facilitation that are committed when an asylum seeker has entered the country, that is to say stepped off an aeroplane, but before they have arrived, which means before they have crossed the border line and been given the right to entry by an immigration officer. There have been issues in the courts concerning evidence of an act committed in that gap between entry and arrival and whether it can be admissible in court. Clearly, we think that it should be. We have made changes in the past; we used “enter” but the court wanted “arrival”, so there is still that issue that we want to resolve, because we are having difficulty prosecuting people who commit acts of facilitation in that gap. I am sure that an example would illuminate that point.

Clause 26 is about facilitation and territoriality. We want to extend our ability to prosecute those who facilitate entry knowingly and for the gain of illegal asylum seekers. “For gain” is a crucial point, as is illegal entry. We want to extend our territoriality so that acts  that are committed outside the UK come into the scope of our courts. We want to be able to cover not only perpetrators who are British nationals; non-British nationals are out of our scope at the moment and are having a significant impact on the UK in facilitating illegal entry.

Photo of Liam Byrne Liam Byrne Minister of State (Home Office) (Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality)

Let me ask Bob to say a little bit from the Serious Organised Crime Agency perspective about some of the characters that we are dealing with. I shall then ask Tony to explain how some of the scenarios manifest themselves in the immigration service.

Bob Lauder: In terms of human trafficking, we are currently building up a caucus of knowledge on how the organised crime groups work when facilitating and exploiting and trafficking people. These organised crime groups engage in criminality in its general form. While it is probably disgraceful to refer to people as a “commodity”, they are as far as crime groups are concerned. It is about where they can make the most profit from the commodities that they traffic, and that could be class A drugs, or it could be people or contraband. They not only facilitate the trafficking of people into the UK, but having managed to bring people here they then exploit them in the terms previously discussed, by putting them into various forms of labour.

It is important that the Serious Organised Crime Agency attributes the knowledge-building beyond the shores of the UK; to the source countries, to find out what actually happens in them and to get a view of those organised crime groups, and to the nexus countries with the stop-off points for people coming to the United Kingdom. In fact, the ports are also nexus points for intelligence to be gathered. People who engage in trafficking are ruthless, and the level of violence that they would exhibit on the victims of that activity is fairly extreme.

We have had recent evidence in Italy of trafficked individuals being kept in what can only be described as akin to concentration camps, with armed guards. They are then farmed out to do work in areas where they are given minimal reward for it. I am not suggesting that that is present in the UK; but the same principles can apply, where the harm caused to these individuals is fairly extreme—as is the economic harm caused to the country and the communities where they are put into work. Let us have no argument about it: these people are determined, they would seek to apply their will to others and they have little respect for the individuals who are trafficked.

A lot of our work will be assisted by the territorial extent; by being able to introduce evidence that we can collect in those source countries, and to have that evidence accepted by our courts—when we manage to get sufficient evidence to take these organised crime groups to court.

Photo of Liam Byrne Liam Byrne Minister of State (Home Office) (Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality)

So, this is a global business. It often manifests itself at the border in a manner that, today, makes it difficult for us to prosecute. Tony, I think that a couple of examples would illustrate this.

Tony Smith: Yes, we are working closely with SOCA, and with the police and other enforcement agencies, to get after the traffickers and racketeers. This is a very nasty business and, in some cases that we have taken  forward, we have identified some problems with the legal position, as Joan outlined.

Perhaps the first example would be the mischief that takes place between disembarkation from an aeroplane and arrival at an immigration officer’s desk. If you fly into the UK, at some airports you would now have quite a long walk—and lots of mischief goes on in those areas. For example, if a facilitator accompanies somebody into the country and travel documents are subsequently taken away into airside areas and, for example, flushed down lavatories, the act itself took place before the facilitator arrived at our immigration officer’s desk. We have had cases where that has been construed in court as an act not covered by existing legislation. We really want to cover that whole period where so much mischief is caused in those airside areas at airports.

Another point was well made about mischief taking place at the boarding stage, or prior to people being brought here—for example, boarding people and, perhaps, even children with false documents. There, the children are actually dealt with under the immigration laws; but if the individual perpetrator of the act is not a British citizen but a foreign national, we have no authority to proceed legally against them, because the act was committed extra-territorially. So, by extending these authorities to have prosecution units in place at the major airports—Gatwick, Heathrow and Stansted—my operational colleagues tell me that if we can secure these amendments in legislation, it will enhance our capability in that area by about 50 per cent.

Photo of Eric Illsley Eric Illsley Labour, Barnsley Central

I shall now move on to the deportation of foreign criminals.

Q 24

Photo of James Clappison James Clappison Conservative, Hertsmere

Minister, this is a difficult subject. Some judges still complain about what is happening with deportation. Clauses 28 to 35 deal with foreign criminals—people who are not British citizens—who have come to this country and abused their permission to be here by committing an offence, or offences, that are so serious that only a sentence of imprisonment is appropriate. Why are you restricting the provisions to sentences of more than 12 months?

Mr. Byrne: I know that you have investigated and explored this issue in depth over the last few months and years, Mr. Clappison. It is one of the most important debates that the Committee needs to have. If there are constructive measures that the Committee thinks would strengthen the ambition of our policy in this area, the Government will look at them very closely. As you said, a balance must be struck. Many of us will have constituents who are foreign nationals and who have been in this country for decades. They might have families or be involved in the local community, but might also commit offences that result in a prison sentence.

Q 25

Photo of James Clappison James Clappison Conservative, Hertsmere

May I interrupt you there? That is not relevant to my point. If they commit an offence resulting in a sentence of more than 12 months, they will be deported, whatever their family ties.

Mr. Byrne: Let me just finish. Very often, if such a person commits an offence resulting in a sentence of less than 12 months, there should be some reflection about whether the offence is so serious that automatic deportation should follow.

As I said, I remain very open-minded on how the provisions in the Bill can be improved by the Committee. They require the Home Secretary to write a deportation order automatically under four sets of circumstances: first, if the individual has committed an offence resulting in at least a 12-month sentence; secondly, if a court recommends that the individual be deported; and thirdly, if they have committed an offence included in the list of serious offences in section 72 of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002. Fourthly, we have preserved the generic power in the Immigration Act 1971 for the Home Secretary to deport people on the grounds that they are non-conducive to the public good. We have sought to provide clarity and certainty for foreign nationals who commit an offence and to preserve important flexibility for the courts and the Home Secretary so that people who have committed an offence can be deported if we think that they have forfeited their right to be in the country.

Q 26

Photo of James Clappison James Clappison Conservative, Hertsmere

The new power of automatic deportation has been added to the existing provisions that you have described, but it would not necessarily lead to automatic deportation for those who receive more than 12 months. I draw your attention to clause 34(1)(b), which I call the serial offenders concession. I shall be corrected if I am wrong, but it seems to make it clear that somebody who receives a series of consecutive sentences, each of less than 12 months, but in total of more than 12 months—that is how courts are told to sentence separate offences—will not be subject to automatic deportation. That means that somebody who commits a series of serious offences and receives two or more individual sentences resulting in a total sentence of nine, 18, 27 or even 36 months, if they commit up to four offences, will not be subject to this provision. Why are you leaving them out?

Mr. Byrne: This is an important point to clarify. We have sought to preserve the Home Secretary’s flexibility when deporting people on the grounds that they are not conducive to the public good to ensure that serial offenders are addressed by the provisions. At the moment, we issue guidance to caseworkers to help them to judge whether somebody who has committed an offence is conducive to the public good. The provision is for two to three sentences, committed over a five-year period, that total 12 months. It is important to keep guidance in place in the first instance so that those serial offenders can be dealt with using the provisions before us.

Q 27

Photo of James Clappison James Clappison Conservative, Hertsmere

Why not here? The matter is not dealt with here.

Mr. Byrne: Because it is best addressed in guidance. If it were in the legislation we would have to debate how many convictions somebody should have had, within what time period the offences should have been committed, and what should be the cumulative   threshold for the sentences to add up to before they could be considered under the provisions. Those are three pretty crucial moving parts to the Home Secretary’s considerations. That is why I think that the issue is better dealt with by guidance issued under the Home Secretary’s power to deport people who are deemed to be non-conducive to the public good than by legislation.

If members of the Committee would like to table amendments that answer that problem, I shall be more than happy to consider them. The point that you raise is extremely serious. We have considered it in agonising detail over the past few months as we have prepared this legislation. I came to the judgment that the matter is best dealt with by guidance, but I shall happily consider alternatives.

Q 28

Photo of James Clappison James Clappison Conservative, Hertsmere

I think you will find that there are some very good amendments that answer the questions that you have just posed, and which would simply change the total sentence to 12 months. That gets round all the problems that you have described.

Is not a bigger problem in the approach that you describe—adding it on to the existing powers—the danger that the courts and others will treat it as a rule of thumb that if somebody is not subject to automatic deportation there will be a tendency for him not to be deported? It will be argued in court that he is not subject to automatic deportation so the court can exercise its discretion in his favour.

Mr. Byrne: That is why I think that we need a belt-and-braces approach, and why we propose what are effectively four ways of attacking the problem—the minimum sentence of 12 months, the court recommendation, the Home Secretary’s flexibility and, of course, the specification of the section 72 list in the 2002 Act. We have genuinely tried to come at this from as many angles as possible. However, I underline seriously and genuinely that if improvements can be made in this area the Committee must look at them in detail.

Q 29

Photo of James Clappison James Clappison Conservative, Hertsmere

I think that we will be very interested in doing so.

Mr. Byrne: Absolutely right.

Q 30

Photo of Kerry McCarthy Kerry McCarthy Labour, Bristol East

All the points that I was going to raise have been covered. However, can you clarify a few matters that are not dealt with here but are caught up in other parts of the legislation? Am I right in saying that if somebody who has acquired British citizenship becomes involved in serious criminal offences there are mechanisms to strip him of that citizenship?

Mr. Byrne: That is right.

Q 31

Photo of Kerry McCarthy Kerry McCarthy Labour, Bristol East

So those measures still apply.

Mr. Byrne: There are provisions to strip people of their citizenship.

Q 32

Photo of Kerry McCarthy Kerry McCarthy Labour, Bristol East

The deportation provisions and the automatic presumption apply to people who are not British citizens. Is it correct that you would not be able to enact those retrospectively?

Q 33

Photo of Liam Byrne Liam Byrne Minister of State (Home Office) (Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality)

I believe that we can, but I shall get clarification on that point for the stand part debate.

Q 34

Photo of Kerry McCarthy Kerry McCarthy Labour, Bristol East

Recently, there has been press coverage about the exemptions that would apply to Irish nationals. Can you explain what they are?

Mr. Byrne: Two points are germane. One is that the Good Friday agreement creates a different context for border control and border security within the common travel area, and we have to take account of that. If we are deporting people, we have to give effect to their not coming back in again, and that has a different dynamic within the common travel area. The second, fundamental, point is that Irish citizens are European Economic Area nationals, and EEA rules therefore apply; so Irish citizens have to be treated like other EEA nationals. That explains the context for the written ministerial statement that was provided last week.

Q 35

Photo of Paul Rowen Paul Rowen Shadow Minister, Transport

Do you not think, Minister, that this is merely a case of introducing legislation to deal with an administrative failure by your Department and that there is already sufficient legislation to deport prisoners if that is what the courts and Home Secretary wish to do?

Mr. Byrne: I thought about that very carefully when the Bill was being drafted and it is correct to say that there are two parts to the solution that emerged last year. The first is reform of processes within IND: those are under way. We are now in a position where by spring this year we will be considering foreign national prisoners six months in advance of the end of their sentence so that more are put on a plane as they come out of the prison door rather than having to be held in prisons or in the immigration estate under immigration powers. That process of reform is undoubtedly important and the director-general has updated the House recently on our progress on that front.

The importance of the legislation is twofold. First, it sends a very clear signal that those who abuse our hospitality in this country will be deported. Secondly—I think this is an area of debate which we should spend some time on in Committee—we are able to effectively put in place a non-suspense of appeals process for those individuals who are given a deportation order under those provisions. That means the appeal has to be conducted from abroad and, when I undertake my own reviews of our progress in deporting foreign national prisoners, one of the reasons for the time that it takes is that, unsurprisingly, foreign national prisoners, where we seek to issue a deportation order, appeal that decision all the way through the judicial system.

I would much rather that foreign national prisoners went through that rigmarole abroad. I am sorry, I should not call it a rigmarole—it is an important part of the judicial system. I would rather, however, that it was undertaken abroad. A question was posed, I think, on Second Reading about whether people would just judicially review us. There is an important precedent that we should look at, namely the process for non-suspense of appeals in the asylum system. That legislation allows the Home Secretary to certify an appeal for asylum or a  claim for asylum as unfounded and the individual has to undertake that appeal abroad.

Out of the 5,067 asylum claims that were designated by the Home Secretary as clearly unfounded there have been only something like 451 judicial review applications. So this is a process and a piece of legislation that will dramatically speed up our ability to get those to whom we issue deportation orders out of the country.

Part of the virtue of this legislation is the clarity of the link it creates between criminality and deportation. An important part of it is also the acceleration and streamlining of the appeal system so that by and large those appeals are conducted abroad rather than in this country.

Photo of Joan Ryan Joan Ryan Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

It might be helpful if I add that there has been a very significant development with regard to the European Union. The Minister referred to the fact that the situation is different with the European Union as opposed to third countries and we are on the verge of a framework decision on prisoner transfer. That will not be retrospective and it is subject at the moment to our parliamentary scrutiny. Mr. Clappison knows about this as we discussed it at some length last week in the Home Affairs Committee. It will mean that European Union offenders from other European Union countries will serve their sentence in their own country and we will no longer have to have their consent for that to be the case. Equally, British prisoners in other European Union countries will serve their sentence here. I think this is very important. First of all, numbers-wise it is hugely to the benefit of the United Kingdom. There are about three times more other European Union prisoners in our prisons than there are British citizens in other European Union prisons. Also it will assist in rehabilitation and the reduction of recidivism in terms of working with British prisoners in prisons here as opposed to having no contact with them while they are abroad. I think that that is a significant move; it is outside the scope of the Bill, but it adds to the picture.

Q 36

Photo of Paul Rowen Paul Rowen Shadow Minister, Transport

I understand that, but there are two elements to what the Bill does: first, it removes the Secretary of State’s discretion; secondly, it removes the ability to appeal, except on human rights or refugee grounds. Let us go back to the practical case of Sakchai Makao from the Shetland islands. The appeal judges considered his offence, as well as compassionate grounds and the support that he had in the community. If the Bill goes through, he would have no chance of remaining in this country, despite the fact that the majority of Shetlanders support him and there are compassionate grounds for him to remain in the country. Is this not an unnecessary piece of legislation? It would mean the automatic deportation of that young man, even though the court ruled, in the end, that he has reasonable grounds to remain in this country.

Photo of Liam Byrne Liam Byrne Minister of State (Home Office) (Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality)

I generally have a policy of not discussing individual cases in the House, but the hon. Gentleman will have to remind me of the sentence that was handed down—I think that it was nine months in this case.

Photo of Eric Illsley Eric Illsley Labour, Barnsley Central

In the circumstances, this is not the forum for pursuing individual cases. Although I allowed the hon. Gentleman a little leeway to use that case as an example, I do not think that we should discuss it further.

Q 37

Photo of Paul Rowen Paul Rowen Shadow Minister, Transport

But the Minister quotes the opposite, and when he presents us with a fait accompli, he must look at the other side of the coin, because there are clear cases in which the Secretary of State’s discretion could at least be exercised.

Photo of Liam Byrne Liam Byrne Minister of State (Home Office) (Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality)

And that is why, in response to Mr. Clappison’s question during my introductory remarks to the questions on this part of the Bill, I said that a balance has to be struck here. It is quite possible that we have individuals who have lived in this country for decades, who have families and who are well integrated into the community, but who have committed an offence, which has resulted in a sentence. We all read The Daily Telegraph and know of cases of individuals who have been—[ Interruption. ] I am sorry; I am casting aspersions on my hon. Friends. However, there are cases in which people have gone to jail for not paying their council tax, and I would argue that that does not necessarily involve a sentence that should require automatic deportation. That is why it is important that the Committee has a debate about whether the 12-month threshold is the right one, and some Committee members may think that a different threshold should be set. However, we should be clear that those who have committed a serious breach of our hospitality should face the prospect of automatic deportation. That is why we have tried to put in place a systematic approach to pick these issues up.

I encourage the Committee to focus not only on the 12-month threshold, but on section 72 of the 2002 Act. When I looked at the number of foreign national prisoners in our jails who might be affected by these provisions, it was clear that, at a very rough estimate—I put it no more strongly than that—about 4,300 would be. Now, 2,200 of them—ballpark—will be affected by the 12-month threshold provisions and about 2,100 will be affected by the section 72 provisions, so it is important that the Committee looks at both. However, the basic answer to your question is that there needs to be a stronger link between criminality and deportation than there is today. There will no doubt be individual cases that are difficult.

Photo of Eric Illsley Eric Illsley Labour, Barnsley Central

Damian Green, you have a question on information sharing?

Q 38

Photo of Damian Green Damian Green Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

It is a general question, because I am aware that we want to go back to one or two previous issues. The overall problem, as the Minister will be well aware, relates to the information version of mission creep: information is collected for one purpose and can then be spread through the Government machine in ways that people find unacceptable—even those who think it acceptable to carry out the collection of biometric information for a specific purpose when the user accepts it voluntarily. I am slightly nervous that there do not seem to be many safeguards against such indiscriminate sharing of information once it is collected.

Photo of Liam Byrne Liam Byrne Minister of State (Home Office) (Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality)

Before I ask my colleague, Joan Ryan, to talk about the protections that are in place, particularly the criminal sanctions that have been introduced, perhaps I could ask Bob to say a little about why information sharing is so important in helping immigration and customs, police and SOCA to build up an integrated, systematic picture of the issues that we are trying to tackle.

Bob Lauder: That subject is important. Until we have the full knowledge of what is involved in all this, we are at loss to apply any legislation to good effect. In SOCA, we work closely with IND, the UK Human Trafficking Centre and HMRC and it is about developing the knowledge and the ability to take that information and make maximum use of it. Of course, there have to be safeguards, and those safeguards are fairly well in place when it comes to the SOCA legislation and the new legislation, to ensure that that information is used proportionately to what we seek to achieve when it comes to building up a picture, making our processes effective and determining what we need to do to protect the UK and to reduce the impact of harm. That is an important area, especially if we consider the need for information sharing on the exploitation of children in the CEOP field. Foreign national children are brought to the United Kingdom so that they can be exploited, and such information is the lifeblood of our ability to apply the laws in the UK.

Mr. Byrne: The only thing that I would add is that if we are serious about tackling illegal working, much closer co-operation between HMRC, which undertakes the inspections on behalf of the national minimum wage regulators, and IND is important. The evidence that we have shows that where businesses exploit illegal migrants and break the immigration laws, they break a whole set of other rules, too. Perhaps, Joan, you could say a little but about the protections that we have sought to structure into the Bill.

Photo of Joan Ryan Joan Ryan Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

Clause 37, for instance, includes a statutory duty of confidentiality, in the main in relation to information sharing with Revenue and Customs. Sharing information with Revenue and Customs is absolutely crucial to many of IND’s main functions. Front-line staff, in particular, have identified that information held by Revenue and Customs as information that will make a significant difference to them. We already have some information  sharing, but we want a single information-sharing power. The seriousness with which we view wrongful disclosure and the confidentiality issues is demonstrated in the take-across, which has been discussed at some length between Ministers and the Paymaster General. The maximum penalty for wrongful disclosure is some two years in prison or an unlimited fine. Those are pretty serious sanctions, which we will enforce and which give a strong message. For private individuals, the Data Protection Act will also apply to personal information. In terms of information sharing with SOCA, it is subject to the PACE codes of practice and the Independent Police Complaints Commission. There are strong measures in place and I hope that will be reassuring.

Photo of Eric Illsley Eric Illsley Labour, Barnsley Central

May I stop you there, Minister. I think this will have to be the final question, Mr. Jackson.

Photo of Stewart Jackson Stewart Jackson Conservative, Peterborough

Okay. We have only a minute left—

Photo of Stewart Jackson Stewart Jackson Conservative, Peterborough

Mr. Byrne, you wrote to your colleague the hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay) on 8 February to say that the decisions in respect of reserved and devolved powers were an appropriate remedy for Scotland and an operational solution. Yet, this morning—perhaps I am confused—you seemed to be saying that the situation will “resolve itself”, and you prayed in aid the manifestos of the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives. Are you happy with the situation as it is, or do you wish it to be changed from May 2007? Can you clarify that quickly?

Mr. Byrne: I think that that subject will be debated in the Scottish election. I am satisfied that there is an operational solution in place in Scotland that secures our border effectively in the way that I seek to do in England and Wales.

It being One o’clock, The Chairman adjourned the Committee without question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned till this day at half-past Four o’clock.