Clause 1

Part of UK Borders Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:00 am on 6th March 2007.

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Photo of Liam Byrne Liam Byrne Minister of State (Home Office) (Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality) 11:00 am, 6th March 2007

I thank hon. Members for praising the professionalism of our immigration service; they are absolutely right that it does an extremely difficult job. The number of passengers travelling through our ports is not decreasing but rapidly increasing, which is precisely why we have tripled the number of warranted officers in the IND over the past few years, with about 70 per cent. of those officers serving on our borders. We have ensured strengthened training provisions as we have increased numbers, so that those new officers are able to operate with the pride and professionalism that is a hallmark of the immigration service.

I want to respond by coming back to one central point: we have to ensure in our arguments here that we are calibrating both the training and the oversight to the power that we are seeking. It is perfectly appropriate for the training and the oversight to be slightly different from and not symmetrical to the arrangements that we already have in place for the police. We are not asking immigration officers to conduct the same activities as the police or equipping them with the same powers.

My point to the hon. Member for Hertsmere echoes that made by our director of border control, Tony Smith, who last week said quite rightly that  immigration officers occasionally find themselves in confrontational situations—at the moment, those situations are not so much with British citizens as with foreign nationals. Dealing with situations that are often difficult, confrontational or heated is not outside the ambit of today’s immigration officers. Those situations require the use of reasonable force or detention. Immigration officers have those powers currently, and they must exercise them in relation to foreign nationals. Because immigration officers are having to do that, many of the training and oversight provisions that we would need to put in place to support them in exercising the powers that we ask for in this Bill that relate to British citizens are provisions and capabilities that we have already had to put in place.

Secondly, the point about training is so important that we do not believe that the Secretary of State should have the power to designate an immigration officer who he does not believe to be a “fit and proper” person. So, there are a number of hurdles that immigration officers must pass before they can put themselves into the category where they might receive such a designation, and there are a number of checks about which the Home Secretary must be satisfied before he can designate somebody as “fit and proper”. Adequate and appropriate training would, of course, be integral to that definition.

The hon. Member for Hertsmere raised a valuable point about whether this matter has been discussed with unions; the answer is yes, and they are satisfied with these new arrangements provided that training is given and that clear guidance is in place. That is already happening in the immigration service under a programme we have in place called “Developing enforcement capability”, which is designed to reduce our reliance on the police not only at the border but in-country and to create the kind of operational independence that we think that the immigration service will need in future.