Clause 1

Part of UK Borders Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:15 am on 6th March 2007.

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Photo of Liam Byrne Liam Byrne Minister of State (Home Office) (Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality) 11:15 am, 6th March 2007

I am grateful for that intervention. During one of our evidence sessions last week, the director of border control, Tony Smith, said that he imagined that possibly as many as 25 per cent. of immigration officers could be so designated. We would need to keep the number under review, because it might have to go up—we would have to adjust it in light of operational realities and the changing picture at our borders. As I said a moment ago, the volume of traffic through our borders is going up, not down. The patterns of immigration, migration and travel through our borders might change and the number of British citizens as a fraction of the total travelling might increase if the budget airlines continue to expand at the rate at which they have in recent years. We would need to keep that under review.

However, the checks that the Home Secretary must be satisfied about before designating somebody as a fit and proper person are important. They might include background or health checks. They would certainly include a particular kind of training. I mentioned a moment ago the training that has been developed by Centrex. That is a pass or fail course, so immigration officers would need to pass before they could be designated as fit and proper.

We will seek to discuss with both the Association of Chief Police Officers and the policing standards unit the process of designation and the criteria on which an officer must satisfy the Home Secretary before he can be deemed fit and proper. I can give the hon. Gentleman a couple of points of reassurance. The first is that once we have had those discussions we will seek to make the criteria public so that they can be subject to scrutiny. The second is that I fear that the effect of the amendment would be to make it rather difficult not only to implement regulations but to adjust them. Given the dynamic and changing nature of our borders and the traffic going through them, it might well be that best practice will emerge quickly. I do not think that hon. Members would want to slow down the speed with which we could introduce improvements and refinements to the guidance.

If there is no parliamentary check on the implementation of the regulations through secondary legislation, that poses an important question about how the House can be satisfied that there are appropriate scrutiny arrangements to ensure that we do not designate officers who do not have the right training. That is why I think that it is so important for enforcement to form part of the terms of reference of the proposed new single regulator. The new regulator should have the ability to scrutinise the way in which the IND performs its enforcement responsibilities. The hon. Gentleman will know that a little while ago we published a consultation document on how we envisaged that new regulator coming into being. That posed some questions about the number of organisations that should be folded into the new regulator and the scope of that regulator’s responsibilities.

I hope to be able to table the relevant amendments by Thursday. At the same time, we will seek to publish the Government’s response to the consultation and a summary of the consultation responses that we received. It is important that the House has not only the Government’s take on the subject but that of the organisations that responded. I do not think that I will get into too much trouble with the parliamentary authorities if I say that the responses to the consultation were overwhelmingly supportive, not least from the existing regulators. They recognised that 11 different regulators are far too many to hold the IND to account. It is much more important that we have regulator punch.

With those reassurances in mind, and with my concern that we can modify and update regulations to reflect best practice as quickly as possible, subject to having more effective scrutiny arrangements in place, I hope that the hon. Member for Ashford will feel able to withdraw the amendment.