Clause 1

Part of UK Borders Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:30 am on 6th March 2007.

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Photo of Liam Byrne Liam Byrne Minister of State (Home Office) (Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality) 10:30 am, 6th March 2007

I join the hon. Member for Ashford in saying how glad I am to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Illsley, now under the more traditional arrangements that we are used to in Committee. I congratulate the Leader of the House on the constitutional innovation that we experienced last week. I thought that the opportunity to listen to a  wide-ranging debate on some of the subjects that we will consider in detail over the next few weeks was extremely valuable.

I shall make a few points in response to the hon. Gentleman. I should like to thank him for the thoughtful and constructive way in which the amendments were presented and the arguments constructed. He is right to say that the powers are considerable. They are important, because it is vital that immigration officers have the chance to play their role in the fight against crime and in the battle for national security. Different proposals to strengthen our border have been discussed by Opposition parties. There are no real legal barriers to a greater alignment of powers at the border, but there are certain police-like powers that it is important for immigration officers to take if they are to play their part effectively in the challenges ahead.

The powers that we propose have been constructed carefully. They are considerable; as the hon. Gentleman said, they include the power to use reasonable force, but they have not been constructed so as to encompass arrest. The obligations that we put on immigration officers include summoning a police constable as soon as is reasonably practicable to conduct arrest or interview or to carry out other core police functions. We do not propose that immigration officers take on those responsibilities, so it is important that the oversight arrangements that are put in place are matched to the powers that we give to immigration officers. The slight concern that I have about the amendments is that they would delay implementation; they would add a burden of secondary legislation and constrain the tactical ability of chief immigration officers to designate immigration officers to secure our border at times of particular crisis. I shall offer a few words of reassurance in the hope that the hon. Gentleman will see fit to seek to withdraw the amendment.

The first point that the hon. Gentleman made concerned training, which is an important area. We have already worked closely with the police in putting together quite a wide range of training that is appropriate to provide immigration officers with the skills and the capabilities that they will need in order to do a very difficult job, with the type of professionalism that we see day in, day out in the immigration service. Against these powers, we will need to put in place new training proposals and we are working closely with Centrex—the Central Police Training and Development Authority—which provides the police training programme. That partnership will be important in ensuring that there is police support to provide the type of training that will be necessary if immigration officers are to do this job effectively in future.

There are four or five points that I shall make in order to explain the oversight arrangements that we envisage coming into place. Those arrangements should give the hon. Gentleman some of the reassurance that he is seeking when he asks, quite rightly in my view, for greater transparency and accountability about how immigration officers are asked to perform their jobs.