Clause 1

Part of UK Borders Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:15 pm on 6th March 2007.

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Photo of Damian Green Damian Green Shadow Minister (Home Affairs) 12:15 pm, 6th March 2007

We have had a useful set of discussions on the clause in the context of the various amendments that the hon. Member for Rochdale and I have moved. The Minister now has the flavour of our concerns.

We have been dealing specifically with immigration officers and the new designation for 25 per cent. or so of them. A number of things are clear from the debates on the various amendments. First, there have been universal tributes to the skill and, in many cases, the bravery of immigration officers, whose job puts them always in a sensitive position and occasionally in a dangerous position. By and large, the officers do that job with great skill, purpose and dedication to duty, whatever the problems above them in the organisation, which has taken various buffetings over the past few years.

However, we are all particularly concerned—I know that that is true among Conservative Members—that the new powers given to certain designated immigration officers by the clause need to be set out clearly and properly. Those powers ought to be subject to proper parliamentary scrutiny and carefully consulted on with various bodies. Despite the Minister’s repeated arguments for greater flexibility, in the long run it is more important to get this right than to get it in operation as fast as  possible. Also, the training should be appropriate and the inspection regime should be not only tough but transparent.

Those are all very big issues. If a number of those desiderata do not happen, then we will look back on the Bill and see it as a failure. If we find that immigration officers have been given powers for which they are not properly trained, that they do things that are unacceptable to the inspector or that the various stakeholders have not been adequately consulted or listened to over the particular powers, then the Bill will not work and will not do what the Minister hopes. He has given us some welcome assurances, especially on the amendments that he has said that he will table later this week, when we will no doubt return to those vital subjects.

I hope that the Minister has taken on board not only the breadth of our concerns but their depth, too. What unites the Committee is our desire that the immigration system should improve, that those on the front line should have the powers to do their job more effectively and that the public should have the ability to judge whether the powers are appropriate and whether they are being exercised appropriately. That is quite a mountain for the Minister to climb. He has assured us that he is aware of those problems and that he is taking steps to address them, and I hope that he is right.