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 Liam Byrne Liam Byrne Minister of State (Home Office) (Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality) 12:15 pm, 6th March 2007

I start by associating myself with the remarks made by the hon. Member for Hertsmere. I have not been in this role very long, and I made it my first priority to travel as far round the immigration service as I could in a short period of time. I was fortunate to visit our visa operations in Islamabad last year and also to travel about 3,500 miles around Britain over the course of the last three months of last year. I have met and talked to between 2,000 and 3,000 members of the IND and the immigration service.

As I have said, this Bill is part of a package of measures that was very much co-authored by the front line. I do not believe that decisions on the detail of this kind of legislation can be made uninformed or can be polished and finessed in an office in Whitehall, because they need the dynamic input of people who do the job day in and day out with pride and professionalism. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Hertsmere for his remarks.

I thought it might be worth sketching out why the Government think that this clause is so important. Over the past few years, we have tripled the number of warranted officers in the immigration service, 70 per cent of whom are at the border. However, putting feet on the ground is not enough if those officers do not have the power or the tools to do their job effectively in the 21st century. This Bill, and this clause in particular, is part of the strategy to ensure that we do not suffer from that.

There are already a number of provisions in the Immigration Act 1971 and the Customs and Excise Management Act 1979 which allow an alignment of powers between the immigration service and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. There is also the Terrorism Act 2000, schedule 7 to which allows the police and customs and immigration officers to act as officers for the purposes of the schedule. There is already some degree of alignment of powers, and this Bill will allow us to go a step further. Where there are particular police-like powers, this clause allows us to equip our front line with them.

I am very grateful for the work of ACPO in helping to get these provisions right. With these powers, we see a course of reform which is different from that   sketched out by the Opposition parties. I believe that a single border agency would be a recipe for disorder at our border. Given the alignment of powers which is currently possible, I fear that a single border agency would simply be an exercise in giving everybody the same cap badge, particularly because the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Osborne) has said that no new resources would be available for the plans put forward by the Conservative party.

This clause is a much more sensible way forward. In the future, such powers will be important, because the way in which we are introducing new technology means that we can detect far more British citizens who may be liable for arrest as they seek to move in and out of the country. I will talk about that point in future debates, but, for example, our e-border system, which tracks people in and out of the country, has already produced some 9,000 alerts and some 800 arrests. It is increasingly able to give our border security agencies the chance to detect people, and in the future it may be that an immigration officer is the first to encounter an individual who is of interest to the police and who should therefore be detained while a police constable is called.

This has been a helpful debate. The question is how to ensure sufficient flexibility to allow innovation to be introduced with as much speed as possible to the front line, balanced by the scrutiny that is important for any exercise of power. I think that we have got that balance right. The debate is not over, because we will revisit it when we introduce Government amendments on a single regulator.